What is a Prime Rib and How to Select One to Cook at Home

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Ordering and enjoying prime rib at your favorite restaurant is a treat and just requires telling the waiter how you want it cooked. Deciding to duplicate the prime rib experience at home in your kitchen can also be done, but the first thing you must do is purchase the right cut of beef.

Going to your local supermarket and picking up a prime rib should be easy, but this is where you may run into problems and confusion. Walking up to some meat market counters and asking for a prime rib may elicit responses such as, “We don’t carry prime cuts, we carry choice or select, but we do have ‘bone-in standing rib roast.’” Now you may be standing there confused because you came to get a prime rib and the butcher is saying they have something called a “bone-in standing rib roast in a choice cut.”

Prime Rib Versus Bone-In Standing Rib Roast

Prime Rib Versus Bone-In Standing Rib Roast. Image by cigaraficionado.com

As it turns out, the term “prime rib” is a literal term that means the prime cut of meat from the rib section of the cow. This is considered the best cut of meat from the cow, period. The second part of the confusion is how the cut is referred to in the supermarket and butcher vernacular versus a restaurant. A restaurant will call it prime rib and a butcher refers to it as a standing rib roast, but it is the same cut. The difference is the restaurant will bring you an individual portion that is cut from the standing rib roast that may not include the bone. The standing rib roast can be purchased bone in or bone out.

Prime Rib Versus USDA Prime Cut

usda prime dry aged bone in rib steak
Prime Rib Versus USDA Prime Cut. Image by lobels.com

The word “prime” causes the most problems when first shopping for a prime rib. “Prime” means the best cut, but it also refers to a United States Department of Agriculture inspected grade of beef designation and the two may not be the same when referring to a standing rib roast. A standing rib roast will be called a prime rib regardless of the USDA classification of the grade of beef it is composed of. A standing rib roast will be called a prime rib even if the grade of beef is USDA Choice or Select.

A section on the USDA website called “Beef…from Farm to Table” touches on the grading system. Only two percent of graded beef is USDA Prime. USDA Prime has more marbling or fat content and is more flavorful. The majority of USDA Prime goes to high end restaurants and most local supermarkets are selling Choice and Select cuts of beef.

That should clear up what to ask for when going to the supermarket to get a prime rib: Ask for a standing rib roast.


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