The prime rib, or standing rib roast, is a fine American Christmas or special occasion menu item, because the prime rib roast is spectacularly tasty.
Why does it taste so good? Because it is dry roasted. The cut of the meat and the dry roast cooking technique turns your slab of moo into a mouthwatering, ultimate slice of protein goodness.
There is a lot of information out there on how to cook prime rib. Some of it is good. Some of it is bad. Much of it is off the mark. Cooking a prime rib roast is not so much a test of your culinary skills at it is the marriage of philosophy, experience, and knowledge: the ultimate ménage à trois of beef cooking.
What This Recipe Isn’t
This recipe is not a guide for using a rotisserie (the ultimate in prime rib cooking), special roasting pans nor elaborate meat prep such as dry aging.
This is also a no salt recipe: your dinners must use Au Jus to get their level of saltiness.
Why no salt?
The theory is that if you do not salt the roast beef the result is more flavor because the slow roast technique cooks the meat around the fat (the marbling) just as well if not better. When you salt something, like beef, the properties of the moisture content in the beef change. Unlike a steak, the theory goes, this difference subtracts from the favor of the prime rib.
I never thought about this theory until I needed to serve someone who was on a low sodium diet. I contemplated doing two roasts. Then I decided to test the theory myself. With the entire $125 slab of beef.
Result: using no salt produced a superior roast than previous roasts, and this has held true. Dinners love to use Au Jus on prime rib. Doing so adds just enough salt in order to enhance the amazing beef flavor of a prime rib roast.
Prime Rib Roast Philosophy
Coming right off the salt discussion, this is not some burger your momma slapped on the frying pan. This is an expensive cut of meat. The prime rib is not a toy.
And, at some point, you’re going to fuck it up. You will undercook it or, most likely, overcook it. And not only will a table full of people be looking at you, but you’ll also be thinking of your wallet and how you simply ripped $80 to $125 (or more) out of your bank account and tossed it in the shredder.
Why does that happen? I followed the recipe!
Sorry, my friend; in slow roasting, everything from the quality of the cut to the oven can produce enough variables to cause you to undercook or overcook your prime rib while exactly following the presented instructions. The most likely culprit: the electric thermometer said one thing and the roast was another. Maybe the probe was jammed in there wrong. One key difference is the person who gave you the recipe use a thermometer that gives a different reading than yours. One time I used two thermometers on the same roast and one said medium rare and the other said rare and the roast was medium rare, almost medium.
This variance is what many guides on the internet and in cookbooks do not mention. They simply assume you understand you need experience at cooking roasts. When something goes wrong, you somehow can magically intuit what to change next time.
Bah! Bah, I say! Next time? What about CHRISTMAS DINNER. I RUINED CHRISTMAS DINNER. I NEVER WANT TO COOK DINNER AGAIN, MUCH LESS ON CHRISTMAS!
(lots of rum in the eggnog)
Please do not despair, my friend, if this is your first time flirting with expensive, wonderful prime rib. I’ve built this entire guide on the philosophy of risk mitigation. One difference between this and other guides is I’m not sparing the ink. We’re at a thousand words and we’re just getting started.
I mention all of this is because you must be willing to change existing recipes as you gather experience. You must put on your big boy or girl pants and become familiar with advanced cuisine. You must own your prime rib. Out of all the holiday meals, there is nothing quite like it. You must enjoy the experience, both the cooking, the eating and the reward your lover gives you for presenting him or her with beef perfection.
You, my friend, must not only own it, but you must become the master. The Master of the Prime Rib. That’s you.
What You Need (Besides the Ingredients)
Remember when I talked about risk mitigation? Well, there are four primary things you need, all of which are easy to produce:
The Pizza Brick
Your oven absolutely must have a pizza brick. A pizza brick is a singular item that will normalize your cooking times and temperatures, turning a poor or mediocre oven into a stellar performer for the small price of the ubiquitous pizza brick.
Leave the brick in the oven at all times. When it gets dirty, simply put the oven in the self-clean mode with the brick still in there.
Without a pizza brick, unless you have an expensive, new oven, your roast will not cook evenly at the right temperature. And even if you have that wonderful oven, it operates better with the pizza brick.
The Electric Thermometer
You need a quality electric thermometer. If you do not have one, the rule of thumb is to ask one of your cooking friends what they use, or read up on the reviews on Amazon. Do not skimp on the thermometer because you want that sucker to last as long as possible. Because when you change it, the cooking experience with prime rib will change! The temperature reported will be off just enough to make medium rare look rare or rare be raw or worse, the medium rare be medium well (shudder).
