Prime Rib – “king” of Holiday Meats

Prime rib is perhaps the “king” of holiday meats. A prime rib roast makes an incredible presentation when it premiers with a well-browned crust encasing a tender, succulent, flavorful, and juicy rosy-pink center. Making your own prime rib may be a little bit scary. After all, it’s an expensive cut of meat; as such, you want it to be absolutely perfect. So what’s the best way to cook it?

Prime rib is not a cut of meat; rather, it is the name given to the preparation of a beef rib roast or ribeye roast. At the market, one would purchase a beef rib roast, ribeye roast, or standing rib roast to make prime rib. Regardless of name, it comes from the 6th through 12th ribs of a beef animal, sandwiched between the chuck and the short loin. Since this muscle is not well used, it yields a tender and deeply marbled roast with outstanding flavor.  The roast is usually covered by a fat cap that varies in thickness which also contributes to flavor and moistness.  

Preferred Doneness Temperature, Not Time Chart


Many people look for a chart that will tell them how long to cook their prime rib by pound. Because prime rib is not an evenly thick or shaped roast, timed cooking per pound is flawed. The best way to cook a rib roast (prime rib) is by temperature, not by time. Therefore, a digital meat thermometer is your best friend and most accurate, foolproof way to gauge the doneness or temperature of meat. To get an accurate reading, insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat.  Use the chart below to determine the preferred doneness temperature.  Because meat continues to cook after it is removed from heat, the pull from heat temperature should be 5-7⁰F (3-4⁰C) below the preferred temperature to allow for carryover cooking. As the meat rests, some of the heat energy from the outer layers transfers to the center, causing the center to continue to rise in temperature.

Preferred DonenessDegrees FDegrees C
Rare120-129⁰F49-54⁰C
Medium Rare130-134⁰F55-59⁰C
Medium135-144⁰F58-62⁰C
Medium Well145-154⁰F63-67⁰C
Well155-164⁰F68-73⁰C

Methods


While there are recipes and methods for grilling, slow cooking, and pressure cooking a rib roast, the best way to cook prime rib, or a ribeye roast, is by roasting it in the oven, fat side up, to the desired doneness.  Methods for oven roasting vary.  After reviewing numerous recipes for oven-roasted prime rib, it appears there are three different approaches—traditional, reverse-seared, or the 500⁰F/no peek methods.  Which is the best?  See the chart below to compare. (⁰F to ⁰C conversions in footnotes)

StepTraditional MethodReverse-Sear Method500⁰F/No-Peek Method*
1.Season 1-4 days in advanceSeason 1-4 days in advanceSeason 1-4 days in advance
2.Bring roast to room temperatureBring roast to room temperatureBring roast to room temperature
3.Preheat oven to 400-500⁰F (450⁰F most popular)Place roast in pre-heated low-temperature oven (200-275⁰F)Preheat oven to 500⁰F.
4.Sear for 15-20 min (450⁰F oven) in ovenRoast to desired doneness minus carryover cookingSear/roast 5-6 min/lb in oven
5.Reduce heat to 250-325⁰F (325⁰F most popular)Remove from oven, tent and let rest for 20 min.Turn oven off and leave door closed for 2 hrs.
6.Roast to desired temperature, approx. 13-15 min/lb (325⁰F) minus carryover cookingSet oven temperature to max, 500-550⁰FCheck temperature for desired temperature.  If appropriate, remove, slice, and enjoy
7.Remove from oven, tent, and restBrown meat 6-10 min until exterior is browned and crispIf under done, heat oven to 325⁰F and roast until desired temperature is reached
8.Slice and enjoySlice and enjoyIf additional heat and time required, remove from heat at desired temperature, tent and rest.  Slice and enjoy  
ProsTried and true methodEven cooking from edge to centerPredictable serving time
ConsUnpredictable serving timeUnpredictable serving timeOnly works if oven holds heat well

*Other names:  foolproof prime rib, no peek method, 500 degree method, closed oven method, oven off method. 

