Preparing and Smoking a Prime Rib

Whether you're smoking prime rib for a holiday feast or just because you deserve it, you'll find that it's not a difficult dish to prepare. And because it's usually served medium rare to medium, it doesn't require a lot of time in the smoker. One thing to know about prime rib is that even though it's called "prime rib", the meat isn't necessarily the prime grade of beef.

Whole Beef Prime Rib, Smoked, On Cutting Board, One Slice Removed

What Is Prime Rib?

A beef rib cut can be either select, choice or prime grade. Prime is well marbled with fat, which makes it the most juicy, tender and flavorful grade. It's also highest in calories.

Select grade has much less fat, and because of that is less tender and juicy, but still a good cut of meat when properly cooked. And with less fat, it's also lower in calories than the prime grade. The fat content of choice prime rib lies somewhere between that of the other two grades.

Whole Prime Rib Roast, Raw, In Store Packaging

The whole prime rib includes ribs 6 through 12, and can be divided into smaller sections depending on the needs of the customer. A prime rib has a "small" end and a "large" end. The large end, nearest the shoulder, is less fatty and a bit less tender than the small end but has good flavor.

Preparing a Prime Rib Roast For the Smoker

Section of Whole Prime Rib Roast

The rib rib roast shown here is a small two-bone section from the large end of a whole, select grade prime rib. Most of the fat is concentrated around the perimeter of the central loin muscle, with just a small amount of marbling.

A prime rib can be seasoned with a complex mix of spices, or with only salt and pepper as this one was. I used kosher salt, and opted to use white pepper instead of black, only for the reason that it wouldn't be visible on the finished roast.

Be generous with seasonings on a prime rib. When served, it's only the seasoned outer edge of the slice that flavors the entire piece.

To get more flavor into the meat, the ribs can be partially cut away from the roast, which allows the meat to be seasoned under the rib bones. After seasoning, the bones need to be tied back snugly against the meat with butcher's twine. The bones add great flavor to the prime rib, and prevent it from drying as it cooks.

After the prime rib roast is seasoned, cover it loosely with foil or plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature to warm up for about an hour. By doing this, the meat will cook much more evenly that it would if it went into the smoker cold. Now is a good time to start up the smoker.

Smoking a Prime Rib- Setting Up the Smoker

Fire up the smoker, and aim for maintaining a temperature of about 265 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature the prime rib will cook slowly enough that it will be evenly cooked from the outer surface to the center.

It's also hot enough to slightly brown the exterior of the meat, which adds another great tasting layer of flavor. Place the rib roast bone side down on the grate, and cook for approximately 15-20 minutes per pound at 265 degrees.

Use a light flavored wood so the taste of the beef isn't overpowered. Fruit woods like apple and pear are good choices, and two, or maybe three additions (if you like it smoky) are plenty. If you can't find a mild wood to use, you can use a lesser amount of a more intensely flavored smoker wood.

How to Know When Your Prime Rib Is Done

Prime rib is done when the internal temperature tells you it's done. Use a remote thermometer so you don't have to open up the smoker to check the temp. Each time the smoker is opened, the cooking time is extended by 10 to 20 minutes.

The internal temperature of meat continues to rise for 10 to 15 minutes after it's removed from the heat. Use the following chart to guide you to cooking the perfect smoked prime rib.

Serving Smoked Prime Rib

Medium Rare, Smoked Prime Rib Slices on Board

Remove the rib bones and cut the roast into half-inch thick slices. Serve with a salad, baked potatoes, and a variety of grilled veggies. Make sure there's crusty bread for soaking up the meat juices left in the bottom of the plate.

One last thing, as the prime rib nears completion in the smoker, put together some horseradish sauce for dipping. It's easy to make. Simply combine 1/4 mayonnaise with 2 to 3 teaspoons of spicy horseradish and squeeze of lemon juice. Make the sauce at least 30 minutes beforehand so the flavors have time to meld together.