01 of 08
How to Smoke Prime Rib - What You Need
Prime Rib is a roast and most of the time it gets roasted in the traditional method, and by that, I mean in the oven. Of course, you can make that much better by Grilling the Prime Rib, but there is another path. Smoking a Prime Rib is a slower process that adds all that smoky flavor and produces an amazingly tender and delicious roast.
Before you run out and buy a 7-bone rib roast, make sure you have the smoker capacity to handle it. The largest prime rib roast can be over 16 inches long and... you want to have two inches on either side of that for the heat and smoke to pass by. This means that an 18-inch diameter smoker might just not be big enough to handle this. Otherwise, buy the roast that will serve your guests. Plan on one bone serving two people, or about 1 pound per person. This might sound like a lot, but people won't be passing up a chance for seconds and the roast will shrink during cooking.
This process will take about 20 to 30 minutes per pound depending on conditions, the type or smoker used, and your level of desired doneness. See my cooking time chart for prime rib to calculate the time you need. Knowledge of your particular smoker and how it runs is very important. This isn't a complicated process, but your don't want to get it wrong. Also, this isn't barbecue. The target temperature of the meat is going to be between 130 and 150 degrees F (55 to 65 degrees C) and the smoking temperature is going to be 250 degrees F (120 degrees C).Continue to 2 of 8 below.
02 of 08
How to Smoke Prime Rib - Trimming
Butchers and meat markets generally think that the rib roast you buy is going to go in the oven. That you are going to cook it at a very high temperature for a short period of time before reducing the temperature to roast until done. For smoking, this process is going to be backwards and since we want smoke flavor, there needs to be a way for that smoke to get to the actual meat.
The conventional wisdom of prime rib is to leave a thick layer of fat all around the roast. When it comes to smoking... meat, however, you want to expose meat to smoke. The outer layer of fat on the typical rib roast is going to prevent absorption of smoke flavor and the only parts that will have it are the ends. On a large roast, this is a problem. Also, since this roast will be slow roasted we won't worry as much about the meat drying out as we will with getting smoke flavor evenly distributed. For this reason, we want to trim away a good portion of the fat cap that sits opposite the bone side of the roast.
When I smoke a prime rib I purchase a bone-in, untrimmed roast. I want control over what I put in the smoker and don't want to start with something that might not be properly trimmed and prepared for this process. The bones (provided you are using a bone-in roast) can be removed and tied back in place or cut so that there is a kind of hinge between the bones and the roast. This gives you access to season underneath the meat, but it won't give access to the meat for the smoke to penetrate. I remove a large portion of the external fat, which is not necessary, but as I said, will create a barrier to the smoke. It is the intramuscular fat that is going to prevent the roast from drying out much more than the external fat.Continue to 3 of 8 below.
03 of 08
How to Smoke Prime Rib - Seasoning
Of course, the star of any prime rib is the roast itself and it doesn't need a lot of complex seasonings to make it great. On the other hand, it doesn't hurt either. You can choose to go with simple salt and pepper or add a flavorful herb based prime rib rub. I do recommend that you season generously with salt as that is what is going to bring out not only the flavors of the meat but the smoke as well.
Apply your seasonings evenly over the meat, focusing on the top of the meat. This has the best... chance of penetrating into the meat and basting over the surface. If you have cut away or removed the bones to be tied on later, get the seasoning between the roast and the meat.
Smoking is a low-temperature cooking method and you want to start that process by letting the rib roast sit at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours before it hits the smoker. I wrap mine in plastic wrap and leave it on the counter. The plastic wrap keeps the moisture in and helps to prevent contamination.Continue to 4 of 8 below.
04 of 08
How to Smoke Prime Rib - Smoker Setup
While the roast sits, it is time to get your smoker ready. Being a small roast, I am opting for my Weber Kettle. The important part here is that your smoker is set up to run for about 30 minutes per pound of your roast. I highly recommend anticipating an extra hour in this calculation to be on the safe side. Depending on the smoker you have and how it is fueled, have it ready to go when the roast is ready to start cooking.
