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’ll share my technique for the perfect medium-rare smoked prime rib roast.
What is prime rib roast?
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 7 bones, or rib bones to be exact.
You will usually see anywhere from 3 to 5 bone prime rib roasts sitting in the window of any butcher.
The prime rib roast is known by a few different names, such as the boneless rib roast, beef rib roast, and a standing rib rib roast.
When sliced down into individual servings, it is also known as tomahawk steaks with the bone or when removed they are known as rib eye steaks
Don’t be confused by the word prime in the name. The word prime in prime rib roast refers to the actual cut of meat that comes from the primal muscle, it has nothing to do with the USDA grading of meat.
How to select a prime rib roast?
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 $21 per pound for USDA Choice from a place like Costco all the way up to $51 per pound for an American Wagyu Black Grade prime rib roast from Snake River Farms.
Next up is quality, how much marbling do you want. You want a good ratio of marbling to meat.
You can choose from prime, choice, or select USDA grading, while specialty and online butchers will have even more choice with
Do you want grass-fed or grain-fed? These all will play a factor in the end flavor of your prime rib roast.
I tend to go for grass-fed myself, you don’t get as high of an intramuscular marbling but I prefer the flavor.
Bone-in vs boneless prime rib
You have to decide if you want bone-in or boneless. The bones can do a couple of things. Apart from looking mighty impressive, they can shield the prime rib roast from any direct heat, protecting it from the heat source while cooking.
The debate about whether or not the bone actually helps with the flavor is a discussion for another day. I personally do not see a difference though. I choose bone-in for the protection from the direct heat, purely based on how I cook my prime rib roasts.
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 2 pounds each. So more than enough to feed 2 to 3 people with sides.
So count the bones and use that as your marker for how many guests you can feed.
How long does it take to smoke a prime rib
The amount of time you need to allow to smoke your prime rib roast 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 6-pound rib roast cooked to medium rare of 125°F:
- Smoked at 225°F will take around 5 hours
- Smoked at 275°F will take around 4 and a half hours
- Smoked at 300°F will take around 4 hours
- Smoked at 350°F will take around 3 and a half hours
These again are rough times and nothing beats using a thermometer and cooking to temperature, not time.
Free Chart: Download a free copy of our smoking times and temperatures chart so you can refer back to it whenever you need.
Seasoning and flavors for smoked prime rib
Since prime rib is such a rich, flavorsome cut of meat you can keep it simple and coat with olive oil and then salt and pepper.
This is enough to get an amazing, beefy flavor.
I decided to go a little fancier and made a herb and garlic compound butter to help create a flavor-filled outer crust.
To get even more flavor, I placed the rib roast on top of a layer of chopped onion, garlic, and fresh herbs in a cast iron pan.
As an added advantage, this will form the base of a delicious gravy.
How to smoke prime rib roast
Most butchers will have a prime rib roast trimmed and if the bones are in, they will be cleaned.
If they aren’t, easy enough to 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 presentation on the final product.
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 during any cook.
It is best to truss them as a whole rib roast is quite heavy and you do not want it falling apart as you bring it out of the smoker to the table
2. Get the smoker ready
This recipe can be made using any smoker capable of hitting 450°F. If your smoker doesn’t get that high, you can always start your rib roast in the oven and then transfer.
I decided to use my Z Grills pellet smoker. I like using a pellet smoker when cooking for a special occasion like Christmas as it frees me up to spend more time with my guests.
Setting up the smoker was as easy as turning on the unit and setting it to the smoke function
I made sure I had filled the hopper with a mix of cherry and pecan hardwood pellets.
You can use any type of smoke wood for this, but I like the combination you get from cherry and pecan.
Within minutes a plume of smoke started coming out of the lid of the smoker and as quickly as it started, the smoke settled and you could hear the roar of the fire.
3. Smoking the prime rib roast.
Once the smoker is ready, you can place the prime rib roast in the smoker.
The prime rib roast went into the smoker at 450°F for the first 20 minutes of the cook.
This high heat is used more like a searing method, to help start the outer crust, that charing we all know that adds flavour.
Then the heat is turning down to 250°F for the remainder of the cook.
You should then baste the rib roast every 30 minutes throughout the cook with the buttery juices in the pain.
Once the prime rib hits an internal temp of 118°F, it is time to come off the smoker for a 20-minute rest.
The internal temp will continue to rise and it should settle at the perfect 125°F medium-rare internal temperature.
While the rib roast rests, you can place the cast iron pan over high heat and add beef broth and red wine, reducing down and strain for a delicious red wine gravy sauce.
Serving prime rib roast.
The prime rib roast is an impressive cut when cooked. It is also daunting as it is so large.
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 a ⅓” thick.
Each separated rib eye will easily feed 2 to 3 adults with enough sides.
If you are cooking a boneless cut, then just slice it into your desired portion size.
Drizzle some of the reduced red wine sauce over the meat and serve immediately with mashed potatoes and freshly steamed vegetables.
Or as part of a holiday banquet.
- 6lbs prime rib roast
- 2 onions
- 1 head garlic halved horizontally
- 2 rosemary sprigs
- 4 thyme sprigs
For the garlic herb butter
- 150 g unsalted butter softened
- 6 garlic cloves chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh rosemary finely chopped
- 2 tbsp fresh thyme finely chopped
- ½ tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
For the red wine sauce
- 1 ½ cups beef broth
- 1 ½ cups red wine
- Pre-warm your smoker to 450°F ready for the first part of the cook.
- Prep the prime rib roast by making sure the bones are clean and then truss the meat with butcher’s twine.
- Combine the herb and garlic compound butter ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
- Place roughly chopped onion quarters, garlic and fresh herbs in a cast iron pan.
- Place the rib roast bone side up in the pan and apply herb and garlic butter to this side, turn over and apply to the rest of the rib roast, including the sides. Rresere any leftover for later.
- Place the rib roast in the smoker and cook at at 450° for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, apply the last of the herb and garlic butter to the top of the prime rib roast and lower the temp to 250°F.
- Baste the rib roast every 30 minutes with the buttery juices from the pan.
- Once the prime rib roast reaches an internal temp of 118°F, take it out of the smoker for a 20 minute rest.
- While the rib roast is resting, place the cast iron pan over a high heat, add in the beef broth and red wine and simmer for 15 minutes and allow the sauce to reduce.
- After 15 minutes, strain the sauce and add to a gravy jug.
- Slice the prime rib roast into single rib eyes, remove the bones and slice into ¼” to ⅓” slices, drizzle with the red wine sauce and serve immediately.