The only way to be certain of when to pull out your roast is when you know what temperature it is. You cannot use a formula to compute when to take the roast out of the oven. People make such formulas with a specific oven at a specific temperature at a specific elevation from sea level.
I’m not kidding. Either you use an electronic thermometer with a probe you leave in the beef, or you will screw the pooch. We are aiming for juicy goodness here. Mediocre roasts need not apply.
A Roasting Pan with a Rack
Don’t spend a lot of thought on this one. It is much less important than the pizza brick. Any roasting pan will do, as long as it has a rack the roast can sit on so it is not sitting on the pan itself.
This is the easiest but thoroughly misunderstood component to a prime rib Christmas dinner.
Here’s how it works from a time perspective:
You put the roast in the oven at 2:00 PM. When it gets to the right temperature, you take it out. You let it sit for twenty to thirty minutes depending on what else you have to do with the oven (like bake rolls). At the end of the rest period, the roast is sliced and served.
Get it? You don’t know when the roast is coming out. The thermometer will tell you that. The roast, not you, determines when everyone sits at the dinner table. If you have guests, tell them to come over at 3:00 PM and entertain them while it cooks.
This is part of the Zen philosophy. It’s done when it’s done. Dinner is ready when it’s ready. You can’t set a time. This isn’t a restaurant. This is your home and an expensive piece of beef. Let go of your preconceived notions that you can time everything just right.
Well, you can. There is always that time from when the roast comes out to when it is rested. That’s the “cook other stuffs” time. That time is predictable and with skill easy to manage.
When the roast comes out of the oven? That’s X where X is when your thermometer says you can pull it. Serve some eggnog with rum. Wine. So on and so forth. Having your guests arrive while it is cooking will simply make them hungry. There may be drool.
Enough chitchat about everything except the prime rib roast! Let’s talk about the goodness.
Prime Rib Roast (6 to 8 pounds)
1 tube garlic paste
Fresh parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
2 to 4 Johnny’s Au Jus packets
Fresh jar of horseradish
Fresh cracked pepper
The Prime Rib Roast
Go to a butcher and get prime rib roast that is 1 to 1 ½ pounds per person if you are serving multiple guests. For a family of four, simply get a 6 to 8-pound roast. I get an 8-pound roast for a family of four because A) I have two boys and damn those kids can eat and B) love me some leftover prime rib.
Now there are guides on the interwebs that go on and on and on in how to select the prime rib and even the terminology about prime rib. It is all moot because you’re going to a butcher. Someone will help you pick it out; all you need to do is ask for proper marbling. This is the fat inside the beef. You should see some throughout the beef, like a marbled steak. You do not want big hunks of fat all over; you want streaks of fat. If one is not in the case, ask the butcher for one specifically. They will love you for it. Many people come to their shop and insist on a lean piece of meat, which lacks flavor.
What about the “fat cap?”
The fat cap is a distraction. If the meat is marbled, it is unnecessary. If the roast has one, leave it on. If it doesn’t have one, don’t worry about it. I have cooked roasts with and without the fat cap and they taste the same.
We’re not spending a lot of time here because you are spending the money at a butcher. We pay them to know about meat. If you ask them for a nicely marbled prime rib roast at about eight pounds, they will deliver.
One Tube of Garlic Paste
While you can make garlic paste quite easily, why bother? Fresh garlic paste comes in a tube at the grocery store. Buy one.
Fresh Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
You can buy bundles of this at the store or like herbs in a mixture labeled “beef melody” or some such. If you can’t find the pre-made bundle, buy these four ingredients separately.
Two to Four Johnny’s Au Jus Packets
There is no need to get elaborate, the powdered packs work as well as anything. Rule of thumb: one packet for two people. Johnny’s Au Jus is good stuff.
Jar of Horseradish
The likelihood of you finding this at the butcher where you got the roast is high. Likely it is fresh and delicious. Don’t use old horseradish.
Prepping the Roast
Are you ready for this?
Here we go:
Take the roast out of the refrigerator four hours before cooking.
Take the herbs off their stems. Chop until fine. Spread the garlic over the roast including the ribs. Spread the herbs over the roast including the ribs. Spread cracked pepper over the roast including the ribs.
You’re done. Your roast needs no other seasonings. The Au Jus, garlic, pepper, and herbs are all you need. There are a hundred ways to cook this beast. This way is simple and works. We don’t even need to dry age the roast because you bought it at a butcher where they dry aged it for you, just like all their other beef.
Pulling the roast out the fridge beforehand is something everyone talks about but nobody explains what really matters: this is one of the variables in cooking times. The roast should not go directly from the fridge to the oven. You want it to sit at room temperature for at least two hours. How cold it was in the fridge and how long it sits out is a significant factor in how long it takes to cook.
