12/21/2010 08:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Secrets of Prime Rib on the Grill (and Indoors if You Must)


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Is there anything more impressive and luxurious than a big juicy standing prime rib roast? Well it's easy to make outdoors and it definitely tastes better. There are a few tricks to bring it to its peak (and will also work if you are cooking indoors):

1) Go boneless. We will remove the bones so it browns on all sides and save the bones for another great meal.

2) A killer crust. We will coat the meat with a paste of oil, herbs, and spices that will create a flavorful crust.

3) Let it sit at room temp. This allows enzymes that are dormant in the cold meat to kick in and tenderize it.

4) A great gravy. We will make a jus in a drip pan well below the roast.

About going boneless

This addendum was added after reading several comments.

I know you've heard that the bones add flavor. The fact is they don't. Not in a roast. Submerged under liquid in a stew or braise they produce immense flavor, especially as the marrow dissolves into the liquid. It is essential to leave bones in a stew or braise. But they do not add flavor under the dry heat in a roast.

Think about it. Beef ribs are a honeycomb of marrow inside a casing of calcium wrapped in a sheath of leathery connective tissue. The marrow is not getting through that thick layer of calcium, the calcium is just not getting through the connective tissue, and even if some of it did, the molecules are just not moving more than 1/16" through the muscle tissue during the cook.

If you leave the bones on, they make a very effective base upon which to stand the roast, they act like a heat shield at first until they get fully hot and then they conduct heat and continue to cook the meat after you take it out of the oven.

Most importantly, the bones keep almost half the surface from browning and developing that wonderful rich herbal crust. Brown flavors, created by the maillard effect and caramelization, are among the best part of the meat. I know that gnawing on the bones is fun and tasty, but I submit that if you remove them and make an second meal of them, they will taste better. Beef ribs are a blast.

Another reason to remove the ribs before cooking is because they are a pain to remove at the dinner table when you are carving. Unlike a pork roast, you just cannot cut a slice one bone wide. One bone wide is too much for a normal person. It's enough for two. To avoid this you can remove the rib slab before cooking an put seasoning on the meat and then tie the bones back on. Fine. But those seasonings and the surface still don't brown.

So get two meals from your roast, make the roast taste better, and just cut the bones off.

5) Just a kiss of smoke. If we are cooking outdoors, we will add wood chips to the fire, just a few, to give it an exotic smokey undertone.

6) Reverse sear. We will cook the interior with indirect convection heat at first and sear it at the end of the cook with direct radiant heat.

Let's start by getting the name right. Chances are that gorgeous hunk-o-meat in the butcher case is not technically a "prime rib" as a lot of people call it. "USDA Prime" grade meat, with web-like threads of fat running through the muscles for added flavor, is an expensive grade that is sold primarily to restaurants. Chances are your grocer's meat is "USDA Choice" grade, not prime grade.

You and I call it prime rib because that's what it was called before the current grading system was created and because that's what they call it in restaurants. But that's OK. Choice grade is going to make you a pretty darn good dinner because those muscles, located along the back of the steer, are almost always tender and juicy. You can order USDA prime grade meat if you wish, and it's a real treat, but bring a wheelbarrow full of cash. Otherwise ask your butcher for "top choice" which is the best looking most marbled choice grade roast in the house.

What your grocer has is more properly called a rib roast, but you can call it prime rib if you want. It usually comes in two forms, with the ribs still attached, or boneless.

Many people prefer a roast with the ribs attached because gnawing on ribs is fun, because it is a dramatic presentation, and because the curved ribs can act like a built-in roasting rack that the meat can stand on while cooking, hence the name standing rib roast. This is, by the way, the primal from which ribeye steaks are cut.

I like to get mine with the bone on, and then I remove the ribs so I can season the meat on all sides. The bones get in the way of the rub and prevent browning on almost half the surface. I don't know about you, but I like that brown bits on the outside crust. I leave a bit of meat on the ribs when I cut them off and I save them for another meal. They can be smoke roasted Texas or Chicago style or braised.

Another option is to cut the bones off so you can apply the rub to all surfaces and then tie the bones back on with butcher twine. Just cut a length of twine a few inches longer than you need and loop it around the roast between the bones and tie it with a granny knot or square knot. The bone in version makes a more impressive impression, but I usually just get them the heck outta there.

