For the ultimate special occasion meal, it doesn't get better than this impressive smoked prime rib roast! This beautiful piece of beef is smothered in a spiced garlic butter and then smoked until it transforms into the most succulent, melt-in-your-mouth tender meat. You can smoke it on an electric pellet grill, charcoal grill or gas grill — your choice. No matter how you smoke this flavorful prime rib, you have a guaranteed crowd pleaser that you'll want to serve every chance you get.
What Is a Prime Rib Roast?
This large cut of beef is prepared from the primal ribs of the cow. You may have also heard it referred to as a standing rib roast. That’s because the meat literally stands on top of the rib bones as it roasts — or in our case, as it smokes.
As such, traditional prime rib comes with the bones, though you can find cuts of boneless prime rib. These boneless cuts are also called a rib eye roast. They both come from the same part of the cow. Fortunately for you, you can use this recipe for both a boneless roast and bone-in prime rib, so you have options.
When selecting your prime rib cut at the grocery store or butcher shop, you have three standard choices as graded by the USDA. In order of quality, it goes:
How a prime rib falls into these classifications comes down to the amount of fat marbling and aging. More marbling means more flavorful, juicy meat, and younger cows make for a more tender bite.
Of course, it should come as no surprise that the grade of beef is reflected in pricing. No prime rib roast is cheap, but you’ll pay more per pound for a prime grade than choice and select.
Honestly, the prime rib pictured throughout this post is a choice grade, and it was phenomenal. The meat was buttery and beyond tender with a rich flavor and nice marbling.
My local grocery store had an amazing sale on this cut, and considering food prices these days, I couldn’t turn down this opportunity. So don’t let any food snobs tell you it’s prime grade or bust.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
Make your guests feel extra special: Are you the ultimate host or hostess or what? There’s no better way to shower your favorite people with love than setting down this elegant platter of perfectly smoked meat on the dinner table. This is one meal to remember.
Serves both a crowd or small group: If you have a large family or dinner party to feed, this recipe serves you well as it’s designed for a 10- to 11-pound prime rib. That said, you can also buy a smaller prime rib or ask the butcher to cut it down for a more intimate gathering.
No oven required: Need oven space for side dishes and desserts? You got it. We prepare this prime rib entirely on the smoker, so your oven is free and clear.
Makes the best leftovers: Allow me to introduce you to the best sandwich of your life. This is especially nice during the holidays when you may have family staying for a few days, so the feast can continue.
Prime rib roast: Ahh, the shining star of the show. As mentioned, this recipe calls for a large prime rib, and this particular cut included five bones. If you want to use a smaller prime rib, that’s absolutely fine. You won’t need as much of the butter mixture, and the cooking time will be shorter so adjust accordingly.
Butter: When roasting prime rib in the oven in the past, I always covered it in a decadent butter paste and thought we’d bring the same technique here. Hey, butter makes everything better, right?
Garlic: You’ll love the flavor fresh garlic cloves add to the crusty exterior bark. Make sure to chop the garlic finely.
Spices: We keep it simple here. Prime rib is plenty flavorful on its own, so we don’t need much — just some smoked paprika, dried rosemary, kosher salt and black pepper.
Prepare the Prime Rib
Whether we need to first prepare the prime rib depends on how it was sold. We want the bones cut away from the meat to make it easier to carve. Some prime ribs are already sold this way while others aren’t.
This process may seem scary. I felt terrified the first time I tackled it. After all, it’s an expensive cut of meat, and you don’t want to ruin it. But I promise that it won’t seem hard once you get in there and start cutting. If you’d like to see a video of the process in action, this tutorial at the 2:45-minute mark helped me a lot when I cooked my first prime rib.
Tip: If you don’t want to bother with this step, your butcher should be happy to take care of it free of charge if you ask. But I still think it’s helpful to understand the process just in case.
Step 1: We take a knife and cut the meat away from the rib bones (photo 1). Obviously, we don’t want to waste that meat, so keep the knife as close to the bone as possible. We continue to cut to the end of the bone but not all the way through the meat. The final shape will almost remind you of an open book (photo 2).
Step 2. Now we take kitchen twine and tie it several times horizontally and vertically to keep the pieces together (photo 3).
Make Garlic Butter Paste
Step 3: With our prime rib prepared, we’re ready to start on the butter paste. For this step, we whip softened butter with loads of chopped garlic, dried rosemary, smoked paprika, salt and pepper until it becomes a smooth consistency like so (photo 4).
