The Ultimate Holiday Prime Rib


All photos by Rob Baas.

Prime rib. No other hunk of meat has such wow power. And no other cut strikes more fear in the hearts of home grill masters. With the holidays just a few days away, I feel the anxiety level rising. My inbox is inundated with questions, while search engines thrum with the words “prime rib recipe.” For the record, Google returns 1,430,000 results. Your search is over, however. My two-step method, which I debuted on Project Smoke, is simply the ultimate way I’ve found to cook this magisterial cut, also known as a standing rib roast.

Get the recipe for Smoke-tisserie Prime Rib.

Its size is intimidating—a whole 7-bone prime rib can weigh up to 20 pounds—as is its price. Prime rib that is graded “choice” can retail for more than $15 per pound with “prime” prime rib going for 25 percent more. (If price is no object, one specialty retailer is offering an insanely marbled 11-pound Japanese Wagyu beef prime rib for a jaw-dropping $899.99.) Overcooking such an extravagant piece of meat would be a mortal sin. Of course, overcooking a smaller, more manageable prime rib—3- or 4-bones—would be equally unforgivable. By the way, when ordering the latter, ask your butcher to cut it from the loin end (the end facing the back of the steer), which contains less fat and sinew than the chuck end.

Much ink has been spilled—some by me—describing the many methods that can be used to cook prime rib. A few years ago, the New York Times even resurrected a recipe from 1966 that calls for roasting the meat at 500 degrees before turning off the oven and letting the meat continue cooking in the residual heat. Other writers have championed removing the bones before roasting; one even recommends removing the tender and meaty-tasting spinalis dorsi, or cap, reserving it for a separate meal. In the Raichlen household, we never dismember our prime rib, and we always cook our prime rib in a smoker or on a grill, either indirect grilled or spit-roasted.

The latter (albeit with a twist) is my favorite way to prepare prime rib. Here’s why. Prime rib consists of a barrel shaped cylinder of beef clad in a sheath of white fat on three sides and row of rib bones on the fourth. Hardly a cut of meat that cooks evenly. But spit-roasting equalizes the heat and cooking, delivering a sizzling crusty exterior with brown bones and a sanguine meaty center. The slow gentle rotation melts the fat both inside and out, basting the meat internally and externally. (In advance, make sure your rotisserie set-up is sturdy enough to accommodate the prime rib’s weight.)

You could stop there. But you are going to prepare the ULTIMATE prime rib this holiday. You’re going to start by spit-roasting the beef until the internal temperature is 110 degrees on an instant-read meat thermometer, 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Then, you’ll transfer the roast to a large cutting board with a well, then carefully remove the rotisserie forks and spit and any butcher’s twine. Now here’s the kicker: using a knife and cleaver, cut your prime rib into monster steaks. Each steak will have a gnaw-worthy bone and measure 2 to 3 inches thick. Now season these steaks on both sides with coarse salt and pepper, then sear over a screaming hot fire for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until the steaks are done to perfection (125 degrees for rare, 135 degrees for medium-rare). Each steak will feed two people. Sadly, they will have to fight over the lone bone.

Prime rib steaks on the grill

Sounds like a lot of work, right? Well, it does require some effort, but it’s not as complicated as you think. And you can spit-roast the prime rib an hour or two ahead of time and sear the steaks at the last minute. Here are some other benefits:

  • You maximize the smoky caramelized crust (created by the Maillard reaction) as all sides of the meat are exposed to live fire. (In effect, everyone gets part of an end cut.)

  • You get to accommodate guests’ preferences for doneness, from rare to medium to (ugh) well.

  • Your prime rib is intrinsically more flavorful because you’ve blasted each steak on both sides with salt, pepper, fire, and wood smoke.

  • If you place a drip pan under the spitted meat, you can collect drippings for Yorkshire Pudding.

  • You’ll get greater mileage from this pricy cut if you slice each steak on the diagonal before serving. A 7-bone prime rib can feed up to 14 people or more if prepared this way.

To see the full recipe, click here. I like to serve prime rib with a pungent horseradish sauce like Three Hots from Project Smoke (Workman, 2016).

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