This smoked prime rib recipe brings together the rich tenderness of prime rib with the smoky flavor of the pellet grill. With a horseradish garlic butter crust and a simple reverse sear technique, this smoked prime rib will be your new favorite way to enjoy this indulgent cut of beef!
I’ve made some darn good prime rib roasts in my time, but this smoked prime rib recipe was hands-down the best rib roast that I’ve ever made. And keep in mind that I’m a former chef at a high-end steakhouse, so that statement speaks volumes.
Having made many prime rib roasts in my culinary journey, both professionally and on my own back deck, I’ve had years to hone and test my recipe and technique. And this prime rib recipe can be summed up in one word – perfect.
But what made this smoked prime rib different? What made it better than all of the rest? In this post, I’m sharing all of my secrets and tips for the best smoked prime rib on the pellet grill…
What is Prime Rib?
Prime rib, also known as a standing rib roast, is a luxurious and flavorful cut of beef that comes from the primal rib section of the cow. This succulent beef roast is known for its tenderness, rich marbling, and exquisite melt-in-your-mouth texture.
Prime rib is often served with some sort of horseradish-based sauce (like our favorite homemade horseradish sauce for prime rib) and could be accompanied by an au jus made from the pan drippings from the beef.
When you’re shopping for a prime rib roast, you may see the meat labeled as standing rib roast, boneless rib roast, boneless prime rib, ribeye roast, or prime rib roast. Of course, the distinguishable factor will be whether or not the rib bones are attached to the cut.
Now let me shine some light on one of the most common misconceptions about prime rib… The “prime” part of the name refers to the word “primal” because it comes from the primal rib, not the prime grade of beef. You can have prime rib that is choice grade, and in fact, some of the best standing rib roasts that I have ever smoked have been choice grade beef.
Whether slow-roasted to perfection, smoked on a pellet grill, or seared and finished in the oven, prime rib is a delicious dinner for any meat lover, special occasion or not!
Choosing the Right Rib Roast for Smoked Prime Rib
The first step to making an amazing prime rib roast is picking out the perfect cut of meat. You can do everything right – season the beef and cook it perfectly – but if your meat quality is subpar, then your roast won’t be perfect.
Here are some tips for selecting the best cut of beef for your pellet grilled prime rib roast:
Cut of Meat
There are two main cuts that are commonly used for prime rib – the ribeye roast and the standing rib roast. Both cuts come from the same primal rib area of the cow. The main difference in the two is that the ribeye roast is boneless, and the standing rib roast includes the rib bones.
In my opinion, the best smoked prime rib starts with a standing rib roast. Not only will you have the bones leftover to make a fantastic stock, but the bones actually protect the roast as it smokes, creating a barrier of sorts from the heat. That’s why I always smoke larger cuts of meat with the bones closest to the fire pot on the grill.
Not to mention, you get incredible flavor and a beautiful presentation with the rib bones.
When purchasing rib roasts at the grocery store, I’ve seen the bones treated a variety of ways including:
- The bones are 80% cut off and then trussed back on the roast with butcher’s twine, so they are still attached in a small area to the beef. This is how the prime rib roast pictured in this post was sold.
- The bones are completely cut off, but then trussed back on the roast with twine.
- The bones are not cut at all and the whole roast is intact.
Of course, if you can only find boneless ribeye roasts or if that’s the cut that is on sale at the grocery store, don’t let that shy you away from trying this fantastic smoked prime rib recipe… with the proper cooking techniques and my amazing horseradish crust, you’ll enjoy a delicious prime rib dinner either way!
Grade of Beef
The prime rib roast is typically available in different grades, but the most common options are prime, choice, and select.
Prime-grade meat boasts more marbling, which translates to increased tenderness and a more flavorful end result… but you’ll pay for it! That’s why I typically only opt for prime grade beef for special occasions.
I have personally always had luck with smoking choice grade rib roasts, but I’m also picky when choosing my meat at the grocery store. I look for a choice grade that is still well-marbled. In fact, the roast pictured above is choice grade, and it was absolutely fantastic!
