Many cuts of beef have confusingly similar names, but none cut quite as close as the prime rib and the ribeye.
Even though these two excellent pieces of beef come from the same primal cut of the carcass, the rib, they look, taste, and are prepared very differently.
In this article, we’ll be breaking down the differences between these two cuts, how those differences affect their taste and texture, and giving you tips on how to cook a great prime rib or ribeye at home.
What’s the difference between a prime rib and a ribeye steak?
The ribeye steak and the prime rib are both cut from the rib section of a beef carcass.
The prime rib is a large roasting joint, often containing large sections of the rib bone.
The ribeye, by comparison, is cut from the most tender part of the rib, between the 6th and 12th rib, and is a heavily marbled slice of the longissimus dorsi muscle.
It’s easier to understand once you see it with your own eyes. This video shows a butcher breaking down the cuts from the beef rib section.
It gets good at the 1:17 mark.
When you order a prime rib in a restaurant, you are generally going to be served a cut of beef taken from a rib roast.
When you order a ribeye steak, that piece of beef has already been cut from the carcass, trimmed, and will then be cooked to the level of doneness that you specify.
Prime Rib vs Ribeye Taste and texture
Both the prime rib and the ribeye steak have a pronounced rich flavor typical of meat from the beef rib.
That flavor tends to be a bit stronger in the prime rib because of the presence of the bones, fat and connective tissue in the larger roasting cut.
The ribeye steak has a milder flavor, with its added marbling giving it a buttery taste and smooth, melt-in-the-mouth texture.
Because the prime rib is a roast and the rib eye is a steak, there can be a massive difference in their texture.
The prime rib is generally cooked at a lower temperature for an extended period while the ribeye is best pan-seared or reverse-seared to an even medium-rare.
Overall, buying a prime rib roast is going to cost you more than purchasing a single ribeye steak.
This is because you are buying a much larger cut of meat. However, you’ll probably end up spending more per-pound for your ribeye because its rich beefy flavor and smooth texture make it a very desirable cut of meat.
To give you a rough idea:
- Snake River Farms Black Grade Wagyu Boneless Prime Rib Roast is going for $255.00 for 5 lbs.
- Chicago Steak Company has aged Rib Roast for $219.95 for a 8-9 lbs cut.
If you want to shop in person you might need to visit your butcher in order to get a full prime rib roast as supermarkets will generally only stock smaller, easier to store precut steaks.
If you’re ordering in a restaurant, you’ll probably end up paying less for a slice of prime rib. This is because it’s easier for the steakhouse to cook one large chunk of meat and slice it into sections than cook individual steaks to order.
Which is better?
Good beef is very much in the eye of a beholder, and both the prime rib and ribeye are great cuts with a reputation for great flavor and a smooth texture.
However, if you order the prime rib you going to get a cut of a roast, not a steak. So if you want a traditional steak cooked fast and hot, stick to the ribeye.
What is a prime rib?
The prime rib, cut from the beef rib primal cut of a beef carcass, is a large, bone-in, roasting joint. It is also known as a beef rib roast or a standing rib roast.
The term standing rib roast comes from the fact that it is most often cooked with the ribs stacked vertically to allow the flavors from the fat cap to filter down to the entire joint when cooking.
Related – How much prime rib to serve per person?
How do I cook it?
Generally, you roast a prime rib at a low temperature until the meat hits between 130°F and 140°F.
Most recipes will call for either a quick burst of high heat at the beginning to help form a crust, or a quick sear at the end.
You can also smoke prime rib, like we show in the recipe below.
There are a variety of recipes, techniques, and flavor rubs you can apply, but the most common is to sear the outside of your prime rib and then roast it.
Because this is a large cut you may end up with more than you can eat in a single serving. In that case, we have a guide on how to reheat prime rib.
What is a ribeye steak?
The ribeye is cut from the underused longissimus dorsi muscle that runs along the ribs of the cow, more specifically the area stretching from ribs six to twelve.
Because the longissimus dorsi doesn’t do a lot of work during the cow’s life, the meat remains tender and is well-marbled.
You’ll sometimes see the ribeye referred to as the Delmonico steak, after the iconic New York restaurant; the cowboy cut, if it’s served with bone-in (or tomahawk if the full bone is left on); or the Spencer steak, if it’s served with the bone removed.
How do I cook a ribeye steak?
The best way to cook a ribeye steak is by using the reverse sear method:
- Preheat your oven to around 275°F
- Put your ribeye in the oven and use your meat thermometer to monitor your steak’s internal temperature until it comes up to about 90-95°F
- While your steak is coming up to temperature, start heating your skillet until it is as hot as you can get it
- Once your ribeye is a 90-95°F, take it out of the oven and put it in the pan with a knob of butter
- Sear both sides of the steak, turning regularly, to get that beautiful brown crunchy crust on the outside and a smooth medium-rare on the inside
Check out our reverse seared tomahawk ribeye steak recipe for the full process.
Wrapping it up
So there you have it. Despite a similar name, the prime rib and the rib eye are two very different cuts of meat.
The prime rib is a juicy slice of a larger rib roast, and the ribeye is a well-marbled steak with a reputation for a tender buttery-smooth texture.
Now you know which one to order in the steak house to satisfy your particular beefy craving and how to prepare each one at home.
Do you have a particular favorite between the prime rib and the ribeye? What about a great prime rib roast recipe you’d like to share with us? If you do, we’d love to hear about it in the comments below!