Perfect Smoked Prime Rib

This prime rib is a holiday classic seasoned with butter and rub, smoked, and seared at high heat for a golden crust
smoked prime rib

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Nothing looks more impressive on a dinner table than a prime rib roast. The proportions are huge, the sensory overload is immense and it can add the wow factor to any dinner party or BBQ.

Most recipes involve roasting the prime rib in the oven, but we know the smoker makes everything better.

In this recipe, I share my technique for the perfect medium-rare smoked prime rib roast, and if you want to see the entire process I’ve also recorded a video to go with this recipe.

What is prime rib?

The prime rib or standing rib roast comes from the same part of the animal as a ribeye steak.

It is a large cut of beef that spans along the spine and includes seven rib bones.

You will usually see anywhere from three to five bone roasts sitting in the window of the butcher.

The prime rib is known by a few different names, such as the boneless rib roast, beef rib roast, and standing rib roast.

When sliced into individual servings, it is also known as tomahawk steak with the bone, or when removed you have your common rib-eye steak.

Don’t be confused by the word prime in the name. The word “prime” refers to the actual cut of meat that comes from the primal muscle, it has nothing to do with the USDA grading of meat. Although if you can get your hands on a prime grade one you should go for it! 

For this recipe, we are using a 3-bone American Wagyu prime rib from Snake River Farms. We highly recommend their products, and their American Wagyu is exceptional, with excellent marbling.

raw prime rib standing up on wooden chopping board
Snake River Farms 3-bone prime rib.

If you want to splurge this holiday, this is the one you want! To save you a little money, use our code Smoked15 to save 15% on your entire order!

If you have a rotisserie, be sure to check out our recipe for Rotisserie Prime Rib.

How to select a prime rib

The main factor is going to be your budget. This is a big cut of beef and this can generally come with a price tag to match.

Expect to pay $10 per pound for USDA Choice and much higher depending on the grade.

Next up is quality, how much marbling do you want? You want a good ratio of marbling to meat. Sometimes you can find a diamond in the rough. Make sure to inspect the meat and opt for the one that has the best marbling and overall appearance. 

You can choose from prime, choice, or select USDA grading, while specialty and online butchers will have even more choices.

Bone-in vs. boneless

I prefer to select a bone-in prime rib when smoking. Apart from looking mighty impressive, the bones help to shield the meat from direct heat, protecting it from the heat source while cooking.

The debate about whether the bone helps with the flavor is a discussion for another day. I chose bone-in for protection from direct heat, and for presentation purposes.

If you choose a bone in one, you can french them by cutting the fat and meat around and between the bones leaving them exposed for better presentation.

You can also remove the bones entirely, season underneath where the bones were, and then tie them back on.

How much prime rib per person?

A good general rule of thumb is to allow one pound of uncooked prime rib per person. This is likely overkill, but it allows for the volume lost due to trimming and the cooking process.

Plus some leftover prime rib never hurt anyone!

If you have a bone-in cut, you can use the number of bones as a guide.

When you start slicing the fully cooked roast into individual pieces where the bones are, each rib eye will roughly weigh around 3-4lbs. So more than enough to feed 3-4 people per bone with sides.

How long does it take to smoke a prime rib?

The amount of time you need to allow to smoke prime rib depends on a number of factors:

  • How big is the rib roast?
  • What temp are you smoking/cooking it at?
  • What type of smoker or BBQ are you using?
  • What quality is the meat?

To give you a rough guide for a 6lb rib roast cooked to medium rare of 125°F internal tmperature:

  • Smoked at 225°F will take around 5 hours
  • Smoked at 275°F will take around 4½ hours
  • Smoked at 300°F will take around 4 hours
  • Smoked at 350°F will take around 3½ and a half hours

These are rough guides, and nothing beats using a meat thermometer and cooking to temperature, not time.

Free ChartDownload a free copy of our smoking times and temperatures chart so you can refer to it whenever you need.

How to make Smoked Prime Rib

1. Trim

Most butchers will sell you a trimmed roast, and if the bones are in, they will be cleaned.

untrimmed prime rib on wooden chopping board

If they aren’t, run a filleting knife up and down the bone removing any leftover meat or membrane. This in no way affects the cook, it is more for the presentation of the final product.

trimmed prime rib on wooden chopping board

2. Truss

Next up, you will want to truss the rib roast. It is made of a couple of muscles, these are the Spinalis Dorsi (Outer muscle) and the Longissimus Dorsi (inner muscle) and they can become quite loose whiling cooking.

A whole rib roast is quite heavy, and you do not want it falling apart as you bring it from the smoker to the table.

To do that, wrap some butcher twine between each bone or every 3-4 inches and tie it in a double knot. Then, cut off the excess twine. 

3. Dry brine (optional but recommended)

The prime rib I cooked weighed about 10.5lbs before I trimmed it. Because it was so large, I dry-brined it with kosher salt overnight.

raw seasoned prime rib on a wire rack

You can read about the process of dry brining here. It’s a step that I highly recommend, and it will ensure that the entire roast is seasoned throughout the meat, even in the thickest parts. 

