The Food Lab

Unraveling the mysteries of home cooking through science.

The Food Lab Redux: Perfect Prime Rib

It's time for another round of The Food Lab. Got a suggestion for an upcoming topic? Email Kenji here, and he'll do his best to answer your queries in a future post. Become a fan of The Food Lab on Facebook or follow it on Twitter for play-by-plays on future kitchen tests and recipe experiments.

[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Is there anything more truly beautiful than a perfect prime rib? A deep brown crust crackling with salt and fat, sliced open to reveal a juicy pink center that extends from edge to edge, the faint but distinct funk of dry-aging permeating the room as it gets sliced. When you see such a roast in front of you, everything else—the argument over mashed potatoes you had with your sister, the red wine stain on the carpet, the enticingly crisp bowl of roast potatoes, even the plaintive look of the dog staring up with a please sir, can I have a bone? face—disappears as you become lost in a mental vortex of fat and drippings.

It's the roast that has most often graced my family's holiday table in various states of increasing deliciousness (I mean, you should see the overcooked, under-browned, dried up, flavorless things we used to eat!), and the one that most represents the holidays to me. It only makes sense that I've invested considerable time, effort, and BTUs in inching my cooking technique closer and closer to optimal.

Here is the state of the affairs in the Prime Rib Universe as they stand today.

Guides and Planning

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If you want the full breakdown, all the information from the type of beef to buy, what grading means, how to identify marbling, how to store and cook the beef, then check out my Complete Guide to Buying, Storing, and Cooking Prime Rib.

Just want the quick-and-dirty breakdown of the dos and don'ts? Then you'll want to read The 13 Rules For Perfect Prime Rib.

How to Cook

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Cooking a prime rib can be as easy as throwing it in a hot oven, closing the door, and taking it out when the timer goes off. But that's not the path to the most tender, most evenly cooked, juiciest end results.

How do we get there? With a lot of research, a bit of science, and a novel method that flips the standard cooking procedure on its head.

Check out How to Cook a Perfect Prime Rib to see what the reverse-sear method is all about and how it can revolutionize the way you cook your beef.

How to Carve

Carving a standing rib roast is one of the simplest carving tasks around—you don't even have to wear a fancy toque and chef's coat or take a stint in the buffet line at a Vegas casino to do it. Check out this step-by-step slideshow and you'll be carving like a pro. Be careful, your relatives may end up wanting to hire you for parties.

So You Wanna Dry-Age?

It's not too late to dry-age that holiday roast! Start this week and you'll still be able to age your roast up to the 2- to 3-week point. By this phase, none of the deep, funky flavors you get with a long-aged roast will be present, but you'll still reap the benefits of tenderization and juice retention. It does take a bit of work to dry age at home (including getting the right cut and preferably using a dedicated fridge), and to be 100% honest, it's not a completely foolproof endeavor. There is a definite, if small, risk that your meat will accidentally rot instead of age.

But if you're willing to put in the work and take the risk, the rewards will be well worth it.

Check out my Complete Guide to Dry-Aging Beef at Home to see how to do it.

What About Drinks?

Let me put you in the very capable hands of Serious Eats Drinks Editor Maggie Hoffman for her best picks:

Holidays are a great time to break out the special bottles. Open a wine you picked up while visiting Napa or track down a bottle from your host's (or guest of honor's) birth year or anniversary year. Prime rib isn't the most aggressively flavored red meat, so you have options: if your favorite red wine is a delicate pinot noir, that'll do just fine. If you're serving dry-aged beef with a little extra funk, you can have fun with earthy Cabernet Franc; Look to Chinon for great value (or try the Cab Franc from Ravines Wine Cellars in New York State.) Or go Italian: it's hard to beat Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo for about $20.

For more holiday drink options, check out our Holiday Drinks Guide!

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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