Perfect Smoked Barbecue Prime Rib Roast

December 18th, 201418 Comments

5.0 from 3 reviews
Perfect Smoked Barbecue Prime Rib Roast
Prep time
Cook time
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My pink to the edge, perfectly medium rare, super juicy, and kissed-with-smoke salty herbaceous crust prime rib has been a family favorite for many years, long even before I started winning barbecue championships.

One of the most common questions I get from my barbecue students and website visitors around Thanksgiving or Christmas is how to barbecue a prime rib. Thanks to the super gracious folks at Snake River Farms, I’ve prepared an especially high quality grade of 28-day aged prime rib. Let me share my answers to the common questions I get asked:

1. Can I cook it in my smoker? Yes; I cook mine in my Weber Smokey Mountain with Kingsford Blue briquettes with tennis-sized chunks of apple wood. I put one in at the start and another 45 minutes later. Just two chunks are plenty. You can also use hickory chunks or California red oak
2. Will it be better than an oven version? Yes, you will get a nice smoky roast that will be a spectacular centerpiece for an unforgettable feast for your guests
3. How do I set up my pit to smoke a prime rib? I cook mine low and slow in a 200F pit with some apple wood; I remove when internal temp is 110F and sear the sides over direct fire or on a hot pan for a final medium rare temperature of around 125F
4. What size prime rib do I buy for my party? For a party of six, plan on two servings per pound of boneless prime rib. I add one extra pound (6 persons X ½ lb + 1 lb) to have some yummy leftovers for salad or sandwiches. If you purchase bone-in prime rib, figure that each rib bone is good for two servings. The bones are heavy and add about 1 ½ lb to the prime rib
5. Where can I buy a good prime rib? A lot of folks have a local specialty butcher they know and trust. I go to my catering partner John Fueling’s store called The Corner Butcher Shop in La Verne, California, or I purchase them online from Snake River Farms, or I try my local Costco which sometimes carries prime grade rib roasts
6. How do I choose a good one? Purchase the best grade you can afford. Prime is best and Choice is also very good. If money is no object, the best tasting ones I’ve had are 28 day aged Wagyu prime grade corn-finished rib roast. I prefer the usual grass-fed and grain-finished beef versus the all grass-fed and grass-finished. Your individual preferences will vary. If you are selecting them yourself, carefully examine every roast they have in the store and pick them based on the amount of flecks of fat you see on the cut side. Fat equals flavor so look for a well-marbled roast with lots of white flecks on the side and striations of fat along the length.

7. Is it better to get bone-in or boneless? Both are good and you can calculate which is a better deal as each bone is a 1 ½ pound which you pay for and cannot eat. Some folks like to gnaw on the bone as it has a lot of flavor and feels very satisfying. I prefer boneless
8. What temperature do I cook it at? I cook my prime rib roasts in my pit very low and slow at 200F so I don’t lose any moisture and juices to evaporation and the slow cooking results in a pink finish all the way to the edge. I char the meat over direct heat or on a hot skillet after I smoke it to create a flavorful crust or bark. In a pinch, I’ve also use a crème brulee propane torch to finish the crust to photo perfection
9. What time do I start if my Christmas dinner starts at 5:30? For a 6-person party and a 4 lbs boneless prime rib, I would put it into a 200F pit around 1 pm; It should be done by around 4:30 and allow a for a 1-hour rest period before I slice and serve
10. Help, I’m out of time and only have 1 hour to cook a 7 lb prime rib roast before dinner. OK, for a MacGyver saving move if you’re in trouble or you’ve ended up facing Morimoto on Iron Chef, cut your boneless prime rib roast into 2 to 2 ½ inch thick steaks; follow my recipe below and smoke the steak at 250F, instead of 200F, for about 40 minutes until internal is about 120F; remove and char on top of a hot grill until internal is 135F; slice each steak in half and arrange the pieces on a serving platter with the pink side facing out; each piece of prime rib will have one pink side and one charred side which I really like
11. Will the prime rib be too smoky when I cook it in my smoker? Go easy on the wood and you’ll be OK. I find about 2 tennis-sized chunks of wood like apple, hickory, pecan, cherry, red oak is sufficient. I am NOT a fan of mesquite but you may be. I just don’t like the kerosene aftertaste of mesquite
12. How do I cook one prime rib so that guests who want rare, medium, and well-done, can get what they want? You cook it following my recipe below until rare and then remove and cut off the rare portion, sear the sides and keep warm; return the rest of the roast to the pit and cook until medium rare, remove, sear, and keep warm; cut off the portion you want well done and return to pit and cook until internal is 140F. Assemble the three pieces, rare, medium-rare, and well done into one piece on your serving platter. Garnish the top with some Italian parley to hide the cuts
13. How much will it cost me? Beef prices in the US vary depending on market forces of supply and demand. I’ve seen nice ungraded rib roasts for $3.99 per pound in Safeway or Stater Brothers; at the time I wrote this article, expect to pay $7 to $12 per pound for Choice and $9 to $20 per pound for Prime; for top-grade Wagyu, don’t be surprised to see $50-$80 per pound.
14. What seasoning works best for prime rib? I like a seasoning that’s salty, peppery, garlicky, and has hints of dried herbs like rosemary and thyme. In my SYD Moola Beef Rub, I incorporated these flavors plus other umami ingredients into my Championship Beef Rub
15. How long do you leave the rub on before cooking? I find dry-brine approach works best and one hour is good and overnight is best.
16. Do you wait for it to rise to room temperature before cooking? No, it’s not safe to do so. If you ran a restaurant and did this, you risk being shut down by the health department due the length of time the meat will resting at room temperature in the USDA danger zone of 40F to 140F that allows pathogens to multiply to the point it can make you sick. Ask yourself the last time you saw meat sitting in a restaurant kitchen waiting to come up to room temps. Besides, cooking it from fridge temperature of 36F in a 200F pit is much better as it gives you the longest temperature gradient climb to get the proper amount of smoke flavor into the open pores. Also, the longer period siting in the pit allows the meat to draw the salt ions from the dry brine into the meat. Searing it after smoking seals in the juices
17. Do you have a perfect smoked prime rib recipe? Funny you should ask . . .
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: American
Serves: 6

