A primer on Smoked Prime Rib (see what I did there?). Plus a recipe and video tutorial on smoking the perfect prime rib.
Prime rib is a big holiday favorite. It’s dramatic. It’s big. It’s delicious. Let’s be honest, it’s also incredibly expensive! So when I talked to Sean, aka the pitmaster, about posting our recipe and technique for smoking prime rib we had to be detailed. If someone is going to commit to cooking this epic dish for family or friends this holiday season they need to be confident they can pull it off, right?
So below you’ll find a (rather lengthy) primer on all you need to know to smoke your prime rib this holiday season. And bonus, we made a VIDEO! This way you’ll have everything you need to master this dish, the recipe AND video!
*scroll to bottom for the video
Smoked Prime Rib
I love creating new traditions when it comes to the holidays. I enjoy seeing our guests’ responses when they try some of our own traditions, since almost every major holiday in our household has a meat that is prepared in a smoker (duh!).
First, let’s clarify something. And this is important. Smoking meat is low and slow. Low heat and a slow cooking process. So when I say “smoking” that is what I am referring to. Smoking is synonymous with barbecue, but I like to be specific in the technique. Grilling is a high heat cooking method and not to be confused with low and slow. Each has its time and place, but for me holidays are all about low and slow.
One of my favorite cuts of meat during a special occasion is prime rib. And when I make a prime rib I always smoke it.
What is Prime?
So technically I am talking about a rib roast even when most refer to this particular cut as prime rib. Prime, in prime rib, refers to the cut quality according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) rating system. Quality, as defined by the USDA, simply is the marbling and quality of beef, which in turn also impacts tenderness and flavor.
When talking to friends and family I can’t help but notice that some of the meat they are purchasing is not in fact “prime”. So first, let us discuss the finer points of the rib roast so it’s easier to understand what you are buying and how much you are buying it for.
In order of beef quality you have prime, choice and then select. While prime is certainly the highest quality, choice also has tremendous flavor and is definitely not an “inferior” meat. It just didn’t rise to the occasion of marbling and quality as the prime. When you get to select, you begin to see a difference in the meat, the fat content and other factors. Still worthy of smoking, but I would be sure if going down this route, consider at least a choice cut.
At some stores you may see labels outlining the rancher, or the type of feed (grass, grain, etc). Don’t hesitate to ask if the beef is rated, and if it isn’t, at least discuss with the butcher that you are looking for a choice or prime quality cut or its equivalent. Grain finishing adds marbling. Strictly grass fad beef will tend to be leaner and less marbling. Finally, look closely at the labeling. In the end it may say “Prime Rib of Beef” or “Standing Beef Rib Roast for Prime Rib” according to the USDA but not have to be derived from prime grade beef. So when in doubt ask the butcher.
So the first thing I would offer when you choose the meat, start with your budget and how many people you are feeding. Why? Prime Rib is one of the most expensive cuts on the market. If you are feeding 10 people you may realize that a choice cut of meat is a better option. The loss of flavor can be there, but let’s be real; a rib roast can go from $14.00 – $18.00 per pound, so that adds up fast.
After budget, then I look at the cut quality. Am I buying prime every time? The reality is, finding prime is not easy and choice is a good quality cut. Remember that the core difference in the ratings is marbling. So you’ll see less marbling in a choice cut versus the prime. But, if you can find prime and fits your budget then I say go the distance.
Finally, I love ordering bone-in (you can do boneless too). And when you call in an order or are there in person, don’t be surprised if the butcher expects you to order by number of ribs. I like to order three or four rib roasts when smoking to give enough time for the smoke to penetrate. So don’t be shy to throw out there “I’d like a three bone rib roast please.” They will know what you’re talking about.
After coming home from the butcher I start right away trimming the excess fat off the outer roast if it is hanging or loose. After removing the fat I rinse under cold water and pat dry. It’s not uncommon for the butcher to have trimmed off the bones already from the roast (and thus it is tied together with string). Be sure when you rinse and clean, you include this area as well. Once dry, the seasoning begins. Start with a coat of olive oil and then finish with salt and pepper. Sound simple? It is, and this is due to the amazing flavor you get from the fat rendering as you slowly cook the meat. Want to add another layer of flavor? Consider a paste of olive oil, crushed garlic, thyme, sage, and rosemary.