I would not recommend that you use a select grade beef (for this or any other recipe). You can be the best backyard chef there is, but you’re only as good as the meat that you’re cooking. And select just isn’t good at all in my opinion.
How Much Per Person
When selecting the perfect rib roast from the grocery store, you also need to consider the number of people you’ll be serving. Plan on having about one bone per two guests, so if you’re making prime rib for six people, look for a 3-bone rib roast.
I would not recommend a roast that is fewer than three ribs, even if you’re feeding a smaller crowd, because you won’t be able to smoke it as long for that extra delicious flavor. And hey, you can always make a delicious steak sandwich with the leftovers!
Ingredients for Smoked Prime Rib
Our favorite smoked prime rib includes a flavorful outer crust made with a mixture of horseradish, butter, and a few other ingredients. Here’s what you need to make this smoked prime rib recipe on the pellet grill:
- rib roast – Ours was a three bone roast weighing about 7 pounds.
- horseradish – Look for the type that says “Prepared Horseradish”, usually found near the pickles and condiments in the grocery store. We like the Bookbinder’s brand of prepared horseradish that comes in a squeeze bottle.
- dijon mustard
- Worcestershire sauce
- garlic cloves
- fresh rosemary
- salt and pepper
You can’t have prime rib without horseradish, and my homemade horseradish sauce is the perfect compliment to this prime rib roast. For the quick and easy sauce, you will need:
- prepared horseradish – The same type that you used for the crust.
- sour cream
- minced garlic
- Worcestershire sauce
- sweet and spicy mustard
- salt and pepper
Notes for Smoked Prime Rib on the Pellet Grill
- Pellet Grill Temp – 225 degrees F until the roast reached an internal temperature of 110 degrees F; then sear at 500 degrees F until the prime rib reaches your desired internal temp
- Wood Pellets Used – Bear Mountain Hickory wood pellets
- Pellet Grill Used – Traeger Ironwood XL
- Smoking Time – about 3 hours and 45 minutes with the smoker at 225 degrees, then only about 15 minutes with the smoker at 500 degrees until we got to our desired internal temp of about 120 degrees F
- Other Notes – Remember, when you finish the roast off at such a high temp to get a nice seared crust, you will have more carryover cooking versus finishing it at the lower temp of 225 degrees. We pulled our prime rib roast off the grill at 120 degrees F internal temp, and it rose to about 125 degrees during the resting period.
How to Make the Best Smoked Prime Rib on the Pellet Grill
We used the Traeger Ironwood XL pellet grill for our smoked prime rib, but the process works the same for any pellet grill or smoker. Just follow these simple steps to prepare a prime rib roast that’s perfect every time:
Setting Up Your Pellet Grill
For the best prime rib on the smoker, I recommend smoking at a temperature of 225 degrees F first, and then cranking the grill up to 500 degrees F for a final sear.
So to start, preheat your pellet grill to 225 degrees F and add your favorite flavor of wood pellets for beef.
Seasoning the Rib Roast
Prepping the prime rib roast for the best smoked prime rib actually starts the night before it goes on the pellet grill. I like to place my roast on a wire rack on top of a sheet tray and store it in the refrigerator overnight to help it dry out some. Totally optional, but recommended if you have the extra fridge space and time.
Then, while the grill is heating up, you can get your rib roast ready.
To start, season all sides of the prime rib roast with salt and pepper. I prefer kosher salt and coarse black pepper when seasoning large cuts of meat for the smoker, but if you don’t already have those on hand, just use what you’ve got.
I like to add the salt and pepper to the roast first, rather than mixing it into the crust “rub” mixture, because it’s easier to judge how much you will need.
And remember, a prime rib roast is a very big chunk of meat, and the only part of the roast that you’re able to season is the outside. Once you slice the cooked roast into individual prime rib steaks, there’s only seasoning around the outer edges, so you can go a bit heavier on the salt and pepper.
Making the Horseradish Garlic Butter “Rub”
When the roast is seasoned, prep a sheet tray and wire rack system to be able to catch all of those delicious drippings for your au jus. For this, I like to line a small sheet tray with aluminum foil and place some roughly chopped onion and garlic cloves on the foil. Then, set a wire rack on top of the onions and garlic.
