There’s a reason we tend to save prime rib for the holidays and other special occasions: it’s rich, full-beef flavor instantly elevates a meal. Oh, and it can be pricey, which means that you want to make sure you do right by it. Here’s everything you need to know about how to buy, age, cook, and carve a prime rib.
1. How to Buy a Prime Rib Roast
You may not realize is that the term “prime rib” has two definitions. It refers to both a particular cut of beef and to a USDA grade of beef. To help you talk the talk at the butcher counter, here’s an in-depth explanation of “prime.”
Prime rib: the cut
A prime rib roast, or standing rib roast, is cut from the back of the upper rib section of the steer, and it usually comprises a total of seven ribs. To make the Slow-Roasted Prime Rib recipe, you’ll need a three-bone rib roast, which can be cut either from the chuck end or the loin end of the rib section. Author Suzanne Goin prefers a three-bone rib roast cut from the loin end—called the small end or first cut. It’s smaller in overall size, but it has a larger rib eye, meaning more meat and less fat.
The chuck end (aka the large end or second cut) is bigger in overall size, but it has a smaller rib eye, with several thick layers of fat interspersed between portions of lean meat.
Prime: the grade
Prime is the best USDA grade of beef available, having the most marbling (flecks of fat interspersed in the meat) and therefore the best flavor and tenderness. Because of its expense, most Prime beef ends up in restaurants. The grade below Prime is Choice, the grade most supermarkets carry. When you ask for a prime rib at a supermarket, chances are the counterperson will assume you’re referring only to the cut, not the grade, and you will receive a Choice grade prime rib. The quality of Choice grade beef is still quite good, and since a rib roast is a rather fatty cut to begin with, a Choice grade prime rib will make a fine roast. That said, if you want to splurge on the best, you’ll need to order a prime (grade) prime rib, and you may have to seek out a specialty butcher shop or high-end supermarket to find one.
The bottom line
At the market, ask for a small-end (or first-cut) three-bone rib roast. If that doesn’t ring a bell with the meat person, ask for the roast to be cut from the loin end. The grade—Prime or Choice—is up to you, and your wallet.
2. Dry-Age It At Home for Maximum Flavor
High-end butchers and steakhouses dry-age their own beef: basically a process of slow, controlled dehydration that concentrates the meat’s flavor, making it mellower, yet beefier. The good news is that you can mimic this process at home for dry-aged flavor without the huge price tag. All you need is refrigerator space, cheesecloth, and three to seven days aging time. Learn how to dry-age your own prime rib.
3. Try the Reverse Sear
There’s no shortage of showstopping prime-rib recipes, but for big holiday meals, we’re especially enamored of the “reverse sear” technique: You roast the meat hours ahead of the final sear, so you can pull the rest of the meal together without worrying about when the meat will be done. Plus, you can do the final sear either in the oven or on the stovetop, depending on what’s going on with the rest of the menu. Learn more about how to reverse sear, and check out the recipe for Reverse-Seared Prime Rib, rubbed with a mustard-and-herb butter. Though this recipe uses a boneless prime rib, you can use the same technique for a bone-in roast, by simply upping the time on the initial slow roast (you’re still looking for the meat to come to the same temperature).
4. Or Roast Under a Crust
Another unusual method for roasting a prime rib involves draping it in a simple dough of salt, herbs, flour, and egg whites before roasting, which seals in all the juices and infuses the meat with flavor. The result is a tender, perfectly medium-rare roast beef that’s seasoned all the way through. Learn more about the salt-crusting technique here.
5. How to Carve a Prime Rib Roast