When it comes to meat, my everyday lineup is pretty average. Chicken breast, pork tenderloin, ground beef—you get the idea. Although you can make some pretty spectacular dinners with these ingredients, they’ll never be met with the same kind of celebratory excitement that comes from roasting a big, juicy cut like prime rib.
It’s not just because prime rib is tender and delicious. Or because there’s an unmistakably primal feeling when sinking a carving knife through its heavily seasoned crust. For me, bone-in, standing prime rib is reserved for holidays and special occasions. This special cut always brings to mind big family gatherings and a kitchen that’s rich with the heavenly smell of a slow-cooked roast.
So on these special occasions, how do you cook prime rib that won’t disappoint? Luckily, our Test Kitchen is here to help. We’ve pared down the best tips and tricks for how to cook prime rib. Follow along and you’ll be dishing out a celebration-worthy roast in no time.
What Makes Prime Rib, er, Prime?
Prime rib is sourced from the rib section of a cow, an area that’s extra tender and marbled with fat. Marbling is the streaky white fat that runs throughout a good cut of meat. This type of meat packs plenty of flavor on its own, so it doesn’t need to be marinated.
Though this meat receives top marks from dinner guests, the word “prime” in prime rib has nothing to do with the quality of the beef. The USDA gives separate grades to beef according to the amount of marbling it contains. Prime grade is the best, but most supermarkets will only carry choice-grade meat. So it’s possible to have a prime grade prime rib or a choice grade prime rib. Either way, it’s gonna be tasty.
Choosing Your Cut
Go for bone-in beef. The bones help control the meat’s temperature as it cooks. Their extra surface area prevents the temperature from rising too quickly, making sure your roast is nice and juicy. If your butcher has strung your meat, go ahead and leave the twine on while you cook. This simply keeps the ribs attached to the roast. Just remember to snip it off before you serve.
Seasoning the Meat
Seasoning prime rib isn’t like seasoning pork chops, chicken breasts or single slices of steak. This is a huge piece of meat, so go ahead and pack on the flavor. We’ll teach you a homemade version with lots of garlic, shallots and herbs. If you want an easy route, try plenty of salt and pepper with herbes de Provence.
Picking Your Pan
Our rib roast recipes usually call for you to lug out a large roasting pan, but a 13×9-in. dish works, too. If you’re opting for this rack-free baking pan, however, layer the bottom with veggies and place your roast on top. We’d recommend a mirepoix (pronounced: meer-pwah), which is a fancy French term for coarsely chopped onions, carrots and celery. The veggies will cook gently and help form a flavorful sauce from your drippings. Jump below to read about serving your prime rib au jus.
Now that you know the basics, let’s get cooking! Follow the step-by-step as we cook a tender prime rib that’s better than any steakhouse’s.
How to Cook Prime Rib
1 large shallot, coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves, quartered
3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary or 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage or 2 teaspoons rubbed sage
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 teaspoons pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 bone-in beef rib roast (4 pounds) brought to room temperature
Mirepoix (optional): one onion, a few carrots and a handful of celery, all coarsely chopped
Roasting pan or 13×9-in. baking pan
Step 1: Season the meat
Preheat the oven to 350°. While it’s warming up, start the seasoning. For a shortcut, you can definitely use a pre-made mix, but it’s easy enough to make your own from scratch. Begin by placing the shallot, garlic and herbs into a food processor; cover and pulse until it’s finely chopped. Then add in oil, pepper and salt. Cover and process until it’s blended. This will “wet” down the seasoning so it’s easy to spread on your rib roast. Rub the mix liberally over standing rib roast. Let it sit at room temperature about 30 minutes before roasting. This takes the chill off the meat surface, which aids in browning.
Test Kitchen tip: For can’t-miss flavor, cut slits into the roast and stuff with minced garlic.
Step 2: Set up the pan
Nestle your seasoned meat in a roasting pan with a rack. Or, fill a 13×9-in. baking pan with the mirepoix and rest the meat on top. Place the prime rib fat side up, which will bathe the roast in its own flavorful juices as it cooks.
Test Kitchen tip: Be sure the pan you choose isn’t too large, which will cause the drippings to evaporate.
Step 3: Let your rib roast, roast
Bake the meat until it reaches 5 to 10 degrees below your desired doneness. (I’m a sucker for somewhere in between rare and medium-rare.) This’ll take somewhere between 1-3/4 and 2-1/4 hours.
Step 4: Let it stand
You may be tempted to cut into your steamy, herb-crusted roast, but let it rest at least 15 minutes. This gives the juices time to absorb into the meat. For larger cuts, you might want to let it stand for 5 minutes longer.
While your roast is resting, choose a sauce for serving:
Serve it au jus: This French term simply translates to “with juice,” referring to the natural juices from the meat as it roasts. Gather up the drippings from the bottom of the pan for an incredibly easy side for your roast.
Zesty horseradish sauce: In a small bowl, beat 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Fold in 1/4 cup fresh grated horseradish root, 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover the sauce and refrigerate it 15 minutes before serving.
Step 5: Carve and enjoy
If the bones are still attached, carve ‘em off with a sharpened knife. The easiest way to do this is to lift the roast onto its end using its protruding bone as a handle. Then glide the knife along the the curve of the bone, detaching it from the rest of the meat. With the bones removed, you’ll be able to slice roast as thick (or thin) as you’d like.
For a complementary side, we suggest roasted vegetables. Go classic with a dish like rosemary carrots or lemony asparagus, or add more flavors with cauliflower curry.
One last tip: If you’re not serving your prime rib with the bone in, be sure to hold onto those extra ribs for yourself. Slathered with some good ol’ BBQ sauce, they make a mean sandwich. Or, toss the bones into a pot of homemade broth or beans.