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Is rib roast the same as prime rib?

Rib roast and prime rib are names that are often used interchangeably, but they refer to slightly different cuts of meat. While similar, there are some key differences between rib roast and prime rib in terms of the cut, quality, and preparation.

What is Rib Roast?

A rib roast, also known as a standing rib roast, is cut from the rib section of the cow, in the upper ribcage region. It usually consists of ribs 6 through 12. A rib roast contains the ribeye muscle and spinalis dorsi muscle.

The key attributes of a rib roast are:

  • Cut from the rib primal of the cow, ribs 6-12
  • Contains spinalis and ribeye muscles
  • Has the rib bones attached
  • Well-marbled with fat

Rib roasts are flavorful cuts that are ideal for roasting. The fat bastes the meat from the inside to keep it tender and juicy. The bone also adds flavor during cooking. A rib roast can be cooked with the bones on or removed and tied back onto the meat.

What is Prime Rib?

Prime rib specifically refers to a rib roast that has been graded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as “prime” quality. Prime is the highest grade given to beef and indicates superior marbling, maturity, and tenderness.

The key attributes of prime rib are:

  • Comes from the rib primal cut, ribs 6-12
  • Graded as USDA Prime quality grade
  • Contains abundant marbling and fat
  • Typically the most tender, flavorful roast
  • Usually roasted with the bone on

Prime rib comes from younger, well-fed cows. It contains generous marbling, which is the white fat that runs through the meat. The abundant fat makes prime rib juicy and flavorful when roasted. It is generally the most tender and desirable roast.

Differences Between Rib Roast and Prime Rib

While rib roast and prime rib come from the same part of the cow, there are some differences:

  • Quality grade – Prime rib must be graded as USDA Prime, while rib roast can be Choice, Select, or ungraded meat.
  • Cost – Due to its prestigious grading, prime rib is more expensive than rib roast.
  • Marbling – Prime rib has more generous marbling compared to rib roasts of lower grades.
  • Preparation – A rib roast can be prepared bone-in or boneless, but prime rib is almost always roasted bone-in.
  • Flavor – The abundant marbling makes prime rib more flavorful and tender than rib roasts of lower grades.

Essentially, all prime rib is rib roast, but not all rib roast is prime rib. Prime rib must meet the standards to be graded as USDA Prime, which indicates it came from a young, well-fed cow.

How to Cook Rib Roast vs. Prime Rib

Rib roast and prime rib can be cooked very similarly, with just a few minor technique adjustments:

Rib Roast

  • Cook at 500°F for 20 minutes to sear the outside.
  • Reduce heat to 350°F and roast until it reaches 5°F below desired doneness.
  • Allow to rest 15-20 minutes before slicing.
  • Carve between the ribs to serve.

Prime Rib

  • Season well with salt and pepper before cooking.
  • Sear at 450°F for 15 minutes, then reduce to 325°F.
  • Use an ovenproof meat thermometer and roast until it reaches 120-125°F for medium-rare.
  • Rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing.
  • Carve into thick slices and serve with jus.

The main differences are that prime rib benefits from a lower roasting temperature and longer resting time. This gently brings the interior to the proper doneness without overcooking the outside.

Uses for Rib Roast vs. Prime Rib

Both rib roast and prime rib are exceptional roasting cuts, ideal for celebrations and special occasions because of their tenderness and flavor. Here are some of the best uses for each cut:

Rib Roast

  • Holiday meals
  • Special occasion dinners
  • Weeknight dinners
  • Roasted whole or as individual steaks

Prime Rib

  • Special occasion roasts
  • Elegant holiday centerpiece
  • Special birthday or anniversary dinners
  • Carved table-side service

While rib roast offers great flavor for everyday cooking, prime rib is reserved for the most special meals and moments. The superior marbling makes it worthy of being the star of a celebratory dinner.

Cost Differences

Due to its prestigious USDA Prime grade, prime rib is substantially more expensive than rib roasts of lower grades. Here are some average per pound costs:

Cut Cost Per Pound
Prime Rib $18-$26
USDA Choice Rib Roast $12-$17
USDA Select Rib Roast $9-$14

There can be a $6-$12 per pound difference between prime rib and Choice or Select rib roasts. Higher marbling means greater loss during cooking, so prime rib tends to be pricier for comparable sizes.

Where to Buy Rib Roast vs. Prime Rib

Rib roasts and prime rib can be purchased at specialty butcher shops, high-end grocery stores, warehouse clubs, and online retailers. Here are some places to buy each cut:

Rib Roast

  • Costco
  • Sam’s Club
  • Safeway
  • Kroger
  • Albertsons
  • Online at Omaha Steaks, Crowd Cow, etc.

Prime Rib

  • Specialty butchers and meat markets
  • High-end grocers like Eataly, Whole Foods
  • Online at Snake River Farms, DeBragga, etc.
  • Direct from ranches like Lobel’s and Allen Brothers

It’s easier to find rib roasts at standard supermarkets and warehouse clubs. For guaranteed USDA Prime prime rib, visit a premier butcher or order online through a specialty purveyor.

How to Choose Rib Roast vs. Prime Rib

When selecting either rib roast or prime rib, look for these qualities:

  • Marbling – Look for ample thin white lines of fat throughout the meat. Prime rib will feature more marbling than Select or Choice roasts.
  • Color – Should be a bright cherry red color, not brown or gray.
  • Butcher’s tying – Look for a cleanly and securely tied roast that holds its shape.
  • Bones – Bones should be white, not yellowed. Ensure they’re firmly attached.
  • Size – Choose based on the number of people being served. Figure about 3/4 pound per diner.

Selecting the right size roast with abundant marbling is key to ensuring a flavorful and tender rib roast or prime rib dinner.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is prime rib better than ribeye?

Prime rib and ribeye come from the same part of the cow, but prime rib is considered more premium because of its USDA Prime grade. The abundant marbling makes it more flavorful and tender than ribeye.

Can you cook prime rib in the oven?

Yes, prime rib is best cooked in the oven. The two-stage roasting method of searing at a high temp then finishing low and slow ensures a nicely browned crust and perfectly rosy interior.

Is prime rib expensive?

Yes, prime rib is one of the most expensive cuts of beef available, generally costing between $18-$26 per pound. Its high cost comes from its prestigious USDA Prime grade and generous marbling.

What’s the difference between standing rib roast and prime rib?

Standing rib roast refers to any roast from the rib primal, while prime rib must be USDA Prime grade. So prime rib is a type of standing rib roast.

Can you cook a rib roast in an instant pot?

Yes, a rib roast can be cooked in an instant pot or pressure cooker. It won’t achieve the same seared crust as oven roasting, but results in a very tender roast in much less time.


Rib roast and prime rib come from the same part of the cow, but prime rib is graded USDA Prime for superior quality. While rib roast offers great value for everyday cooking, prime rib is reserved for celebrating special occasions with its lavish marbling and tremendous tenderness. Both make for excellent roasts that are sure to impress any guests.