The Take-Away

  • Seasoning is optional.  Some do, some do not.  Seasoning can be simply salt and cracked pepper or with the addition of garlic or fresh herbs.
  • Most recipes allow the roast to come to room temperature beforehand. This helps the meat cook more evenly throughout. Depending on the size of the roast, allow 1-2 hours. 
  • Bone in or out? Most agree that if the bone is removed, it should still be tied back in for move even roasting.  Removing the bone makes it easier to slice.
  • Tying the roast is important.  When the string is removed after cooking, the roast will hold its shape for a more attractive presentation. Tying also aids in more even cooking. There are numerous online videos that show how such as this one: Prime Rib Prep and Butchers Knot – YouTube.
  • Sear or not to sear?  For some, searing is an important part of roasting a prime rib. Searing kills any possible surface bacteria and provides a Mallard-effect browned and crisp crust. It is also thought that searing helps to hold in the juices but some studies show that searing is not necessary for moistness when the meat is cooked low and slow.  Searing can be done either in a hot oven or a skillet. 
  • A meat thermometer is imperative; a digital thermometer with a probe can be placed in the meat prior to roasting to monitor temperature throughout the roasting process without opening the oven.
  • Most recipes suggest a well-marbled prime rib is at its best when it’s cooked to a minimum of medium rare and no more than medium.  This temperature range allows the fat to soften and render sufficiently to deliver flavor and juiciness. The pink color of the meat and/or juice may concern some fearing that it is blood.  To the contrary, it is not blood.  Rather it is oxymyoglobin, the redness in meat exposed to oxygen that has not yet had a chance to break down with light cooking. There is little to no blood present in commercially packaged beef.  Preferred doneness is an individual choice, however.
  • Remove the roast from the heat 5-7⁰F (3-4 ⁰C) before the preferred doneness to allow for carryover cooking.  Tenting helps to ensure temperature rise and hold heat for serving.  Meats roasted at low temperatures (250°F or lower) have very little carryover cooking because they tend to cook more evenly from edge to center. There is no carryover cooking when a roast is finished by blasting it in a 500°F+ oven for a few minutes to brown and crisp the exterior.
  • Resting or letting prime rib sit at room temperature for around 20-30 minutes before slicing gives the roast time to reabsorb the juices. Slicing into the meat right away will cause the juices to run out onto the cutting board.
  • Traditional and Reverse-Sear Methods appear to be the most successful for consumers.  500⁰F/No Peek method works well when the oven holds the heat; otherwise additional time is needed to get the roast to the preferred temperature.
  • As long as the roast has been handled properly prior to roasting, food safety is not an issue with any of the methods.

Preparing prime rib need not be scary.  Arm yourself with a meat thermometer and monitor it carefully; prime rib is more forgiving than you’d expect.  For additional tips, see Cooking Prime Rib.  Starter recipes can be found at Beef—It’s What’s for Dinner.

____________________________

Degrees FDegrees C
200-275⁰F93-135⁰C
250-325⁰F121-163⁰C
325⁰F163⁰C
400-500⁰F204-260⁰C
450⁰F232⁰C
500⁰F260⁰C
500-550⁰F260-288⁰C

Resources:

A Guide to Prime Rib, Cook’s Illustrated, cooksillustrated.com

All About the Prime Rib, Beef-It’s What’s for Dinner, beefitswhatsfordinner.com

Best Prime Rib, Americas Test Kitchen, americastestkitchen.com

Cooking Prime Rib, Recipe Tips, recipe tips.com 

Houser, Dr. Terry, Associate Professor, Smithfield Foods Chair in Meat Science Extension, Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Iowa State University

How to Cook Prime Rib Perfectly, the Temperature You Need, ThermoBlog, thermoworks.com

Oven Roasting Guidelines for Beef, Nebraska Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources, UNL Food

Prime Rib—Its What’s for Christmas Dinner, Texas A&M AgrlLife Extension

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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