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Prime Rib FAQ

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Post Wed May 28, 2008 9:24 am
Bob-BQN User avatar
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Posts: 13157
Location: Texas

Contributed by phillyjazz

Below is my beginning contribution to a Prime Rib FAQ, which I hope will be added to, edited and eventually make its way to the FAQ board here. I especially hope this will help dispel some common misconceptions about the cut, and allow more people to experiment with and enjoy this fine roast without risk.

Introduction: Prime Rib: The Myth vs. the Facts

There is a long-standing myth in the American culinary community that the term "Prime Rib" refers to the U.S.D.A. grading of meat (Select, Choice, Prime etc). The simple fact that the term "Prime Rib" is used in other English-Speaking countries, and has existed well prior to the American federal beef grading program (1923), should be sufficient evidence to satisfy even the most skeptical meat eater that this is incorrect.

However, it appears that even trusted industry sources are responsible for the public's confusion.

According to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's Culinary Director, Dave Zinno :

""Rib roasts and ribeye roasts are often referred to generically as prime rib - but mistakenly so. Technically, it refers to the grade of the roast and is not a title or recipe. The Uniform Retail Meat
Identity standards (URMIS) governs nomenclature at the retail level. The North American Meat Processors (NAMP) sets guidelines for foodservice nomenclature.

Neither of the voluminous U.S. government publications to which he refers contain the phrase "Prime Rib” The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, however, does use the term in this official publication: ... dese.shtml

Even in French, it refers to a "section of six ribs."

Joe O'Connell, Past President of The California BBQ Association says to the contrary:

"There is a common belief that a "prime rib" refers to USDA prime-grade rib roast. This is a myth. In beef, prime rib has long meant the best cut of the rib section. The rib section is cut from the 6th to the 12th ribs, inclusive. This means that the rib section does not include the 5th rib forward, which is part of the "chuck", and the 13th rib backwards, which is part of the "loin"."

According to Dianna Stoffer, Executive Chef for the Certified Angus Beef Brand : "Prime rib is the common name of the roasted version of the full rib eye loin (or rib roast) and has nothing to do with a quality grade; that's where the confusion usually starts."

It should be noted that Angus branded beef chooses not to employ the USDA grading designations, arguing that because of breeding, ALL Angus beef would qualify as Choice, or even Prime given the current standards.

As described below, chefs like Ranhofer in 1894 used the term "Prime Rib" many years before the USDA first adopted a meat grading system. The first tentative standards for grades of dressed beef were formulated in 1916, and the federal grading of beef began in 1927.

Meat Grading Reference: Harris, J.J., H.R. Cross, and J.W. Savell (Department of Animal Science, Texas A&M University). "History of Meat Grading in the United States". November 30, 2001.

Ranhofer's reference:

For example, Charles Ranhofer, the famous 19th Century chef de cuisine at Delmonico's Restaurant in Manhattan, explained the meaning of Prime Rib in his 1894 treatise, "The Epicurean", at page 472.
Ranhofer's illustration of the American beef cuts shows three cuts, labeled A, B and C (with C being the front-most), which are described:

Six Prime ribs, A [11th and 12th ribs] first cut, B [9th and 10th ribs] second cut, C [7th and 8th ribs] third cut.
The 6th rib is also part of the rib section and can be used as a rib roast, but not a "Prime Rib".

Now that we have settled this argument, suffice it to say that all rib roasts are tasty, but Prime Rib will likely be tenderer and better marbled. Steaks cut from the Prime Rib are called “Rib Eye” steaks, or sometimes Delmonico steaks if sold boneless (Boneless Rib Eye).