As the prime rib roast smokes, the drippings will collect in the pan underneath and marry with the onion and garlic flavors, and that liquid can be added to beef stock for a deliciously rich and flavorful dipping sauce to serve alongside your prime rib.
Lastly, slather the rib roast with a quick horseradish garlic butter. Simply mix all of the ingredients in a medium bowl to make a “rub” of sorts. Then, use a small spatula or spoon to spread it evenly on the prime rib roast. I didn’t add the butter rub to the bottom bone-side of my roast, because I was just going to remove the bones after the roast was done cooking.
Take your time and make sure that you evenly cover the roast… trust me, this butter mixture forms a beautiful and delicious crust as it smokes on the grill, so you don’t want to skip this part!
When you’re done, the prime rib roast should look something like this before you put it on the grill:
*NOTE – The recipe for the horseradish garlic butter crust down below is just the right amount for a 6-7 pound, three bone roast. If your roast is larger than that, you may want to double the recipe.
Smoking the Prime Rib Roast
Once the prime rib roast is prepped for the smoker, the rest is downhill as they say. Smoking any type of meat on a pellet grill is largely about monitoring your internal temperatures, and the same goes for this easy prime rib recipe.
Preheat the Traeger or other pellet grill to 225 degrees F. Then, when the grill reaches that temp, place the prime rib roast on the grill grates with the fattest part of your roast facing the hottest area of your grill.
My Traeger Ironwood XL has a lot of real estate space, so I placed my sheet tray in the middle of the grill. If you have a smaller pellet grill, and therefore the middle of the grill is closer to the fire pot, then you may want to put your sheet tray on the side of the grill to get it a bit farther away from the main heat source.
Place a probe thermometer into the center of the rib roast to be able to monitor the internal temp, and then close the lid to smoke the roast.
We smoked our prime rib roast to an internal temperature of about a 110 degrees. Then, we cranked up the heat on the pellet grill for a nice sear to finish it off.
This is what our smoked prime rib looked like before we seared it at the higher temp:
Searing the Roast for that Perfect Crust
For a perfect medium rare prime rib roast, we took our prime rib off the pellet grill when it reached an internal temp of 110 degrees F. Then, we bumped the grill temp up to 500 degrees to finish the roast with a nice sear – this method is commonly known as the reverse sear.
*VERY IMPORTANT – Be sure that you take the smoked prime rib off the grill while the grill is heating up to 500 degrees F. If you leave the roast on the grill during that time, then your prime rib roast will overcook before the grill has a chance to reach that perfect searing temperature.
Once your grill has reached 500 degrees F, put the smoked prime rib roast back on the grill to sear until it reaches your desired doneness. Since we prefer our steaks medium-rare, this only took about 10-15 minutes for us.
And here’s what our finished smoked prime rib looked like right before we took it off the Traeger:
Remember, when you finish the roast off at such a high temp to get a nice seared crust, you will have more carryover cooking versus finishing it at the lower grill temp of 225 degrees. For instance, we took our smoked prime rib off the Traeger grill at a temp of 120 degrees F, and within 10 minutes, the internal temp had already risen three degrees.
After the full resting period, our roast was about 125-126 degrees F internal, which was exactly what we were going for… a perfect medium rare!
Making a Horseradish Prime Rib Sauce
I highly suggest serving your smoked prime rib with our amazing (and incredibly easy!) horseradish prime rib sauce! The creamy spice perfectly compliments the smoked beef, and it makes a fantastic steak sandwich spread also.
And to be honest, the horseradish sauce was so good that we didn’t even use the au jus for dipping!
Just mix all of the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. Leftover sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
*Head over to this post for my simple prime rib sauce.
Serving the Smoked Prime Rib
After your prime rib roast has rested for about 15-20 minutes, it’s time to slice and serve. Use a large knife and cut the roast into individual steaks, about 1/2″ to 1″ thick depending on your preference.
Serve the smoked prime rib warm with horseradish cream sauce, plain prepared horseradish, or au jus, or a combination of these.
FAQ’s about Making Smoked Prime Rib
Can I use a boneless ribeye roast for smoked prime rib?
