Prime rib exists. You may know it as “that hunk of beef at the carving station,” but if you look at it from a butcher’s point of view (and you should), it’s really just an elongated rib eye waiting to be carved into individual, perfect, juicy steaks cooked exactly right all the way through. Compare that to the dry turkey breast meat that’s been slowly desiccating in an oven of indeterminate temperature (CLOSE THE DAMN DOOR), and you can see why a thick slice of fat-marbled medium-rare meat dripping with juices might be preferable.
We consulted with chef, pitmaster and whole animal butcher Adam Cole of Maple Block Meat Co. in Los Angeles, who’s working magic with prime rib…and so can you! Texas BBQ writer Daniel Vaughn recently declared Cole’s brisket — a notoriously tricky cut to perfect — the best in the state. Who better to dish on prime rib’s (notoriously easier) bones, aging and leftovers than this meat master? When you’ve got a large-format entrée to prepare for a hungry, carnivorous crowd, you can’t do much better than this exceptionally satisfying cut.
Where exactly is the prime rib located on the cow?
The prime rib is the whole rib eye, so if you can imagine a whole loin of beef, it’s the entire back on one side of a steer. So the separation is between the chuck (which is the shoulder), and if you’re counting ribs from the top, the first being closest to the next, count down five ribs and that’s where you cut the shoulder from the rib eye, which is the sixth through twelfth ribs.
If you go to your butcher and ask for a prime rib, what are the odds you can fit it in your oven at home?
First he’ll ask how many people you are feeding, then how many bones you want. An average one-bone prime rib is going to be somewhere around 40 to 50 ounces, a pretty healthy piece of meat for two people (at least). Around the holidays, assume you want to have leftovers, so you’ll want a pound of meat per person. You should be able to get a two-bone roast even in a tiny oven. If I was cooking for six people, I’d go with a three-bone roast.
Is this a cut that takes well to aging? If so, dry or wet?
Prime rib lends itself really well to dry aging. Dry aging is what happens when you take primals of beef and allow them to hang out, exposed. The meat’s not wrapped up, just exposed in an environment with the proper temperature (33 degrees — not freezing) with relatively low humidity. This happens in a pretty particular place, like a butcher case or walk-in. You don’t want to do this in your fridge at home, because you need to control the types of mold that are growing. There’s good mold and bad mold. In this case you’re going to see some black mold around the outside, which is a natural part of the dry-aging process. Once you get into white, yellow or blue, something’s not good there, and that’s what’s going to happen in a home fridge. It’s too humid; you’re opening the door a lot. So let the butcher do that in the right environment.
So you get it aged from your butcher, cook it, serve it, it’s a huge hit — what do you do with the leftovers?
By the time you wrap it up at the end of dinner, it’ll be room temperature and not warm anymore. I like to wrap it in foil first because if you use lot of plastic wrap, it insulates it and makes it hard to cool down in the fridge. Wrap it in foil or butcher paper and put it on a tray in the fridge overnight. The next day when it’s completely cold, cut off what you want, then wrap that really tightly in plastic wrap and try to eat it within a couple of days. I slice it thin and make a cold roast beef sandwich — a thick salt and pepper crust makes for a fantastic roast beef sandwich. Put it between two pieces of white bread with a little mayonnaise.
Prime rib has a reputation as something you find at the carving station at a wedding venue or a casino buffet. If you could change that reputation, how would you do it?
I’m trying to change that right now by serving prime rib for dinner at the restaurant, and it’s going over really well. It does have that stigma of being something that’s only made for a special occasion or at a big buffet, but what I love so much about it is that it’s a great way to serve steak for a crowd. It can be also fairly cost-effective. It is initially a more expensive cut, but when you’re buying whole pieces, you can still get away with not totally breaking the bank.
The other beautiful part about this is that, naturally, by roasting a whole piece of meat, you’ll have different levels of doneness. If you’re cooking for a group of friends, someone’s going to want medium, medium-rare or a little more well done. The end pieces will be more done; the middle will be less done. Because you’re roasting the prime rib at a low temperature, you have a nice big window for doneness, which is way easier than cooking four or five steaks at a time. Another great thing: You need to rest it for 40 minutes before you carve it. You can have that cooked and resting well ahead of time while you’re entertaining your guests. That way you’re doing cocktail hour and not worrying about your protein.