Both the prime rib and the ribeye steak are cuts of beef from the same primal cut of the cow: the rib primal. The difference is in the way the cuts are cut or butchered.
The prime rib is the entire section of the rib primal often between the sixth and the twelfth rib sold whole. Ribeye steaks come from this exact section as well but the ribeye is butchered as a single steak without the bone and rib cap.
As a steakhouse chef for over a decade, these two gorgeous cuts of beef are the top most ordered menu items for their exceptionally delicious flavor and tenderness.
In this article, I will explain everything you need to know about prime rib and ribeye, how they differ, and the best way to cook them.
Ribeye vs. Prime Rib: How Do They Compare?
How the Cut is Made?
Ribeye steaks are boneless sub-primal cuts of beef from the primal rib section between the sixth and the twelfth rib. The steaks are individual cuts made by cutting the meat section from the rib bones and trimming down some of the fat leaving a thick slab of marbled beef.
Sometimes ribeye steaks will come with a small bone section still attached to it in which case you have a bone in ribeye, rib steak, or prime rib steak.
Prime rib comes from the same primal cut as ribeye. Prime rib is the entire section between the sixth and the twelfth ribs of the steer including all the fat and bones making a gorgeous rack of beef that is cooked as a whole prime rib roast.
Some people prefer a ribeye roast which is basically the prime rib without the bones and rib cap. Ribeye roast is an easier cut to handle and carve but it loses out on the flavor that the bone and extra fat provide.
Prime ribs are generally cooked with the bones at the bottom where they form a natural roasting rack which is why it is called a standing rib roast.
Appearance and Size
Both cuts should have a rich pink color with streaks of fat marbling visible all through the meat. Naturally, the prime rib is a much larger cut containing more meat bone, and fat.
The average weight of prime rib roasts can range from 12 – 14 pounds depending on the size of the steer as well as the butchering process. Large prime ribs can weigh 16 pounds which translates to a lot of meat per rib bone.
Ribeye steaks are richly marbled cuts of beef often between 1 1/2 – 2 inches thick weighing an average of 0.5 – 0.625 per steak. They come in packs of two cuts per package.
Texture and Fat Content
Both the prime rib and the ribeye are incredibly tender cuts because of the high intramuscular fat content in the meat. Furthermore, the rib primal is a section of the animal that does not get much exercise in the animal’s lifetime.
This section therefore lacks tough meat or connective tissue making these two cuts some of the most juicy, fatty tender meat on the cow.
I should mention that prime here refers to the cut of beef and not the grade so be careful not to confuse the two. USDA prime beef or USDA prime grade cuts will rarely be found in grocery stores.
The best place to buy prime beef is directly from butchershops and specialty stores many of which have online stores as well. I recommend checking out the Chicago Steak Company.
The most common grades of prime rib at your local store will be USDA ‘select’ and ‘choice’ which have much less marbling and tenderness compared to prime-grade beef rib.
Cooking Methods and Flavor
Ribeye and prime rib may be from the same section but they differ in flavor because they are cooked very differently. Ribeye steaks are smaller, very tender cuts of meat with intense marbling which makes them ideal for high and fast cooking methods such as grilling and pansearing.
Ribeye steaks have a rich beefy flavor with a delicious buttery taste. When cooked just right, ribeye steak has melt-in-your-mouth tenderness which is an incredibly pleasant mouthfeel.
Prime rib roasts on the other hand are large chunks of meat that cannot be cooked fast. So the ideal cooking method should be low and slow such as roasting or smoking. This gives the meat enough time to cook evenly through as well as to extract maximum flavor from the beef.
A well-cooked roast has just as intense beefy buttery flavor coupled with even more zest that comes from the juices in the bones and the extra fat seeping into the meat during a long roast or smoking session.
Every time I pick I think my favorite is a succulent crispy rib roast, I surprise myself with a juicy tasty ribeye steak and I make a ‘180’ all over again. Prime rib vs. ribeye is one of those tough ones.
Tips for Making Perfect Slow-roasted Prime Ribs Every Time
- Apply a dry rub or BBQ seasoning and sear the roast on high heat after slow roasting or baking. This will seal in the flavor and all that wonderful succulence while creating a nice crunchy golden brown exterior.
- Use a wireless meat thermometer so that you don’t have to keep interrupting the food mid-roast to check the internal temperature. I use MEATER Plus and I have no complaints.
- Cook the meat to medium-rare doneness for perfect flavor so aim for an internal temperature of 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
Prime rib is way more expensive compared to ribeye steak because it is a much larger cut. An entire rib roast can weigh upwards of 12 pounds while a pack of steaks is approximately a pound of meat only.
The cost of prime rib is also greater per pound of meat than ribeye because it is highly sought after for its superior flavor and tenderness when cooked.
Prime rib is also less common in grocery stores compared to ribeye steak. There is such a high demand for prime rib among beef aficionados that most of it is sold out at the butcher shops before it can be cut into other prime rib cuts such as bone-in ribeye or rib steaks, tomahawk steaks, and boneless roast or ribeye roast.
That said both are pricey cuts of beef per pound and rightly so since they are very tasty tender cuts that are worth the asking price.
Prime ribs: $13 – $18 per pound
Rib eye: $7 – $17 per pound
1. Which Cut is Better Prime Rib or Ribeye Steak?
Prime rib vs. ribeye is best answered by your needs. Rib eye is smaller and a single steak is a satisfactory serving for one. A packet of rib eye serves two. If you are cooking an intimate dinner for two ribeye steaks will do.
Prime rib is at least 12 pounds. A large roasting joint can weigh up to 16 pounds. If you consider one pound of raw meat per person or one prime rib steak per plate, this is enough meat for a party of 16. It is ideal for that weekend barbecue and too much for a small family dinner.
Additionally, you cannot make a fast meal with prime rib unless you are making leftover recipes. Of the two cuts, you get a quick dinner with ribeye steak.
2. Does Prime Rib Taste Like Ribeye?
While both cuts boast rich delicious flavor, the flavor of rib roast is much more intense because of the way it is cooked. Slower cooking methods give the prime ribs more time to intensify the beefy tones and soak juices slowly into the meat.
The extra flavor borrowed from the beef rib and the higher fat content further boost the overall flavor and tenderness of the meat.
3. What is a Prime Rib Called at the Grocery Store?
Rib roast or standing rib roast. Look out for the exact grade since the word prime tends to be confusing. Again, this is the name of the cut and not the grade so check the packaging carefully to see what grade you are buying.
The choice between prime rib and ribeye primarily hinges on your specific culinary needs and occasion. Ribeye steaks are ideal for quick, high-heat cooking and offer a rich, marbled flavor. They are best for small gatherings or everyday meals. Prime rib, however, is a grander, bone-in cut perfect for large events, excelling in low-and-slow cooking methods that amplify its rich flavor.
While prime rib tends to be pricier and less commonly found in stores, both cuts offer unparalleled tenderness and flavor. Your decision ultimately depends on the cooking method, serving size, and flavor experience you desire. Understanding these differences will enable you to make the most satisfying choice for your meal.