25 Pitmaster Tips For Smoking A Prime Rib

Sliced prime rib steak for smoking a prime rib article.

Smoking a prime rib can provide a delicious and unique flavor that’s perfect for the holidays or any special occasion. Prime rib roast is an expensive cut of beef that needs some finessing to coax out the buttery goodness underneath the delicious crust.

As pitmasters and seasoned recipe developers, we’ve cooked countless prime rib recipes and have pulled together a list of 25 tips to help ensure your smoked prime rib is amazing.

Sliced prime rib with roasted garlic.

Planning Stage

Producing a buttery soft Smoked Prime Rib starts from the moment you decide to serve prime rib. The below tips are listed IN ORDER of when you need them, for quick and easy reference.

Determine How Much Prime Rib To Buy

Determining the size of the prime rib roast is the first step to consider for two reasons: you need to know what size roast to purchase and ensure it fits inside your smoker. If your smoker is small, make sure it can fit that 7-bone prime rib roast you’re eyeing. I can’t imagine a worse faux-pas then realizing it doesn’t fit when trying to throw on the hot grill.

Prime rib in a white dish on the stove.

Choosing A Prime Rib Roast

There are a few factors to keep in mind when shopping for a prime rib for sale:

When smoking a prime rib, buy the highest rated prime rib roast you can afford. If you can swing a “prime” rated roast vs a “choice” cut, it’s absolutely worth the money to upgrade. The fat marbling is what gives the prime rib steak the “melt in your mouth” buttery texture. A choice level roast doesn’t quite provide that as there isn’t a ton of marbling.

Marbling is the #1 quality to look for as it generally means more flavor and tenderness. Choose a roast with good, even marbling throughout. Also look for one with a good layer of fat on the outside (fat cap). This fat will render during cooking and add flavor and texture.

I highly advise you avoid “select” rated prime rib. I personally would rather make a Smoked Chuck Roast or Smoked Tri Tip instead as both would be more enjoyable than a select graded prime rib.

Finally, you can absolutely purchase and use a frozen prime rib, however you must make sure it’s 100% defrosted before smoking.

Raw prime rib on a black cutting board surrouned by garlic, black pepper salt and rosemary for smoking a prime rib article.

Select The Prime Rib Rub

This next tip is based on personal preference and eons of experience. I always recommend using an olive oil based binder, or beef boullion paste, and avoid butter at all costs. In my personal experience, using a butter-based rub means a ton of prime rib rub runs off as the butter melts. Not to mention olive oil creates a better crust than butter.

Pick Your Serving Sauces

Serving prime rib with horseradish sauce or prime rib au jus is a given. But, prime rib sauce isn’t limited to those two classics. Select what you want, in advance, as to add the ingredients to you shopping list (see relevant tip below).

It’s important to know, in advance, that prime rib does not give off a ton of drippings. If you plan on making au jus or prime rib gravy, make sure you have some beef broth on hand to compensate.

Bowl of mashed potatoes with topping options.

Choose the Proper Wood

Different woods provide different flavors when smoking a prime rib. While some folks love using heavy smoke, such as hickory or mesquite, I personally don’t recommend it unless you know every single guest enjoys a heavy smoke flavor. These options will surely mask a bit of the beautiful beef flavor. The smoke should compliment the prime rib, not dominate it.

As such, I recommend sticking with a mild wood such as pecan wood or oak. For a sweet, mild flavor you can use  apple wood, or cherry wood. For more options and details, check out the list of The Best Wood For Prime Rib.

Create A Shopping List

Creating a shopping list is a MUST when smoking a prime rib. Imagine trying to start the smoker and you’re out of pellets or wood. Or, when you go to make the prime rib au jus and you’re out of beef broth. Making a shopping list makes you double check all your supplies, particular outdoor cooking supplies, well in advance. It’s a good practice to get into, for any occasion. It’s also why I recommend figuring out your wood of choice and prime rib seasonings before creating your shopping list.

Here are the ‘must have’ Smoker Accessories you may need as well.

Use a Digital Meat Thermometer

A digital meat thermometer is crucial to ensure your roast reaches your desired internal temperature and monitors the ambient temperature. Built-in temperature gauges on smokers are notoriously unreliable, so it’s not a good idea to rely on it . Ideally you want a prob to monitor the ambient temperature in your smoker and one to monitor the internal temperature of the roast.

We highly recommend, and personally use, a Thermopro Dual Thermometer.

Prime Rib Temperature Chart printable.

Determine The Cook Length

Make sure you calculate the anticipated total cook time, based on the weight of your prime rib roast. This timeline will affect your overall cooking schedule (see the next tip on the list). Anticipate 40 minutes per pound to reach an internal temperature of 130°F when smoking at 225°F.  

TIP –  Download our free Temperature Chart For Prime Rib and/or Beef Temperature Chart Printable for quick access when cooking.

Plan Out Your Cooking Schedule

Plan out your cooking schedule so there’s ample time to cook your prime rib roast to your preferred doneness. It’s ideal to take it out of the refrigerator 4 hours in advance, so it’s quite a long time frame to try and fit into a day if you’re not ready for it.

Also, there’s the matter of side dishes. My favorite holiday side dishes, when smoking a prime rib, usually take about 30 minutes to cook. While our prime rib is resting we have the side dishes prepped and ready to pop in the oven the minute the meat starts resting. This ensures both the Christmas roast and the side dishes are hot and fresh; one isn’t waiting on another. Here are some “What to serve with prime rib” ideas.

If you need some assistance with a schedule, shoot me an email via our contact form or leave a comment below. I’m happy to help.