Step 4: From here, we rub the butter mixture all over the prime rib, including the sides, so that it’s well-covered (photo 5).
Smoke the Rib Roast
Step 5: Just like that, we’re ready to smoke our meat. We place the entire roast directly on the grill grate with a water pan. The fat side should face up, and the bone side should face down. If possible, I like to also put a pan underneath the meat to catch the drippings.
Once the meat is on the grill, we insert a leave-in meat thermometer into the center of the roast (photo 6). This ensures we cook it to perfection. Now we close the lid and let the meat smoke.
Reverse Sear and Rest Before Carving
Step 6: For a nice crust on the outside of the roast, we want to reverse sear it with a blast of high heat at the end of smoking. That high temperature will help caramelize the outside to create that bark.
To take care of this, we remove the beef when the internal temperature reaches 105-110 degrees F and heat the smoker to 400-450 degrees F. When the smoker hits that high-heat point, we put the beef back on the grill (photo 7) and continue to cook it until it’s within 5-10 degrees of our desired internal temperature of the roast.
Step 7: Now we remove the prime rib, set it on a cutting board, cover it with aluminum foil and let the meat rest for 20-30 minutes (photo 8). This allows the juices to redistribute to the meat, so don’t skip this step.
Step 8: After resting, we’re ready to carve with a sharp knife (photo 9). If you plan on serving this as a big steak, carve it so that it’s about ¾- to 1-inch thick. You can also carve it in thinner slices if you plan on serving this more buffet style like you see at those fancy catered dinners.
That’s it! You now have the most perfect prime rib that everyone will love.
Note: This recipe was tested on a vertical pellet smoker, but you can use this on any type of unit.
What to Serve on the Side
No dinner is complete without side dishes. You can’t go wrong with all of these delicious options.
- Smoked mac and cheese
- Smoked mashed potatoes
- Croissant stuffing
- Vegetable risotto
- Fresh green bean casserole
- Sweet potato soufflé
- Brandy cranberry sauce
Beyond side dishes, you can also add some surf and turf action with these smoked lobster tails, served with a lemon-garlic butter. Oh, and don’t forget the horseradish sauce and au jus. How’s that for one elegant meal?
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
If you have leftovers, go ahead and carve the whole roast and then store the slices in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days. You can also freeze the leftovers for up to six months before the quality starts to degrade. Whether you refrigerate or freeze the leftovers, allow it to cool first.
When you’re ready to reheat the leftover prime rib, I recommend placing it in a baking dish with 2-3 tablespoons of beef stock, cover it in foil and stick it in a 250-degree oven for 10-15 minutes. This gentle heat warms the meat, but it shouldn’t overcook it. For thawing, simply place the frozen meat on the refrigerator overnight.
Internal Temperature Guide
With prime rib, rare or medium rare are best to ensure it stays juicy and tender. If you insist on cooking it higher, I absolutely wouldn’t go beyond medium, and even that is too high for many people’s taste with this cut. Remember, the outside pieces won't be as rare. If you cook it to medium rare, your guests who prefer a medium finish can have those end pieces, and the more rare-loving folks don't have to sacrifice their meat.
To use this chart, decide what level of doneness you’d like, and then remove the beef from the smoker at the pull temperature. As the meat rests, it will raise another 5 or so degrees to get you to your final temperature.
|Doneness||Pull Temperature||Final Temperature|
|Rare||115-120 degrees F||120-125 degrees F|
|Medium rare||125-130 degrees F||130-135 degrees F|
|Medium||135-140 degrees F||135-140 degrees F|
|Medium well||145-150 degrees F||150-155 degrees F|
|Well||150 degrees F||155 degrees F|
This depends on how you plan to serve the prime rib. If you’re hosting a sit-down dinner and cutting it into steaks, plan for ¾-1 pound per person. However, you can get away with ½ pound per person if you’re carving it into thin slices for more of a buffet-style dinner.
We want to go low and slow, so 225 degrees F is perfect. At that temperature, about 40 minutes per pound is a good rule of thumb.
Keep in mind, every piece of meat cooks differently, and many factors can affect the smoke time, so this is just a guideline. Use the internal temperature to dictate when the roast is ready.