But ultimately, you don’t care. Because you’re using an electronic thermometer.
Cooking the Roast
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Stick the roast on the rack with the thermal probe inserted so it reaches the middle.
Put the roast in the pan with the ribs up. The ribs contain fat around them and juices. They will add flavor as they cook to the rest of the roast, more so if they are on top than they are on the bottom.
When the oven is at 475 degrees put the roast in and cook until the roast temperature, verified by your handy-dandy electronic thermometer, is at 70 degrees (70 degrees if more people like medium rare than done, but you could go to 80 if a bunch of people like their roast medium). Remember, the middle of the roast is 70 degrees. The ends are now higher than that.
Once at 70 (ish) degrees, open the oven door and turn the temperature down to 180 degrees (if your oven doesn’t go down that low, then the lowest to 180 degrees). Leave the door open (cracked) for five minutes in order to let all the heat escape, because we don’t want to cook the roast at such a high temperature. After five minutes, close the oven door. You now have about 3 ½ to 4 hours of slow roasting where the pizza brick is radiating most of the heat.
When to take the roast out?
Well, it depends on the thermometer. If it lets you set specific temperatures, take it out at 120 and let the roast sit unmolested until the temperature is 130.
I actually have a thermometer that says rare is 135 degrees. And when at that temperature, looks rare. So I take it out at 125. It cooks all by itself to 135. But I think it’s really 130.
The only way you will fully understand when to take the roast out is to cook a roast. If you have followed all the steps thus far, the risk of overcooking is small. Now, I know I said the electronic thermometer dictates this cooking method. Nevertheless, the best thermometer I have used says rare is 135 and doesn’t let me set my own temperature. It is very consistent, but I can’t say “beep at me at 125 degrees.” I simply watch it until it gets to 125.
Cutting the Roast
With a sharp meat-cutting knife, cut the strings and then cut the ribs off. Don’t do this until the roast is rare (130 to 135 degrees). The roast will rise in temperature out of the oven by 10 degrees, which is why you want it to rest out of the oven 10 degrees before rare.
When slicking the roast, the ends will be at done. As you proceed down the roast, you will get to rare.
Now, don’t descend into hysterics if you have one person who likes done and everyone else says “rare.” Many people who eat rare prime rib will also appreciate medium rare prime rib. Some people say they like medium rare when what they wanted was medium. This is a home cooked prime rib where there is a method to getting a single roast to the point everyone can enjoy it.
I’ve cooked this roast for years. People loves it. They loves it very much, especially the people who always wanted their done, or medium, and never got a chance. Using this method even the end cut is juicy, although the juices aren’t red.
Serve with the Au Jus and horseradish on the side.
Stupid Things on the Internet
The assumption that everyone wants there roast rare. I have never seen this. Ever. Like, never, ever, never. And I have grey hair. Like a lot. What people forced-fed rare do is ask for an end cut where at least they can get some of the meat the way they like it.
“Pull the roast out at 100 and it will rise to rare all by itself,” said the guy who likes his prime rib roast raw.
“It is better to get people used to rare so you can cook the roast perfectly,” said the assholes whom never breastfed as babies.
“You must do X or your roast will die.”
Well okay, this one is true about the electric thermometer. I actually had an excellent prime rib roast where the roast was cut away from the ribs, seared in a pan, put back on the ribs and let sit in the fridge overnight. And it was delicious. A lot of work, but delicious.
This recipe eschews such techniques because, during experimentation, they did not yield significant improvements from this simple technique.
Eek. Put it back in, you don’t have a choice. Try to place the thermometer in a better spot.
Flash the prime rib roast in Au Jus. Like, make a big batch in a big pan, bring it to and then back down to a simmer only, and flash it five seconds per side.
There are restaurants that do this intentionally and the roast taste pretty dang good. I don’t like it because it can float away the crust I worked hard at getting. But it does work.
This is the worst and happened to me when the probe on the thermometer I was using went bad. The person who liked the done cuts will be happy. Have a backup ham on the side. Add lots of rum to the eggnog.
A Word on Capitalist Prime Rib Roasts
I love this roast. It’s not an American based recipe, but it is an American dish. At no time in history have so many people had the capability of buying an expensive piece of meat for a holiday and literally feasting with family and friends!
My friends, you don’t get that in communist countries. There is no holiday prime rib roast for normal people. You’re lucky to get an extra portion of meat.
Thus, this is, quite literally, a meal provided for many due to economic freedom and economic freedom alone. I take great delight in serving this roast to family and friends, and that starts at the butcher counter when the butcher starts to grin as he sees me eyeing the 8-pound roast. Enjoy your freedom roasts, my friends. Enjoy.