Raw Prime Rib Roast

Preparing Your Prime Rib

Truss The Roast

This is one of those “tips” that is really a mandatory step to ensure a smooth and uneventful carving and serving process. Trussing a roast involves cutting the bones away from the meat and tying it back together with butchers twine at regular intervals. There are several benefits to the practice, but the number one thing is a cleaner and easier carving experience. Image trying to remove bones from a super hot smoked prime rib. It’s painful and messy (ask me how I know).

Trussing a roast is easy to do, however I always ask my butcher to do it. It’s free of charge and it takes a step off my prep list.

Here’s a great video showing how to truss a prime rib if you need a visual guide.

Dry Brine prime rib on a cutting board.

Dry Brine The Beef Roast

Brining the standing rib roast helps keep the meat moist during the smoking process. A dry brine using kosher salt is highly recommended, if you have the time.

Dry brining a prime rib prior to smoking a prime rib has several benefits: To start with, it’s much more convenient than wet brining as no large container of water is required. Then, as the salt and juices are reabsorbed, the meat will have an enhanced flavor throughout. Finally, dry brining can lead to a drier surface on the meat, which is ideal for achieving a good sear.

To dry brine prime rib, apply kosher salt evenly over the entire surface of the meat. Refrigerate for up to 3 days before cooking. This allows the salt to penetrate and season the meat thoroughly.

Bring To Room Temperature

While not mandatory, I highly recommend taking your roast out of the oven 4 hours in advance of cooking for several reasons. It provides for even cooking, relaxes the muscle fibers creating a more tender texture and cooks faster which minimizes the potential over overcooking.

Season Well

Apply a rub of your choice generously over the entire prime rib roast for maximum flavor.

Image of uncooked Prime Rib Roast with string

Smoking A Prime Rib Roast

Placement Of Smoker

The weather plays a huge role in outdoor cooking, so it’s essential to check the location of your smoker before pre-heating. On a windy day, it can be challenging to maintain the right temperature vs. a warm, calm day.

If you have the ability, choose a placement that offers some protection from harsh outdoor conditions. This will help with maintaining a constant temperature through out the cooking phase.

Drip Pan

While not required, I always use a drip pan when smoking prime rib as it shields the roast from sudden flare-ups. Place the pan directly under the roast.

Pre-heat The Smoker

Make sure the smoker reach the intended ambient temperature before putting the roast on the grill. Adding too early increases the likelihood of the exterior becoming drier than the interior.

Smoked prime rib on a grill.

Don’t Overcrowd the Smoker

Leave ample space around the roast so the smoke and heat circulate properly. The more crowded the smoker, the longer it will take the roast to cook and the less smokey flavor it will have.

Maintain a Consistent Ambient Temperature

Regularly monitor the temperature of the smoker to maintain a consistent temperature. It’s crucial to review the smoker’s location before pre-heating to prevent weather from impacting the temperature.

Monitor The Internal Temperature

Keep an eye on the internal temperature of the roast as it cooks. Monitoring the temperature let’s you identify a potential stall (not common with prime rib) and allows you to ensure you’re on schedule.

Standing Rib Roast on a grill.

Be Patient

Smoking a prime rib takes time – expect it to take at least 40 minutes per pound.

Avoid Opening the Smoker Too Often

Every time the smoker is opened, heat and smoke are lost, leading to an inconsistent cooking environment. It’s best to avoid frequent checks, unless spritzing, which should be done quickly.

Spritz For Moisture

After the prime rib has been smoking for 90 minutes, start spritzing the roast every 30 minutes to help keep the roast moist and juicy. You can use any liquid to spritz – I stick with beef broth but a 50/50 mix of beef broth and red wine would be amazing, especially if serving it with red wine pan sauce.

Reverse Searing

Reverse searing the prime rib is a method utilized to further render the fat cap and give the roast a beautiful crisp and dark crust. If you look at the picture above, you’ll notice the un-rendered fat and the lack of crust. However, if you look at the picture below, that roast has been reverse seared after cooking. Two totally different roasts.

The reverse sear method is also utilized when making Sous Vide Prime Rib.

Cooked Prime Rib Recipe on cutting board

After Cooking

Let it Rest

Resting the standing rib roast allows the roast to come up to the perfect internal temperature and allows for the juices to redistribute through the roast vs. running out immediately after cutting.

If you need to hold your roast at temperature for longer periods of time (over 30 minutes), store it in a hard-sided cooler without ice. Yep- just a simple cooler you’d take to the beach would work. Just wrap it and place it in there until you’re ready to carve.

Prime Rib roast in a roasting pan.

Sharp Knife

This is the most “common sense” tip, but you’d be surprised at how overlooked this is. A sharp knife is essential for carving a prime rib for several reasons: It allows for precise, clean cuts which maintains the smooth texture that lends to that “buttery soft” bite you’re aiming for. It also maintains the integrity of the juicy interior. Using a dull knife puts more pressure on the smoked beef roast which squeezes out some of the juice.

This is the knife I personally use and recommend for cutting meat.

Final Thoughts

Smoking a prime rib isn’t difficult, but it does take some time, patience and awareness. With these Pitmaster tips you’ll have the confidence and knowledge to deliver a killer prime rib roast.

Don’t forget to have fun and get creative! Try out different woods and spices to figure out your ideal combination.

Have leftover prime rib? Check out our “Recipes With Leftover Prime Rib” and ‘How To Reheat Prime Rib‘ posts for options and tips, including a Prime Rib Sandwich.

Smoked Prime Rib Recipe on a black cutting board.

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One response to “25 Pitmaster Tips For Smoking A Prime Rib”

  1. Gene Francisco Avatar
    Gene Francisco

    Sounds good! We plan on using your tips for our Christmas prime rib.