Smoking a Prime Rib for Holiday Feasting!

smoked prime rib fit for a feast

The holiday season is coming up fast and we know how to make it special. For our holiday dinner, we use the mother of all meats, the big kahuna, prime rib. 

smoking prime rib christmas

Word on the street is ranchers raise their best cattle in preparation for Christmas time, making Christmas a perfect time to take advantage of prime rib.

Don’t get us wrong we all love the classic holiday turkey but nothing beats a smoked prime rib. It’s big, bold, and beautiful.

While this cut of meat can be expensive, it's definitely worth every penny, plus you automatically level up in the game of holiday feasting.

cost rib


On average you can expect to pay about $17 per pound for Prime cut while you can get Choice for around $11 per pound. Costco stocks Prime while Safeway Rancher's Reserve is a good Choice cut. My advice, if you don't always go big this is a good time to do so; find the best cut you can at a local butcher. You may not find U.S. Prime, but look for a nice fatty marbled cut.  A full primal cut contains 7 ribs, weighs 13 - 15 lbs and will feed around 17 - 20 people. While you may not expect 20 people for dinner, a full prime rib cooks better and more evenly than a half cut.  

A few prime rib tips for an unforgettable holiday dinner.

Selecting the roast

First, you’ll need to determine how much meat you need. A pretty simple gauge is to assume ½ to ¾ of a pound per person. A single rib will comfortably feed 2-3 people and a four rib will serve 8, but if you are having more guest for dinner you might need to go with the awe-inspiring full 7 bone prime rib.

smoke prime rib holiday dinner

While Prime is nice, it's not twice as nice; but you'll pay about twice as much.

Choice Grade Prime Rib is the cost effective way to go. I would advise against purchasing Prime if you're new to smoking –nothing worse than spending c-note only to end up with an overcooked peice of meat you could have achieved by overcooking a ribeye.

Whether Prime or Choice you want a well marbled, bone-in cut. If you decide to go with a boneless prime rib you can expect a more predictable even cook throughout. Don't worry about losing flavor without the bone, you won't be cooking hot enough to extract any flavor from the bone into the meat, therefore the benefit of the bone comes down to mere preference. As a matter of fact, you'll likely have a better caramelized crust if you go boneless. Personally, I like bone-in cuts and opt for bone when it comes to prime rib as well.

Preparing the Prime Rib Roast for Smoking.

To make a perfect prime rib you will need to “french” the bones or clean the rib bones off before smoking. Use a knife to scrape the excesses meat, fat, and cartilage off the ribs, or ask your butcher to do it for you. Watch a quick video here.

A dry salt brine is in order. If you have about 24 - 48 hours in advance, go ahead add kosher salt equally around the roast. Be careful not to over-salt as you will not be washing it off. A good rule of thumb is about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of meat. By doing this at least 12 hours (24 - 48 hours is more ideal) in advance you will allow for the salt to penetrate the meat, breaking down the proteins and ultimately make for a juicier and flavor filled roast. 

Next, you need to bind the roast together. Prime ribs have lines of fat throughout the meat which will force it to separate as it cooks. You’ll want to prevent this by binding the roast with butcher's string. Not only will this help the smoking process it will make the roast easier to carve.

Seasoning the Roast for Smoking

When the meat is this delectable you can easily decide less is more. Many simply season with salt (do not add salt if you did the dry salt brine) and pepper, maybe a little rosemary, but we like to do a little more. In fact, with prime rib, we subscribe to the more is more policy.

prime rib smoking meat

Selecting Wood for Smoking Prime Rib

There are different schools of thought when it comes to choosing the right wood for prime rib. Many like to use hardwoods such as oak, which will certainly produce a delicious flavor. But you have to be careful with hardwoods, because the smoke is strong you can easily overpower the meat, making the roast taste of smoke instead of beef. 

We prefer to use Cherry wood or a similar fruit wood. The flavor is light and sweet and the smoke will not overpower the meat.

Smoking the Roast

Place the prepped prime rib on the grate, fat side up and smoke at 250 for 3-6 hours depending on the size of the cut. If you have a small cut think approximately 20 minutes per pound.

Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. The center of the beef should be 130-135 for medium rare. Pull the roast off at 130 degrees and it will gain another 5 while resting. As always don’t over cook!

smoking prime doneness

Overcooking prime rib is like mixing cola with a highend scotch – don't be that guy.


With huge hunks of meat like this, the interior will continue to cook even after it is removed from the smoker. Don’t overcook it; if one of your guests prefers a well-done cut, then either carve their piece from the edge or grill their piece separately over a fire before serving.

Let your prime rib rest while you finish prepping the table and sides (about 10 -15 minutes).

If you want to give the roast a tasty crust brown the exterior after smoking: move the meat to the hot side of the grill and sear it about 5 minutes per side (don't close the lid); or as an alternative, blast it on high broil in the oven. Do this toward the end of the resting period. Since the only part of the meat being affected is the exterior you will not need to rest the meat again.

Time to Feast

Remove the strings and slice off the rib bones following the grains of meat, slice the roast into serving sizes, and cut the rib portion into individual bones. Try to capture the juices that role out and pour them back over the meat.

Enjoy. Post any helpful tips or questions below.