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What is Prime Rib?

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Prime rib, this amazing cut of beef perfect for special occasions, has a bit of a puzzling name—it's not like pork ribs, and it's not really "prime" in the way we grade meat. So, what is prime rib? Read on to find out.


Decoding Prime Rib

When you hear the term ribs, you likely picture the kind that you eat with your hands. Prime rib, however, is actually a beef roast, a big hunk of beef that sits atop rib bones. Indeed, the cut is just as often called a prime roast or a standing rib roast.

To make this title even more confusing, the term “prime” does not refer to the USDA beef grading system but to the fact that this is a primal cut of beef, meaning it’s one of the first cuts of meat separated from the animal during butchering.

A prime rib roast consists of a large round of meat, also called the eye, which is attached to the rib bones. It’s cut from ribs 6 through 12 of the cow. The earlier ribs are from the chuck primal, and the 13th is part of the loin.

A whole standing rib roast would have 7 ribs total, but most often a standing rib roast will be cut into smaller portions, usually between 2 and 4 ribs.


What is the Best Cut of Prime Rib?

When it comes to determining the best cut of prime ribs, the answer is a straightforward "it depends." Choosing a roast closer to the chuck end (also known as the second cut) ensures a bolder beef flavor, though it may sacrifice some tenderness compared to the first cut from ribs 9-12 (small end, loin end). While the first cut may come with a higher price tag, it boasts more lean meat and less fat. On the other hand, fans of the second cut appreciate its abundance of fat, especially when slow-cooked to maintain its delightful moisture. So, when asking "what is prime rib," the decision, if you find yourself at the butcher's, ultimately lies in your hands.


Bone-In or Boneless?

You can find prime rib both bone-in and boneless. A boneless prime rib is often called a ribeye roast adding another layer to the question of "what is prime rib." Though both are delicious, most professional cooks will recommend cooking the roast with the ribs intact to help insulate the meat and keep it moist. But a boneless roast, such as this one, is easier to slice. For this reason, many recipes, including this one and this one will advise you to remove the bones in one piece before cooking but then tie the rib plate back in place to get the best of both worlds. Once done cooking you simply cut them back off and you not only have an easy to slice, but the cooked ribs make for excellent nibbling.


Is Prime Rib the Same As Rib-Eye Steak?

The answer here is both yes and know. Rib eye steaks are cut from that same primal cut. The difference comes in the cooking. If you have a slice of prime rib on your plate, it was cooked first and then sliced. A rib eye steak is cooked singly from raw and so will likely have more seared sides to it.

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How To Cook Prime Rib?

The best way to cook this delicious, albeit huge, hunk of meat is low and slow on your Traeger. Because the meat is so flavorful on its own you can season it simply with salt and pepper, though a spice rub will add an extra boost of flavor. Our suggestion? Our Prime Rib Rub or Coffee Rub will give your roast added flavor without taking away from the meat itself. For more details on how to best cook a prime rib, including our favorite pro flavoring hacks, look here. For our top-standing rib roast recipes, look here. And once you have all the leftovers, learn how to best use them here.

Now that you know all these expert hacks, you'll never ask yourself "what is prime rib" ever again. Make sure to cook this for your next special occasion.

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What to Serve with Prime Rib

The right sides can make or break a meal. We recommend serving at least one carb and one vegetable with a smoked prime rib dinner. Here are a few of our favorite sides for smoked prime rib.


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