A paste is simply a wet rub. Just blend all of the ingredients together in a food processor. It sticks easier to the meat, and when using smoke, liquid helps the flavor adhere to the meat. Remember to also season within that area of the bone that was removed by the butcher, coat everywhere. Seriously, be LIBERAL with your paste and seasonings! You can season the roast the day you will cook it or prep the day before. (I don’t have the bone removed, I cut it out after it’s done cooking, just my preference.)
You can easily put the roast in an oven and it will be amazing but smoking will add an incredible flavor dimension that oven roasting won’t. Rib roasts don’t take long to cook either, so you can easily do this without blowing an entire day with a cut like brisket. Whether you use a pellet, electric, or a wood and coal based smoker, the technique for the meat is the same.
The key is to keep the temperature consistent and to impart the fragrant woodiness to the meat. Use apple or other fruit wood for a brighter flavor, or a mesquite or hickory for a flavor closer to that of a campfire. Also, plan ahead. When looking at times for cooking length look for smoking recipes, not roasting, it can be up to 45 minutes or more per pound. You are NOT cooking at 425 Fahrenheit. * Remember you always cook to temp and not time. 🙂
Prepare your fire in your smoker. The key is keeping the temperature in the cooking chamber at 225 – 250 degrees throughout the cooking process.
Place the roast onto the smoker when it comes to temperature, I do this straight from the fridge. When smoking, the cooler meat will warm as it cooks and the colder temperature actually will infuse more smoke flavor then a roast that has been standing a while. You will smoke until the internal temperature of the roast when measured at the center is at your desired level; I like 125 degrees for a medium rare feel 130 – 135 for medium.
Always use a good thermometer for a cut like this for a proper read. We love the Thermapen Mk4 for its quick and accurate read.
Once you pull the roast from the smoker, wrap the roast in aluminum foil and allow time to sit for 20 – 30 minutes. The temperature will continue to rise another 5 degrees or so. Then prepare to carve.
Remove the foil and then the strings. Next, remove the bones from the roast. As much as I love the bone, I find a much more elegant presentation without the bone. Place the roast on a cutting board and slice into desired thickness. Plate and serve with your favorite sides.
The great part of a rib roast is the ability to cook the outer edges to medium while the center can be rare. So you can please a wide audience without over cooking the entire roast.
There is something else about the experience of smoking with a crowd like a holiday. It’s an opportunity to stand around the smoker, talking not only about what you are about to eat, but a chance to move at the pace of the smoker, not the other way around. You can enjoy great conversation and anticipation for the amazing food coming your way. And maybe it’s just a chance convincing others to try your new tradition of cooking some prime rib, on a smoker. Sorry holiday ham…..sometimes you just need to change things up.
Serve this with a big red such as a Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, Merlot, or Malbec, and you’re good to go!
- 5 lbs Prime Rib or rib roast
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons coarse ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Place everything into a food processor and pulse a few times until combined into a chunky paste.
- Preheat Smoker to 225 degrees.
- Trim excess fat off of meat, rinse with cold water and pat dry.
- Apply olive oil, and salt and pepper generously to the rib roast. Then apply the paste.
- Place the rib roast on the smoker bone side down (acts as heat shield).
- Check temperature in the center of the meat to desired doneness. I like 125 degrees. (This should take roughly 3-4 hours for a 5 lb prime rib). Always use a good thermometer to check the meat for doneness.
- Remove from smoker and let sit for 20 - 30 minutes.
- Slice and serve.
See video for tutorial.
Watch the video tutorial of how to smoke a prime rib here.
And if you are having trouble playing the video, click here to view it on YouTube.
What about YOU? Do you go BIG for the holidays? What do you like to cook?
*This post contains an affiliate link for the Thermapen Mk4 digital read thermometer. We only recommend products we use and love! And you can’t smoke meat to the perfect temperature without one! Seriously, the folks who cook to touch? No! You can always be certain if you have good thermometer and this one is awesome.
For more tasty recipes, BBQ tips and tricks, check out the Recipe Index.
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