Prime Rib

The holidays are the season for prime rib, when from Thanksgiving through Christmas, many a cook learns that he doesn’t get the results he was thinking about.

I think the only way to get that soft, juicy prime rib texture (as opposed to the firmer steak-like mouthfeel–is to roast the beef at a very low temperature. Although cookbooks recommend all over the spectrum of roasting temperatures, those who specify low oven temperatures seem to be quite adamant about it. I have been hesitant about trying to roast at, say, 200 degrees, because of food safety issues. Then I read in a magazine that if you eat rare beef, as I do, you’re already in violation of the main food safety rule. So I thought I’d try roasting prime ribs at 250, to see what happened.

Knowing that no crust could possibly form on the outside at that temperature, I started by using the grill to sear the prime ribs. This is how I’ve always cooked ribs in the past, so I knew what to expect: lots of fat rendering out from the notoriously fatty racks, falling into the charcoal fire and flaming up, sometimes setting the exterior of the ribs on fire. This does not seem to produce any burned-grease flavor, however, so I just let it happen for about six minutes, turning once.

Then I moved them to a preheated (as if it made much difference) 250-degree oven, with a slotted rack over a pan with about a cup of water in it. After three hours, the internal temperature was 120 degrees, which is on the cusp of rare. Another half-hour and it is was at 130. Since my crowd was given to eating well-done meat, I let three of the racks get up to 145 (another 20 minutes) and took them out. After letting them rest for five minutes, I started carving. They were just right: very juicy and tender, with crusty parts for fans of end cuts.

The only disappointment was that I got very little in the way of drippings from the beef, and so didn’t make a gravy. However, the beef was so juicy that nobody complained.

The kind of rib roast to look for are those with one very large eye of lean meat, rather than a smaller eye and bigger crescents of meat surrounding it with fat in between. It’s worth asking the customer butcher to cut some for you that way if you don’t like what you see in the case.

Prime rib, well trimmed, ready for its two-part roasting routine.

Prime rib, well trimmed, ready for its two-part roasting routine.

  • 1 rack of prime rib roast of beef, 3-4 ribs across
  • Coarse-ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt: 1 Tbs. per rib
  • 1 small, fresh horseradish root

1. If there is an extravagant amount of fat on the outside of the roast, trim it off. Or not, as you wish.

2. Preheat an outdoor grill, or a black iron skillet over medium-high heat on the stove. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

3. Season the roast with pepper and what will seem like too much salt. Put it cut side down on the grill or in the skillet, and sear for about three minutes, until it’s browned and you can see fat running out of the roast at the bottom. Turn and brown the other side.

4. Place the roast on a broiler rack set above a broiler pan to catch the drippings. Add about a cup of water to the pan to create some steam, as well as it keep the drippings from drying out.

5. Turn the oven down to 250 degrees. Roast until the desired doneness is reached, according to the readings on your meat thermometer, inserted into the center of the beef:

130–Medium rare
145–Medium well
150–Well done

This will take about 30 minutes per pound. However, let the internal temperature be your guide, not the time in the oven. The roast will cook a little more after you remove it from the oven, and that those who like their beef done more can have the outside cuts.

6. Remove the roast from the pan and allow it to rest for 5-10 minutes before carving. You may carve it into chops with the bone on, or carve away the bone and slice it thinner.

Garnish with fresh horseradish grated over the beef at the table.

Serves four to six.

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  1. Ron Brisbi on November 13, 2018

    How would I make a crust on the prime rib?