I like to take the prime rib out of the fridge a few hours before I’m going to put it on the smoker. It won’t fully come up to temperature, but I find it helps take the edge off.

3. Season

After you have dry brined, mix a combination of softened unsalted butter and prime rib seasoning, then cover the entire roast with it.

If you watched the video version of this recipe, you’ll notice that we applied the rub first, then made up the butter and basted it on during the cooking process. Both approaches work great.

buttered prime rib on a wire rack
Our beef rub would also work well.

Make sure you watch how much salt is in the rub you’re using if you have dry brined already. 

We have a prime rib rub recipe you can check out, or our Beef Rub would also work a treat.

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4. Fire up the smoker

Fire up your smoker to 225°F degrees.

I used my Traeger Timberline XL pellet grill with Bear Mountain hickory pellets. My pellet smoker has a super smoke feature, which I used the entire time.

Smoking at this temperature I plan for a cooking time of around 30 minutes per pound.

5. Smoking the prime rib roast

Once the smoker is ready, you can place the prime rib roast in the smoker. Point the thickest part towards the hottest part of your pit, or towards the fire pot.

raw prime rib in the smoker with foil tray underneath
A temperature probe is a good idea to avoid overcooking this expensive cut of meat.

I place a probe into the center of the meat and let it smoke, turning it 90 degrees every 30 minutes to get a more even cook.

Smoke until it reaches an internal temperature of 115-120°F. That’s the sweet spot for me. I prefer medium rare, but if you don’t, feel free to continue cooking a little longer until you reach your desired internal temperature.  

cooked prime rib in the smoker with foil tray underneath
I also put a foil pan underneath to catch the drippings and to ensure there are no grease fires. 

To finish, I put a sear on the outside by transferring it to a ripping hot grill or cast iron pan.

To sear on the Timberline, I removed the prime rib, cranked the temperature up to 500°F, and added some GrillGrates. Once it comes up to temperature, start by searing the bones for a few minutes, then work around each section.

Once you’re happy with the sear on each side and you have an internal temperature of around 130°F, tent with aluminum foil and let it rest for another 20-30 minutes.

The temperature will continue to rise by about 10 degrees while resting. 

cooked prime rib cut in half on wooden board
Perfect medium rare.

Serving suggestions

Serving is easy enough done by slicing between each bone. Then remove the bones and slice each separated rib eye into slices around ¼” to ⅓” thick.

Make sure you use a good sharp knife, like our 12″ Smoke Kitchen Slicing Knife, and secure the roast on a good cutting board or butcher block before slicing.

Each separated rib eye will easily feed 2 to 3 adults, so long as you have enough sides.

If you are cooking a boneless cut, then just slice it into your desired portion size.

prime rib plated on white plate with horseradish sauce drizzled over it
I like to serve sliced prime rib with homemade horseradish sauce. It’s a match made in heaven. 

A few more centerpieces with ‘wow factor’

Smoked prime rib recipe

smoked prime rib rub resting on butcher block

Perfect Smoked Prime Rib Roast

Prime rib roast seasoned with butter and rub, smoked and seared at high heat for a golden crust
5 from 22 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 5 hours
Total Time: 5 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 10 people
Calories: 1420kcal
Author: Dev



  • Trim any excess fat or silver skin off the top of the prime rib. If bone in, cut the meat around each bone to leave them exposed for presentation.
  • Truss the prime rub by wrapping butcher twine between each bone or every 3-4 inches and tie it in a double knot. Then, cut off the excess twine.
  • Dry brine your prime rib overnight by sprinkling kosher salt over the meat and placing in your fridge for up to 24 hours uncovered (optional).
  • Fire up your smoker to 225°F.
  • Mix together unsalted butter and prime rib rub, then cover the entire prime rib with the butter mixture.
  • Place your prime rib on your smoker and cook until the internal temperature reaches 120°F.
  • Remove the prime rib and heat up a grill or a large cast iron pan.
  • Sear the prime rib on each side with high heat to form a crust.
  • Rest for 20-30 minutes covered loosely with foil.
  • Slice and serve.



Do I need to dry brine?  No, you don’t, but because it was so large, I dry-brined it with kosher salt overnight. You can read about the process of dry brining here. It’s a step that I highly recommend, and it will ensure that the prime rib is seasoned throughout the meat, even in the thickest parts. 
What rub should I use for prime rib? You can make your own with our rub recipe found here. You could use a simple, even parts salt and pepper blend or go with any store-bought beef rub. 
What flavor of wood should I use? We used Bear Mountain hickory pellets.


Calories: 1420kcal | Protein: 65g | Fat: 127g | Saturated Fat: 53g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 55g | Cholesterol: 288mg | Sodium: 2305mg | Potassium: 1053mg | Calcium: 37mg | Iron: 7mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated and should be used as an approximation only. If you’re worried you could always add a side of kale.

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