Rib roasts are among the most tender – and consequently most expensive – cuts of beef. The difference between prime rib and rib-eye roasts is whether they are bone-in with ribs intact or boneless with the ribs removed. The term prime rib roast can refer to either bone-in or boneless roasts that come from the rib section, while the term rib-eye roast indicates a boneless cut of meat. Bone-in rib roasts are more accurately called "standing rib roasts."
The Rib Section of Beef
The rib section of beef produces meat that is juicy and tender with generous amounts of marbling and a fat cap on top of the roasts. The quality of the meat in rib roasts varies depending on whether the roast comes from the section closer to the head or rear of the animal. The meat closer to the shoulder is more fatty, while the meat closer to the loin is more lean.
Prime Grade vs. Prime Rib Cut
The term "prime" can be confusing because it normally refers to the grade of beef rather than a specific cut. Prime is the highest grade of beef, often available only in high-end restaurants or through specialty butchers. The meat contains the highest amount of fat marbling and is the most tender and most flavorful.
The next highest grade of beef is choice. Less expensive than prime, choice beef is widely available in supermarkets and butcher shops. Prime rib cuts and rib-eye roasts prepared from choice cuts will still be juicy and flavorful without the added cost of prime-grade meat.
What Is a Rib Roast?
Rib roasts are usually cut from the section of ribs six to 12. Standing rib roasts typically comprise at least two but not more than seven ribs. Ribs six though nine are those closer to the chuck, or shoulder end, and ribs 10 though 12 are closer to the loin end.
The ribs form a natural roasting rack for the meat but can make the roast more difficult to carve after cooking. The butcher can trim the ribs from the meat and tie them to the roast so the roast can "stand" on them while cooking but can easily be removed at serving time.
Boneless Rib Roasts
Rib-eye roasts are the centermost portion of rib roasts that remain after the rib bones have been removed and the scraps of meat at the ends of the ribs trimmed. Rib-eye steaks are cut from the boneless rib-eye roasts.
Rib roasts cut from the leaner loin end have a larger rib-eye, so they are meatier and less fatty. The loin-end roasts are also more tender. However, these roasts are smaller in size than roasts cut from the chuck end of the ribs.
Rib Roast vs. Rib-eye
Rib-eye roasts are not the same thing as rib-eye steaks. Rib-eye steaks are cut from the whole boneless rib roast and are prepared by grilling or pan frying rather than roasting.
Serving Sizes for Roasts
Because rib roasts are expensive and provide enough meat to feed a crowd, they are generally reserved for holidays and special occasions. Count on serving more generous portions of this luxurious meat than you would serve for a typical dinner.
There is a difference between prime rib and rib-eye roasts in the amount of meat they yield. A bone-in roast generally feeds two people per rib or about 1 pound per person. One pound of bone-in roast yields about 7 1/2 ounces of cooked meat. Plan on a 6-rib roast generously feeding 12 for dinner.
A boneless rib-eye roast provides about 9 ounces of cooked meat per pound. The higher yield per pound is usually offset by a higher price per pound compared to a bone-in prime rib roast.
Cooking the Roast
Whether you choose a standing prime rib roast or a rib-eye roast, both cuts should be cooked by dry roasting in the oven. To enhance the meat's juiciness, rich feel and meltingly tender texture, cook the meat to medium rare or medium.
Rib-eye roasts cook more quickly than their bone-in counterparts. Avoid overcooking the meat because well-done rib roasts can be disappointingly dry and chewy.