Walking through the butcher shop or down the meat aisle in grocery stores can be very troubling if you don’t know what you are looking for.
You may want a beef roast for a holiday dinner, special occasions, or large family gathering. But, you are not sure where to even start. Is there only one kind of rib roast? Is a ribeye a steak or is it a roast?
The differences between a rib roast and a ribeye might seem confusing. There is no need to feel overwhelmed. All of the information you need to know to understand the similarities and differences can be found below.
Understanding Beef Cuts
An average 1300-pound steer ends up with a hanging weight of about 800 pounds. From this, the yield is roughly 640 pounds of beef that can be sold.
A little more than 60% of the steer are sold as roasts and steaks. The remaining amount is sold as ground beef and stew meat.
Beef Cut Diagram
The Cattleman's Beef Board's beef cuts graphic displays the numerous beef cut primal areas. The chuck or shoulder, the rib and loin sections, the round, or butt and rear leg, and the brisket, or chest, are all used to make beef roasts.
The most tender and costly roasts are made from the portions of the animal that move the least. Specifically, the primal rib section and the tenderloin. Alternatively, the more economical tougher roasts come from the parts that get the most exercise, like the round and chuck roasts from the shoulder.
The longissimus dorsi is an extremely important muscle. It is a major muscle attached to the ribcage and is what we know as the rib roast. This is also where ribeye steaks are cut. When harvesting a steer for meat, this primal cut of beef is cut in half at the 12th rib in order to separate the forequarters and hindquarters of the animal.
What is a Beef Rib Roast?
A rib roast is a cut of beef from the front of the rib area of a beef animal, typically a steer. The rib area is just behind the front shoulder on the top of the back.
On each side of the cow, there are thirteen ribs.
- The first five are known as the chuck
- The middle seven are known as the standing rib roast
- The last rib section is known as the loin.
When comparing a rib roast to ribeye, most people are thinking of a standing rib roast. I will go into greater detail below, but first I will detail the other rib roast cuts so that you fully understand the differences.
Chuck Cross Rib Roast
To get a soft finish, roast or slow-cook this flavorful cut.
The term comes from the muscle groups stretching across the primary rib bones, hence the name "Cross-Rib." Because it has a seam of tissue running through the center that melts throughout the roasting or slow cooking process, this roast is usually tied with twine.
Although the cross rib roast is derived from the chuck primal, it contains slightly less fat than a center chuck roast.
The cross-rib roast makes a fantastic as a pot roast. After 6 hours in the slow cooker, or even less time in a pressure cooker, the roast breaks apart, yielding the most tender and flavorful meat possible.
Short ribs come from the beef chuck portion of a beef animal.
Top Loin Roast
Cut from the last rib section, or the short loin in the middle of the cow's back, you'll find what is known as the "cheaper prime rib". This is the roast from which strip steaks are cut, thus it is also known as a strip roast.
The meat is well-marbled and tender with a thick fat cap. This creates a taste that is similar to a premium roast, without the steep price. It makes a great alternative to prime rib.
Standing Rib Roast
When purchasing prime rib, request a standing rib roast. At the butcher counter, you'll see that name. Also known as Prime Rib Roast or Ribeye Roast.
Because these roasts are most commonly enjoyed during the holidays due to their large portion size and expensive cost, you may not be able to find them year-round.
Unsurprisingly, the standing rib roast comes from the cow's center rib portion. As far as beef roasts are concerned, it is widely considered one of the most delicious cuts.
Prime rib is cut from ribs 6-12 in a steer. It is the most sought-after beef roast, as well as one of the most expensive, because it is well-marbled, soft, and undeniably delicious.
Quick note: just because the cut is prime rib, does not mean it is USDA prime. USDA prime refers to the amount of fat and usable meat in a cut. It is the highest grade the USDA gives out.
Prime Rib Roast Cut
A complete standing rib roast is a larger cut and can weigh up to twenty-five pounds (or more). It will feed 16 – 20 people, so butchers frequently chop it in half. The first cut and the second cut are the two halves.
- The first cut, also known as the little end or loin end, is taken from the back of a standing rib roast near the loin. Because it has less connective tissue than the second cut, and is therefore more tender, it is more expensive and often regarded as the best cut.
- The second cut, sometimes known as the huge end, comes from the standing rib roast's front end, towards the chuck. It's a little rougher and less consistent than the first cut, but some people prefer it since it's marbled with more fat. The fat from the second cut will offer moisture and flavor as it roasts slowly.