How to select a Rib Roast

As mentioned earlier, the “Prime Rib” or Loin End as it is some times called is preferable. The larger ribs, as they are closer to the Chuck, will resemble a Chuck roast more in its characteristics. A Prime Rib will often (but not always) have a very recognizable distribution of fat compared to the leaner “Chuck” end. If you see a number of roasts in a meat counter, it will usually be easy to distinguish between them, but if in doubt, ask a butcher or knowledgeable meat cutter. Sometimes you will see a “Boneless Prime Rib Roast” which is best left in the case for amateurs. The BEST thing about cooking a Rib Roast is gnawing on the removed ribs just prior to carving duties as long as your guests can’t see you.


Page 32 of Steven Raichlen's "How to Grill" describes a basic indirect preparation for a rib roast, Prime or otherwise. He describes how to “French” the roast for presentation, but it is perfectly acceptable to start with the roast just as it was cut from the carcass. Frequently, the chine bone will already be cut off and tied back on. If this is the case, you might want to slip some extra garlic and herbs under the bone, and tie it back on.

If the roast has been in the refrigerator, it is best to let it sit at room temperature about two hours prior to cooking. Doing this consistently will allow you to estimate cooking times more accurately.

As Steven mentions, a rotisserie is also a splendid method of cooking a prime rib. Rotisseries are excellent for cooking meats such as this with large fat caps, self-basting the roast as it cooks. Once you are familiar with the temperature characteristics of your grill, a rotisserie rib roast is among the most labor-free meals you will encounter. It may take some practice to learn to balance the roast properly. It is best to run the spit front-to-back, or parallel with the ribs, rather than poking a hole through the fleshy part.

Seasoning a Prime Rib is a matter of personal taste. Many grillmeisters enjoy inserting fresh garlic cloves in under the many pockets of fat available on this roast. The large amount of melting fat draws this readily through the meat when cooked (relatively) low and slow. If you enjoy additional seasoning (and who doesn’t?) any kind of rub can be applied. Favorite ingredients include fresh ground black pepper, oregano, French thyme, dill and sea salt (use sparingly.) Herbes de Provence is a ready-to-go mixture that seems to always work. Patting down the roast first with a paper towel, and either rubbing with olive oil or spraying with an oil-based aerosol product will help the herb mixture stick. A favorite trick is to pour the herb mixture into a plastic grocery bag, toss in the oiled roast, and shake until it is covered evenly.

Gas or Charcoal – The age-old question

As with any meat, gas will work, but charcoal will give a nice smoky boost to the flavor. Prime Rib is a very subtle flavor, and any strong wood like Mesquite or even hickory could overpower it. This is a meat at its best rare, or at most, medium rare. If you like well-done beef, a nice brisket might be a better cut for you.

Briquettes tend to burn longer and slower (and a tad cooler) than lump. If you use lump for a rib roast, you should be prepared to add a few coals before the roast is completed. For a small-medium roast (2-4 ribs) a single chimney of briquettes should be enough start-to-finish.

At a steady temperature of 225F, a two-bone roast should take about an hour, perhaps an hour and 15 minutes. An instant-read thermometer is a must. If you like your meat very rare, pull it at no more than 115F, around 120 for rare and perhaps 135-140F for medium rare to medium. Anything over 145F will be more done than this cut deserves to be. The roast should sit NO LESS than 15 minutes before carving, and your patience will be rewarded by all the delicious juices ending up back in the meat, rather than running down your cutting board. The temperature will also rise as much as 10 degrees during the wait. Some people tent with foil, other leave it uncovered. Leaving it uncovered will keep the crisp crust from steaming.

NOTE: Thermometers may vary by brand - I have revised the above temps upwards by about 5 degrees since I first wrote this because I think my previous thermometer was inaccurate. I am finding a roast pulled at 135F and left to rest until 145F to be perfectly pink and medium rare.

Variations – Salt Encrusting:

A variation best reserved for gas grills, as no smoke flavor will penetrate anyhow, is the salt-encrusted method. This entails following all the previous preparation steps, but after seasoning, the roast is laid in a foil-covered pan in a bed of coarse kosher or sea salt, and then completely covered with a paste made of salt and water. A flexible rubber spatula (the type used for icing) is the best tool for applying the salt mixture. For those who have lived in the Northeast area of the U.S., or anywhere in a cold climate, the texture of the salt mixture should most resemble slush. Those fortunate enough to have lived in climes where you have never tracked this lovely substance inside the house will need to experiment. Fortunately, salt is cheap, and you can keep trying before you toss the roast on the grill and cook with the standard indirect method.