You can’t go wrong with hickory, and it’s my go-to wood for this recipe. That said, you also have other options, such as oak and pecan. Apple wood and cherry wood are also great if you prefer a sweeter finish.
If you're using an electric smoker, you'll use wood pellets. But if you opt for a charcoal or propane smoker, you may prefer wood chunks over wood chips for the longer burn.
The chuck end includes ribs six to nine and has a higher fat content. If you opt for the loin end, it includes ribs 10-12, and they’re on the leaner side. One isn’t necessarily better than the other — it comes down to personal preference.
Let your meat sit at room temperature before smoking: For best results, I like to let the prime rib sit at room temperature for three hours prior to smoking. This helps take off the chill for more even cooking.
Pick the best cut: Look for a prime rib that shows off a rich red hue with a web of marbling throughout the beef.
Use a leave-in thermometer: This ensures you don’t accidentally overcook the meat, which can happen if you periodically check it with an instant-read thermometer.
Don’t smoke above medium rare: You don’t want to dry out this expensive piece of meat. If you have guests who won’t eat medium rare, the end pieces will be more cooked.
Leave the fat cap on the roast: This is a flavor maker. The exception is if the fat cap hasn't been trimmed. It should be about ¼-inch thick, but I find most prime ribs have already been trimmed.
A Belgian-style dubbel is a favorite with prime rib. The caramel-like backbone matches the rich meat, and you’ll love the contrast of the sweet malt and smoky exterior.
For a wine, a bold, full-bodied cabernet sauvignon is always a great choice. This tannic wine shows off some nice acidity to cut through the beef’s richness, and those oak, pepper and tobacco notes meld with the smoky flavor.
Make your next gathering even more special with this smoked prime rib recipe. Everyone will fall in love with that tender, juicy roast.
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Smoked Prime Rib (Standing Rib Roast)
- Kitchen twine
- Smoker any type
- Wood pellets or chunks hickory recommended
- 10-11 pound bone-in prime rib roast
- 2 cups softened salted butter
- 8 finely chopped garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
- ½ tablespoon coarse kosher salt
- ½ tablespoon black pepper
- If the rib bones are not already cut away from the meat and tied back, take a knife and cut down the rib bones to separate the bones from the meat. Keep the knife as close to the rib bones as possible. Don't completely cut through the roast. Stop at the bottom of the ribs so that the ribs and meat open like a book.
- Tie several pieces of kitchen twine horizontally and vertically to secure the two pieces together (see notes).
- In a mixing bowl, beat together the softened butter, garlic cloves, smoked paprika, dried rosemary, kosher salt and black pepper until it becomes one cohesive mixture.
- Rub the butter mixture all over the prime rib, including the sides, so that it's well-covered.
- Place the prime rib on a 225-degree smoker with a water pan and a drip pan underneath. The roast should be fat-side up, standing on the bones. Insert a leave-in meat thermometer in the center of the roast. Close the lid.
- When the internal temperature reaches 105-110 degrees F, remove the roast from the smoker and crank up this heat to anywhere from 400-450 degrees F. Place the prime rib back on the smoker to reverse sear and form a crust. Continue to cook until it reaches 5-10 degrees under your final desired temperature. Pull at these temperatures for these final levels: 115-120 degrees F for rare, 125-130 degrees F for medium rare, 135-140 degrees F for medium, 145-150 degrees F for medium well and 150 degrees F. For best results, don't cook it above medium rare for the most juicy, tender, flavorful meat.
- Set the prime rib on a cutting board, cover with foil and allow the meat to rest for 20-30 minutes to allow the juice to redistribute to the meat. Carve and serve. Enjoy!
- For best results and more even cooking, set the prime rib on the countertop at room temperature for three hours before cooking.
- If you don't want to bother with cutting the ribs away from the meat and tying the two back, ask your butcher to take care of this for you. It should be free of charge.
- While this recipe calls for a bone-in prime rib, you can substitute a boneless prime rib. Likewise, you can use a small roast than specified. Just know it will require less cooking time.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days. To reheat, place in a baking dish with 2-3 tablespoons beef stock. Cover with foil and warm in a 250-degree F oven for 10-15 minutes. You can also freeze the leftovers for up to six months.
- Leave the fat cap on the roast. This is a flavor maker. The exception is if the fat cap hasn't been trimmed. It should be about ¼-inch thick, but I find most prime ribs have already been trimmed.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.