Bone-In or Boneless Prime Rib
It depends on the butcher whether the bone is left remaining in the ribeye or not, meaning you can purchase this bone-in or boneless.
Typically, roasts are more flavorful when they have a bone. This is because the rich flavors of the marrow seep their way into the meat during the cooking process, thus enhancing the taste and juiciness of the steak. This does not hold true for a standing rib roast, however. A boneless and bone-in prime rib roast will taste the same.
When a prime rib roast comes with the bones, they have been cut away from the roast. The rib cap is then tied to the roast with cooking twine. It is desirable to cook this type of roast in a roasting pan with the bones attached because they are said to help protect the roast from the high temperature created during the roasting process. Plus, they are delicious to eat on their own as well.
Boneless prime rib can be more expensive per pound, but remember that the lower cost of a bone-in standing rib roast includes the weight of the bones, which cannot be eaten.
You may be more familiar with the rib eye steak than any of the rib roasts detailed above. Not only are they a highly desired steakhouse offering, but they are commonly found at all major grocery stores and butcher shops.
The ribeye cut is well renowned as one of the best steak cuts out there.
The ribeye muscle is part of the prime rib's first cut (ribs ten through twelve). It's why the first cut looks so uniform and has such lovely, even marbling. It's occasionally sold as part of the first cut of prime rib, and sometimes it's carved into individual ribeye steaks at butcher counters. Prime rib cut into steaks can be offered as bone-in or boneless.
Tender beef cuts like a ribeye steak offer one of the juiciest, most tender steaks you can find.
If you have a rib roast, you can cut the ribeye roast into steaks yourself, or ask your local butcher to do so.
One of my favorite ways to cook and present a ribeye is to make a Tomahawk Steak. This is a ribeye where the bone isn't trimmed. You will feel like Fred Flinstone eating this piece of meat.
Prime Rib vs Ribeye Cooking Methods
The most common way to cook a rib roast is to roast it in the oven, however, you may not need to be limited to this one method to get absolutely delicious results.
- Oven Roasted - To create a nice dark crust on a prime rib roast, you can start cooking it with very high heat, and then continue to roast at a lower temperature until the desired internal temperature is reached.
- Reverse Seared - A similar, yet opposite approach, is to reverse sear the roast. This involves cooking it at a low temperature in the oven until it is 10-15 degrees below the desired final temperature. The outside of the roast is then seared over high heat to create a lovely browned outside.
- Smoked - One of my favorite ways to enjoy prime rib is to smoke it. It creates the most flavorful roast, full of rich flavor. If you've never enjoyed smoked prime rib, you must try it.
- Grilling - Everyone knows you can cook a steak on a grill, and Ribeyes are no exception. Because of the fat content marbled throughout the steak, the fire from the grill creates an unbelievably beefy flavor.
- Sous Vide - This is a cooking method where the steaks are vacuum-sealed with herbs and seasonings. That sealed bag is then gently heated in water to raise the internal temperature. Steaks can be seared just before serving to add flavor.
- Reverse Sear Method - The steaks are cooked over low heat and then seared over high heat, often in a cast iron pan, when they are nearly done.
Rib Roast vs Ribeye Internal Temperature
The doneness of both a roast and a steak is up to personal preferences. The main difference is that with a roast, you can get servings that range from rare in the center to well done around the edges. When cooking steak, you don't get that same variation.
The best way to enjoy a perfectly cooked roast or steak is to check the internal temperature with a high-quality meat thermometer. Be sure to remove both types of meat from the heat source 5-10 degrees below the desired temperature as it will continue to rise as the meat rests.
Rib Roast vs Ribeye Portion Size
If you're wondering how much prime rib or how many ribeye steaks to buy, here are some simple guidelines.
- When cooking a whole roast, plan on one rib for two people. For example, a 4-bone roast can feed 8 people. In terms of weight, you can also plan on about one pound of meat per adult and a smaller amount for a child.
- If cooking steaks, go by the same weight. Ribeye steaks are a pretty large cut of steak, so one two-pound steak can feed two adults.
Whether you're making a roast or serving individual steaks, you don't need much more than some black pepper and perhaps some garlic powder to season the meat. There are not significant differences with what works to go alongside either as well.
Prime rib is typically served with Au Jus and Horseradish sauce, but both are fantastic on Ribeye steaks as well.
As far as side dishes, you can't go wrong with a side of mashed potatoes and green beans.