As long as you are careful about cooking time (and use that thermometer as the estimated finish time, the salt encrusted method is nearly foolproof in achieving a rosy pink color edge-to-edge for each tender and delicate slice. Crack the salt with a hard object like a hammer, before the resting time begins. Of course, Salt Encrusting ensures that you will have no pan juices.

What about the Yorkshire Pudding ??

To many, eating Prime Rib without Yorkshire Pudding as a side is unthinkable. You CAN collect pan juices by putting a sturdy vessel (I use a cake pan) under the roast as it turns. If you are cooking indirectly, then place it under the grates directly below the meat. I have found aluminum foil tins unable to withstand the intense heat.

The following is from a post by Attrill (and assumes a Side Fire Box) :

"You certainly can do Yorkshire pudding on the grill - a large pan under the beef can catch the drippings, just don't place it too close to the firebox end of the chamber (it can burn the drippings). Once you've taken the beef off to rest open the vents and add a chimney of lit coals to get the fire going really well, you'll want to try to get the chamber up to 350-400 if possible. Put the pan with the drippings on the firebox grill so it gets really hot and add the cold batter, then transfer to the chamber to cook as you would in an oven."


Rib steaks cut from the loin end are called Ribeye steaks. Note the distinctive pattern in the fat.

Herbs are a natural on Rib Roasts. So are garlic cloves tucked in the fat.


Note the way the rotiss runs PARALLEL to the bones. You don't want a big hole through the center of your slices, and spearing it this way means there is little chance you'll even see where the rod was....


Salt Encrusting is a great way to ensure a juicy roast. Using coarse kosher or sea salt does not make the meat taste nearly as salty as you would think.

Leaving the coals at either end of the meat still results in a nice crust. If you like a bit more browning, rake some hot coals directly underneath for a few minutes, but ALWAYS WATCH THE TEMPERATURES !! I prefer the sear at the end of the cook, and this can even be done after resting if you are careful !


The rosy pink hue edge-to-edge is the ultimate goal in mastering the rib roast. A slightly browned edge gives a nice contrast in flavors as well...especially around the fat deposits !! Resting is key to not losing all the juices to the cutting board !


Gnawing the bones is the Chef's prerogative while the roast is resting ... This is best if the chine had been removed prior. Slicing the bones off otherwise could result in moisture loss...

A little addition of Gravy Master, Kitchen Bouquet (or any caramelizing agent) will ensure a nice crust. This was done on my Grill Dome ceramic cooker.



[ meateater ] Very nice start on the FAQ. It makes me what to give it a try.

The picture of the rib roast on the rotisserie really helped me understand your comment about how the meat should be put on the spit.
Did you actually cook one in salt? I've tried the salt-encrusting method of baking red snapper, but I found that the fish got so salty I could not eat it. I'd be afraid of ruining a good cut of meat by cooking it that way again. Apparently it isn't uncommon to do that, though. My local grocery store sells huge heavy bags of coarse salt right next to the lump charcoal and briquettes.


[ phillyjazz ] I have done DOZENS of salt encrusted roasts (mostly in the inside oven when it's raining, hailing etc.) Hard to believe, but it does not get too salty if you follow the instructions ...


[ sacmer ] I seem to remember a recipe for Salt encrusting that involved mixing the coarse salt with slightly beaten Egg Whites and water to hold everything together? That would make a kind of salt dome where you can tap it to crack it open after cooking?


[ T-Rex ] Just follow the Prime Minister's advice. He knows his stuff when it come to PR. I followed it and it produced fantastic results. ... hp?t=11047


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