If you get a roast with ribs on, you should make sure the butcher removes the chine for you. That's the end of the rib that was connected to the spine. Most of the time is has already been removed, but if it hasn't it can be a pain to cut through when you try to separate the bones. Having the butcher do this makes carving easier. Even if you are cooking a boneless roast, I recommend you tie it every inch to hold it together and to help make it round which helps it cook more evenly.


Prime Rib Recipe

Makes. A typical rib roast weighs two pounds per bone width depending on the size and age of the steer. Allowing for waste (fat and bone), and shrinkage (about 20%), you should buy 1 pound per person, or 1 bone width for two people. That will be more than enough and guarantee leftovers for superb roast beef sandwiches (most roast beef is made from sirloin, a tougher cut). If you can, get the small end of the rib rack starting with bone 12 and counting backwards from there. If you need four bones, order bones 12 through 9. Three bones wide is about 7 to 8 pounds raw untrimmed, enough for about 10 people after trimming and 20% shrinkage.

Two tricks for the adventurous

1) Rib roasts have two major muscle groups. The eye of the ribeye, which is a long, tender tube about 4" in diameter, and the spinalis muscle, sometimes called the deckle or the rib cap, that wraps around the side opposite the bones. They are separated by a layer of fat. The spinalis has a bit more fat woven through it and it is very tender and juicy, a lot like the fabulously expensive kobe or wagyu beef. Because the roast is so thick and because heat takes so long to penetrate the fat layer separating the muscles, the spinalis tends to overcook while waiting for the center of the eye to get to temp. So here's a trick I've used: Carefully remove the spinalis and set it aside for another meal. Rib cap makes incredible steaks and it is showing up on more and more restaurant menus.

2) Another trick popularized by Adam Perry Lang of Daisy May's BBQ in NYC is to deeply score the spinalis in two directions making 1" squares on the surface that he deliberately overcooks to get crunchy. Click here to see a video of his technique.

Preparation time. 20 minutes to make and apply the dry rub, 1 to 24 hours to marinate, and 2 to 3 hours to come to room temp before cooking.

Cooking time. It is important to understand that there is no easy rule for the timing of a prime rib, but there are some guidelines here. The most important determinant of cooking time is the thickness of the meat, not the weight, and cooking time can vary significantly depending on a number of other variables: Bone on or bone off (bones slow the cooking), how cold the meat is when you put it on, the ambient temp outside, how well your grill holds temp, how long you leave the hood open when you check the drip pan, how often you show it to your wife, neighbor, and guests. But remember, your grill's thermometer is not reliable and many are off as much as 50°F, even on fancy grills! You really need a good digital oven thermometer and another good digital meat thermometer. Please read my article on thermometers. The cooking times below are highly approximate and assume you have a good oven thermometer, a good meat thermometer, the bone has been removed, and the meat has been at room temp for 2 to 3 hours before cooking. As insurance, I strongly recommend that you start earlier than you think you will need and that you have on hand a faux cambro, a plastic beer cooler in which you can hold the meat and keep it warm if it finishes early. Click the link to read more about how to set one up.

3 ribs, 7 to 8 pounds: 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours at 325°F, then 20 minutes browning over direct heat
4 ribs, 9 to 10 pounds: 1 1/2 to 2 hours at 325°F, then 20 minutes browning over direct heat
5 ribs, 11 to 13 pounds: 2 to 2 1/2 hours at 325°F, then 20 minutes browning over direct heat,
6 ribs, 14 to 16 pounds: 2 3/4 to 3 hours at 325°F, then 20 minutes browning over direct heat
7 ribs, 16 to 18 pounds: 3 to 3 3/4 hours at 325°F, then 20 minutes browning over direct heat

1 beef rib roast, about 3 bones wide, 6-8 pounds before trimming
4 tablespoons Mrs. O'Leary's Cow Crust before mixing with oil
2 medium onions, stem removed, skin left on, and cut into quarters
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1" lengths
1 stalk celery, leaves left on, cleaned, and chopped into 1" lengths
32 ounces beef broth
1/4 cup dry red wine (optional)

A cheaper cut. If the price of a rib roast is daunting, a sirloin bottom round will work beautifully. It will be a bit chewier and a bit less juicy, but it will have great flavor. Just make sure you slice it about 1/4" thick and across the grain to make it less chewy.

Serve with. Garlic Mashed Potatoes, French Green Beans, and a big red wine.