For smoke, I recommend a mild wood. Stronger flavored woods like hickory... or oak are going to overpower the prime rib flavor. Generally, I use cherry, but any fruit wood will work very well with a rib roast. Keep the smoke light to medium. A heavy smoke will create an acidic flavor, particularly in the fat. Don't worry about adding wood for smoke production until the roast is ready to go on.
Smoking will not render as many juices as higher temperature roasting, but if you intend to use dripping for gravy or other purposes, place a drip pan underneath the roast and make sure that the rack the meat is sitting on is very clean. Fill the drip pan with water before you place the roast in the smoker. I should warn you that the drippings will pick up a strong smoke flavor so be sure to taste anything made with them before you serve.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
How to Smoke Prime Rib - Smoker Placement
With the smoker prepared and after the roast has had a chance to warm up on the counter, it is time to start smoking. Place the rib roast on the smoker, over your drip pan bone side down. If your smoker's heat is from one side, like in an offset smoker, place the bone ends away from the heat to start. Regardless of they style of smoker you are using I do recommend rotating it once, halfway through the cooking time.
If you are using wood chunks to produce smoke, now is the time to add those. Close... up the smoker and let it go.Continue to 6 of 8 below.
06 of 08
How to Smoke Prime Rib - Rotate
Regardless of the style of smoker you are using, I recommend rotating your prime rib roast halfway through the cooking time to ensure even cooking. A good pair of high-temperature food safe gloves are perfect for this. This is a good time to check to make sure that there is water in your drip pan. Since the cooking temperature is low (around 250 degrees F/120 degrees C), the drippings won't burn easily, but you do want to prevent them from drying out is you are going to be using them later.
I... would also recommend checking the internal temperature of the roast at this point with a reliable meat thermometer. Depending on your target temperature, your should be closing in on around 100 to 120 degrees F/40 to 50 degrees C at this point.
Remember that after the roast is removed from the smoker, it will continue to rise in temperature by about 5 degrees F/3 degrees C during the resting phase. Subtract these numbers from your final target temperature and that will be the point at which you will remove the roast from the smoker. Consult the Prime Rib Temperature Guide for specific temperatures.Continue to 7 of 8 below.
07 of 08
How to Smoke Prime Rib - Wrapping
Typical of the smoking process, as the rib roast gets close to being done you can wrap it and let it finish off on the smoker. What you will get is a rich, flavorful and smoky prime rib. What you won't get is a crisp, caramelized surface, so you need to make a decision.
One method is as I said, wrap the roast tightly in foil to hold in the juices and let it reach the point of being nearly done. Make sure that the smoker is holding temperature and start getting those side dishes ready. Monitor the... temperature closely to get it to the target temperature I referred to in the last step.
The other option is to pull the roast about 10 degrees F/5 degrees C below your final doneness and transfer the roast to either an oven preheated to 400 degrees F/205 degrees C or equally hot grill. Chances are you won't be able to crank up the heat on your smoker to this level fast enough, if at all.
This is called a reverse sear and it will crisp up the surface of the roast, putting a deep, rich brown color on it. You will only need to keep it at this high temperature for about 10 minutes to get the desired effect.Continue to 8 of 8 below.
08 of 08
How to Smoke Prime Rib - Rest then Carve
Regardless of the path you chose in the last step, once the roast is just short of your desired final temperature remove it from the cooker and place on a platter and cover with a clean sheet of aluminum foil. Allow it to rest for about 10 minutes.
Transfer to a cutting board and carve off the bones by sliding a knife along the bones. You can cut the bones into individual pieces and serve. Personally, I stash these for later. Cut the roast to desired thickness remembering that thinner slices will... dry out quickly but will be more tender and thicker cuts will remain moist longer, but may be tougher. This process should yield a very tender roast. I'll let you decide how thick to cut the slices.