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Nerdy Science in the Kitchen

Best Way to Smoke a Prime Rib



smoked prime rib on grill
Smoked to perfection.

A smoked prime rib isn’t just any ordinary dish. It’s big, bold, manly food that takes time, care and patience.

Prime rib is a popular choice at steakhouses and barbecues across the country. And smoking the meat adds an extra element to an already mouth-watering piece of steak. Fans of smoked prime rib are probably wondering how to recreate that juicy, tender meat at home without paying the big bucks at a restaurant. Well, for starters, the magic happens outside, otherwise, the house gets smoked as well. As for the rest, keep reading to discover the best way to smoke a prime rib and achieve that melt-in-your-mouth beefy goodness at home.

The meat

As any good cook knows, quality ingredients are key to making an excellent dish. And if I’m going to spend several hours cooking a piece of meat, I want the best cut of prime rib I can find. Malcolm Reed from How To BBQ Right recommends selecting a 5lb. Choice Grade prime rib for smoking. Reed also goes for well-marbled meat with the bone intact for an extra juicy steak.

Now for the seasoning. Reed says he doesn’t like to inject the rib with seasoning (sounds too technical, right?), instead, he suggests heavily seasoning the outside for that authentic smoky flavor and crusty outside.

Here is the seasoning recipe from How To BBQ Right:

  • Olive oil (for rubbing on the outside of the steak)
  • Coarse ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • Montreal steak seasoning

Smoke roasting or true smoking?

While researching prime rib smoking, I stumbled across Steven Raichlen’s Barbecue Bible. Purists of the meat smoking world will no doubt opt for the true smoking method (more details below). Smoke roasting (also called indirect grilling) is quicker but still produces a smoky prime rib. Just add a handful of soaked and drained wood chips to the coals. If cooking on gas, use a smoker box or a foil pouch of wood chips. Place the meat in the center of the hot grate, cover, and grill until cooked to your liking.

Check out the Cave Tools Smoker Box for BBQ Grill Wood Chips at Amazon

If true smoking is more your style and time is not a factor, set the smoker between 250 and 275 degrees and cook for 4 to 6 hours (times vary depending on the size of the meat). Raichlen says, “True smoking is an exquisite ménage a trois of spice, meat, and smoke flavors.” It sounds delicious, and this method allows chefs to prepare a perfect medium-rare piece of meat without overcooking the outside.

plate of prime rib, au jus, corn dinner

How To BBQ Right also recommends using Cherry Wood chips for a mild smoke flavor. For a stronger taste, try Hickory or Oak in moderation. You don’t want to overpower the meat. Another tip is to add a quartered sweet onion into the fire for even more flavor.

Check out Weber’s Cherry Wood Chips at Amazon


Monitoring the temperature of the meat is super important when smoking a prime rib (or any type of meat for that matter). Overcooked prime rib with a leathery texture is not worth six hours of effort in the backyard. A probe thermometer can help prevent disappointment, paving the way for glory when serving perfectly cooked smoked prime rib to hungry guests. Be sure to have a probe thermometer handy when smoking meat.

Check out ThermoWorks’ Super-Fast Thermapen Cooking Thermometer at Amazon

Cooking times

Alright, let’s get the rib on the grill. The team from How To BBQ Right are experts in the trade and have been working the barbecue competition circuit for 10 years. I’m going to trust their judgment when it comes to cooking times, but make sure to monitor the temperature of your meat, just in case.

Prime rib cooks at approximately 20 minutes per pound. When the internal temperature of the meat hits 135 degrees, take it off the heat to let it rest. Reed says large cuts of meat gain 5 to 10 degrees after being taken off the heat, meaning the meat will be 140 degrees (internal temp.) and medium rare in 15 minutes.

Don’t let smoking ribs ruin your deck. Check out my picks for the best grill mats for wood decks.

Sauce on the side

Some people like a little sauce on the side of their meat and the Food Network has a great recipe by Bobby Flay for a Red Wine Steak Sauce.

Ingredients (makes 6 to 8 servings):

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons dry red wine
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 heaped tablespoon horseradish
  • 1 heaped tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Splash red wine vinegar

Cook the garlic and shallots in the oil on a medium heat for about 2 minutes, or until soft. Add the tomatoes, set the heat to high and cook for about 5 minutes. Next, add the wine, ketchup, water, raisins, molasses, brown sugar, horseradish, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne, allspice, salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes. Finally, add a splash of red wine vinegar, transfer to a blender and blend until smooth.

Enjoy your perfectly smoked prime rib with friends and family if you like. It may be too good to share!

Cut that prime rib the right way… with the top knives for a BBQ competition.

We have some suggestions on great BBQ appetizers. And here’s my post on the best pan for searing fish. Want to cook a steak on the stove? Here are my picks for the best pans for the job.

Kitchen Professor author
About the Author: Bryce Heitman

Bryce is not a real professor, but he's real nerdy in the kitchen. He's been barbecuing, chopping, and generally blazing food for many decades. He thinks there's definitely a better spatula or utensil out there that hasn't been invented yet.

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