  • 4 lb boneless prime rib roast, Prime or Choice grade
  • 4 tablespoons SYD Championship Moola Beef Rub
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary, crushed into smaller flakes (If you're using fresh, double the quantity)
  • ½ tablespoon dried thyme (If you're using fresh, double the quantity)
  1. Mix together the SYD Beef rub, rosemary, and thyme
  2. Apply medium coat of rub all over your rib roast

  3. Wrap in plastic wrap and rest in fridge overnight
  4. Preheat smoker and keep it in the range of 200F-212F (if you don't exceed the boiling water temp, you won’t lose much juice)
  5. Remove rib roast from fridge, remove plastic wrap, and place in pit
  6. Toss in one tennis-sized chunk of apple wood
  7. Toss in a second piece about 45 minutes later
  8. Smoke in pit until internal is about 125F; about 3-4 hours
  9. Remove rib roast and take the top grate and place over the fire pit
  10. Char or sear the rib roast over direct fire. Move to the side if it flames too much from the oil dripping on the fire. Alternatively, you can spray water from a water bottle.
  11. Pull when internal is 135F. Rest under a loose foil tent for 30 minutes before serving. Save the juices and add it to any au jus you are preparing. I make an instant au jus from this concentrated product which is sold by my rub partner David Siervers of It’s really easy to use and IMHO has the best tasting beef flavor without any work and you just add hot water.

18 comments... read them below or add one

  1. Jared Wilson says:

    Just some quick questions! Never done a prime rib roast before. Is there any kind of silver skin that needs to be peeled off prior to cooking? And should any of the fat be trimmed off? Thanks for another great recipe!

  2. Jack Bigpond says:

    I decided to smoke the prime rib for our Christmas dinner this year. I followed Harry’s instructions for a Perfectly Smoked Prime rib and it came out awesome. It was so delicious, everyone loved it and it also had just the right amount of smoke. I don’t think I’ll ever cook another one in the oven again. Than you Harry.

  3. brian says:

    Made this over the weekend for a Thanksgiving Day celebration. Super easy and turned out great. Not sure why all Prime Rib Roast isn’t smoked! THanks, Harry!

    • Harry Soo says:

      Good point Brian. You get all that "Kissed By Smoke" goodness when you cook the prime rib in your pit. Go tell the world that it’s "Mo-Better in the pit with Butter!"

  4. Rick Gitchen says:

    I ordered a boneless prime rib roast, but I won’t know the weight until I pick it up. If I set my pit at 200F, approximately how many minutes per pound am I looking at to get me to the 110F range so I can then sear it?

    • Harry Soo says:

      Hey Rick:
      I would plan for about 40-50 minutes per lb at 200F. It depends on several factors including how much air circulation is in your pit and the starting meat temp. For example, if you took it our at 34F from the fridge, it would take longer than if it was at room temp.
      Remember that you can cook ahead and hold the prime rib at 140F oven or wrap in towels in an igloo indefinitely until your party starts.
      I would get it cooked and out of the way so you can focus on cooking all the other items you are making.
      Good luck.

  5. Brandon Evans says:

    Hello Harry, I Like your article and have some advise for those that want it medium and well done. I cook over 100 Prime Rib Roasts a year and always cook to rare/medium rare pulling the roast at 120F and resting in a holding box or cooler for at least 1 hour up to 5 hours before slicing. I make a dark au jus to colorize slices for the guests who prefer med to well done, (the au jus covers the pink making it appear well done but in reality it is colored med rare). I get many compliments and raves of the most tender and juicy prime rib the well done lovers have ever had. Hope this gives your readers another option. Merry Christmas to You and Donna!

  6. Scott Christensen says:

    Looking forward to smoking my first prime rib, just wondering if I am still using water pan on my WSM18?

  7. Chris says:

    Harry, can I get some clarification on temps. The information above explains that you remove at 110F and then sear until 125F. I usually go to 128F. In the instructions it says to smoke to 125F and sear to 135F. That will definitely be beyond medium rare.

  8. john says:

    when smoking do you use the water pan?

  9. Leesa says:

    Harry, I am smoking a 16 pound prime rib roast on Christmas Eve . How long to you
    Recommend I smoke it for rare?
    Thank you! I would appreciate any comments!

  10. Roy Paige says:

    Do you remove the outer fat cap on the prime rib? If not why?

    Thank you

  11. Dale Gilmore says:

    OMG Harry!!! Made a Version of This Last Night on 22" Weber C/W Slow & Sear, It Was Fantastic!
    Thanks So Much for All Your Help! Alberta, Canada

  12. William Haack says:

    My guests prefer medium. I will purchase a 4 pond boneless prime rib. What is the internal temperature? And how long in the smoker?

  13. Mark says:

    We are traveling and I plan to smoke the prime rib on Sat and bring to serve on Sun. Thinking if we will re-heat on grill to serve. Any concerns or suggestions?

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