What Is Prime Rib? Everything You Should Know About the King Cut of Beef

updated Nov 26, 2023
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Prime rib is the undisputed king when it comes to a large cut of beef. I remember going to the steakhouse with my family on prime rib night for special occasions and celebrations, savoring every bite of a slice of rosy, juicy meat with some tasty jus.

Prime rib isn’t something you can only eat at restaurants, though. It’s actually the perfect cut for a holiday dinner or large dinner party — provided you follow our handy trick to remember how much prime rib per person you’ll need (below).

What is prime rib, exactly? Where does it come from, what makes it so special, and why is it so darn expensive?

Quick Overview

What is Prime Rib?

Prime rib is a cut of beef from the primal rib section of a cow. An entire prime rib has 6 ribs which are often sliced individually to make ribeye steaks. Prime rib, which is also commonly referred to as a “standing rib roast”, is often prepared for the holidays because of its tender texture, which comes from substantial marbling.

What is Prime Rib?

Also known as a standing rib roast, prime rib is a large cut of beef that’s often served roasted with its bones in. Prime rib is cut from the primal rib section of the animal, whereas ribeyes are steaks cut from the prime rib. A whole prime rib is composed of 6 ribs (ribs 6 to 12), which can weigh anywhere from 12 to 16 pounds.

Don’t confuse prime rib with the USDA prime grading — prime rib doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of meat but just the cut itself, whereas prime grading refers to the actual quality of the meat.

What Makes Prime Rib So Special?

Prime rib has a large “eye” of meat in the center, which is juicy, tender, and marbled with fat. This eye has a fat-marbled muscle around it, and the whole thing is surrounded by a thick cap of fat. This means that prime rib is tender, juicy, and extremely flavorful because the muscles aren’t heavily used.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

How to Buy Prime Rib

Prime rib may also be called standing rib roast at a grocery store or butcher shop. If such a large roast is too much for you to handle or eat, just ask the butcher to cut it down for you by asking for a certain number of ribs instead of a whole roast.

Ribs 6-9 (also known as the chuck end, second cut, or blade end) are closer to the shoulder and contain more big chunks of fat, whereas ribs 10-12 (also known as the loin end, small end, or first cut), are leaner but more tender.

Prime rib can be sold bone-in or boneless, and you can always ask the butcher to cut the meat off the bones and tie it back on, which helps in the carving process once the roast is cooked.

How Much Prime Rib Per Person?

With such a large cut, and with bones impacting the weight, it can be difficult to tell how much prime rib you need.

Plan to have one pound of bone-in prime rib per person, or one rib for every two diners. If you’re ordering from a butcher, you can either request by pound or number of ribs. To order by pound, ask for an eight-pound prime rib for eight people, or a 10-pound cut for 10 people.

Alternatively, you can request a four-bone roast to generously serve eight, and an eight-bone roast will easily serve 16.

Either way, this one-pound-per-person rubric is a good rule of thumb if you love to have leftovers — and who doesn’t? — to serve in roast beef sandwiches, hearty beef and farro soup, and so on.

(Image credit: Brent Hofacker)

How to Prep Prime Rib for Cooking

Since prime rib is such a large, expensive cut of meat, proper care has to be taken when seasoning and cooking it. The thickness of the cut means that a generous amount of seasoning is important.

My favorite way of cooking prime rib is to cut the meat off the bones (I like bone-in prime rib since I love gnawing on the bones), season with salt, chopped garlic, and dried herbs, and then tie the meat back onto the bones before roasting.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

How to Cook Prime Rib

Grilling or roasting are both great cooking methods for prime rib that will brown and melt the tasty fat on the outside, but take care not to overcook the inside. Prime rib is at its best cooked rare or medium rare — it should not be cooked past medium (140°F) or all the fat will melt out of the meat, leaving it tough, dry, and chewy.

After the prime rib is cooked, make sure to let it rest for 30 minutes for the meat to reabsorb all the delicious juices before carving. Since the meat is already precut from the bones, just separate it from the bones again and slice away with ease.

I can’t think of a more impressive and delicious main dish that will impress the socks off those sitting at the dinner table.