Absolutely! While a bone-in standing rib roast is traditional, a boneless ribeye roast is a delicious alternative. Just be mindful of the slightly shorter cooking time.
How long does it take to smoke a prime rib?
That’s a tough question to answer because there are so many factors that can contribute to the smoking time, like which brand of pellet grill you are using, how large your roast is, and what doneness you prefer. But you can estimate roughly 30-40 minutes per pound.
Of course, the ultimate guide of doneness will be internal temperature, as is the case with most smoked or grilled meats.
What pellet flavor should I use for smoking prime rib?
This is really based on personal preference and how much smoke flavor you want. We used hickory wood pellets for our smoked prime rib, and it was fantastic! Remember, once you cut your prime rib roast into individual steaks, the only part that is seasoned is the outer edge, so I feel like the roast can handle a stronger pellet flavor.
If you want less smoke flavor, then opt for a milder wood like cherry or apple to compliment the beef.
What can I serve with prime rib?
I’m a big believer in using your pellet grill or smoker to its fullest potential, and that includes throwing a side dish or two on the grill while your meat is smoking. Your grill is already on, and you’re already using the wood pellets, so why not get some extra bang for your buck?!
These smoked twice baked potatoes would be the perfect side dish to serve with this smoked prime rib. Or, you can also throw some asparagus spears directly on the grill grates for an easy side to serve with your prime rib.
Smoked Prime Rib
- 6-7 pound standing rib roast
- 3 tablespoons butter softened
- 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- 4 cloves garlic finely minced
- 1 tablespoon rosemary finely minced
- salt and pepper
- Prep the grill. Preheat pellet grill to 225 degrees F with your favorite wood pellets for beef.
- Make the horseradish rub. Combine softened butter, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, dijon mustard, mayo, garlic, and rosemary in a medium bowl. Mix together well and set aside.
- Season the rib roast. Pat the prime rib roast dry with paper towels. Then season all sides of the roast liberally with salt and pepper.
- Transfer to a wire rack lined baking sheet. Place a piece of aluminum foil over a baking sheet and set a wire rack on top. Place the seasoned roast fat side up on the wire rack. *This allows you to catch the drippings as the roast cooks to use for an au jus.
- Spread on the horseradish rub. Next, slather on the horseradish rub, taking care to evenly cover all sides of the roast. If you're using a bone-in roast, then you can omit the rub on the bone side. *The recipe for the horseradish garlic butter rub is just the right amount for a 6-7 pound, three bone roast. If your roast is larger than that, you may want to double the recipe.
- Smoke the prime rib roast at 225 degrees. Place the baking sheet with the rib roast on the preheated grill and close the lid. Smoke the roast until it reaches an internal temperature of about 110-115 degrees F for medium rare, rotating the baking sheet every hour for even cooking. Once the internal temp reaches that range, remove the baking sheet and roast from the grill.
- Increase smoker temp to 500 degrees to sear. With the roast off of the grill, increase the pellet grill temp to 500 degrees F. When the grill reaches that temp, place the baking sheet with roast back on the grill to sear until the internal temp reaches about 120-125 for medium rare.
- Rest and serve. Remove the smoked prime rib from the grill and let rest for about 15-20 minutes. The internal temp of the roast will continue to rise during this time, and may rise as much as 5-6 degrees, so be sure to account for that when temping the meat. After the resting period, slice the smoked prime rib roast into steaks about ½" – 1" thick, depending on preference. Serve warm with horseradish sauce or au jus.
- Be sure that you take the smoked prime rib off the grill while the grill is heating up to 500 degrees F. If you leave the roast on the grill during that time, then your prime rib roast will overcook before the grill has a chance to reach that perfect searing temperature.
- When you finish the roast off at such a high temp to get a nice seared crust, you will have more carryover cooking versus finishing it at the lower grill temp of 225 degrees. We took our smoked prime rib off the Traeger grill at a temp of 120 degrees F, and within 5 minutes, the internal temp had already risen three degrees.
- The ultimate guide of doneness will be internal temperature, as is the case with most smoked or grilled meats, but you can estimate 30-40 minutes per pound for smoking time.
- Leftover prime rib can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.