Introduction: How to Cook Prime Rib

Picture of How to Cook Prime Rib

Here's one way to cook a Prime Rib Roast. While clearly not the only way, this seems to work pretty well in a "home" context; no special ovens needed, and cooked in reasonable time with reasonable food safety...

This particular prime rib was new-years-day dinner... yum.

(That's me cooking. The purple one took most of the pictures.)

Step 1: Ingredients and Equipment

Picture of Ingredients and Equipment
This particular recipe is for "rock salt roasted prime rib of beef", or something like that. The roast is buried in rock salt, which keeps the outside from getting burnt and absorbs fat/etc while the roast cooks in a rather hot oven. (In general, the difficulty with large roasts like prime rib is getting the inside and the outside cooked to edible doneness levels at the same time.)

  • Prime rib of beef. These show up in normal markets around major holidays, and are probably in your better butchers and wholesale clubs and such all the time, or perhaps can be ordered. These days a prime rib roast is available either boneless or with the ribs still attached; cost per pound is somewhat less for the bony version, but cost per roast is about the same (based on my looking at CostCo.) I usually get boneless roasts for convenience of carving and serving; other people believe that the bones add flavor. I don't have any particular hints on how to tell a good roast from a bad roast; you pretty much have to trust your butcher. A whole prime rib will weigh more than 15 pounds and cost over $100. But it will feed 20+ people, so that's not really as bad as it sounds. Hereafter the roast shall be referred to as "the Beast."
  • Large Pan. This should be large and deep enough to contain the whole Beast in all three dimensions, plus enough room for the salt.
  • Rock salt. Enough to bury the whole Beast. About 10 to 15 pounds. You probably don't want to use rock salt that is targeted toward melting ice on driveways; the stuff I use claims to be for making homemade ice-cream.
  • Other seasonings to taste. Or not (see later.)
  • Meat thermometer. There are two common varieties of meat thermometer. One is designed to sit in your roast in the oven while it cooks. The other is an "instant read", that you're supposed to stick in to check the temp, but NOT leave in the oven... The former is preferred, so you can keep a continuous eye on how the cooking is proceeding.

Step 2: Open, Trim, and Season the Beast.

Picture of Open, Trim, and Season the Beast.

Take the Beast out of its plastic, wipe off the excess blood/juice with some paper toweling, and season on the outside with whatever spices you want. Garlic and Pepper are popular; However, this is a THICK piece of meat, and not a lot of the flavoring is going to penetrate to the best areas for eating anyway (especially if you have bones.) It is probably better to provide an assortment of seasonings for the diners to add to their slices just before eating. (this particular Beast was not seasoned at all.)

You may have to cut the beast down to fit in your pan (and/or oven.)

Step 3: Bury the Beast in Rock Salt.

Picture of Bury the Beast in Rock Salt.

Put a layer of rock salt (about one inch deep) in the bottom of your pan, put the meat on top of that, and add more rock salt to essentially bury it. You can add foil over the meatier sections if you're concerned about the amount of salt that will end up in the roast, but like the spices, not that much will penetrate very far into the meat anyway; mostly the salt sorta seals in moisture and allows drainage space for fat. I generally use a layer of foil if I have a boneless roast with bare meat exposed.

Keep in mind that you now have 15 pounds of meat and 10+ pounds of rock salt in this pan, so it's going to be pretty heavy. Practice using your oven mitts; when it's hot is not the time to discover that you can't get a good grip on it.

In retrospect, it woulld have been a good idea to insert the thermometer into the thickest portion of the meat before it was entirely covered with salt. But I forgot.

Step 4: Cook at High Heat Until (almost) Done.

Picture of Cook at High Heat Until (almost) Done.

Throw it into a preheated oven at about 425F. It will start to smell ... tempting ... in about 30 minutes, but you're probably looking at about two hours till you've hit "rare." (so say the jpg timestamps!)

You want to cook until the thermometer is ALMOST at the desired degree of done-ness.
Done-ness is a matter of personal preference, but remember that the ends will be more well done than the middle, and that you can always cook an underdone slice a bit extra in a microwave, but you can never un-cook an overcooked piece. Also, you'll have to get used to your thermometer and the lies it tells.

All that said, I think this is the first year that the Beast came out as rare as I wanted it to. My first attempt several years ago was (by my standards) pretty drastically overcooked, but it didn't taste as bad as I would have thought. This cut of meat, and this method of cooking, seems to leave quite a lot of flavor over a wide range of mistakes.

Step 5: Remove From Oven BEFORE Fully Cooked...

Picture of Remove From Oven BEFORE Fully Cooked...

You beef is surrounded by hot salt, so it will continue cooking for a bit after it is taken out of the oven. This means you want to take it out somewhat before the thermometer registers the dessired temperature.

Here you see it coming out of the oven with the needle just below the 130F "rare" mark. Keep an eye on that dial through the next couple of steps to see how it continues to creep upward.

As you can see in the photo, the salt at the ends of the Beast will have been partially melted away by the juices seeping out; if you're using an instant-read thermometer this can be your cue to start checking the temperature fairly frequently.

It seems to be the nature of cooking that the temperature moves pretty quickly once it starts moving; so keep an eye on it!

Step 6: Allow to Cool (and Cook Outside the Oven) Somewhat.

Picture of Allow to Cool (and Cook Outside the Oven) Somewhat.

400F salt crystals are not something you want to drop into your slippers! Let the Beast sit for 10 or 15 minutes so they'll cool down slightly. It will continue to cook a bit during this time... Collect your excavating, lifting, and carving implements.

Step 7: Excavate the Beast.

Picture of Excavate the Beast.

Carefully remove the salt from top and sides of the beef, putting it somewhere where it won't do too much damage. I use a double paper bag inside a heavy-duty (trash compactor) plastic bag. The paper is pretty heat resistant, and the plastic won't leak grease/fat. Careful; it's still hot. You want to remove enough salt from the top and sides that you can lift out the beast without scattering too much hot salt all over everywhere. (that's almost all of the salt from the tops and sides.)

Step 8: Remove Beast to Carving Platter.

Picture of Remove Beast to Carving Platter.

Using several strong, large forks (like barbecue tools), carefully lift the beef to another platter for carving. Don't scatter hot greasy salt everywhere!

Step 9: Slice and Serve

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Slice as appropriate for your consumers. All at once, or slice-at-a-time. Thick or thin. Rare pieces from the middle of the thicker areas, more well done from the ends...

If you have bones, I think it's traditional to slice "he-man" cuts mid-way between bones, and "petite" cuts right along the bone edges with an additional slice from between bones.

A disadvantage of this method of cooking is that you won't have useful "pan drippings" from the cooking pan; they'll be hopelessly salty. However, you should wind up with plenty of juices from the carving process.

Serve with your favorite seasonings: horseradish, pepper, salt, seasoned salt, etc.


Step 10: Cleanup.

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Salt saturated with Beef Fat is not something you want to put down your kitchen sink. The salt that was under the beast will now be a solid mass of salt/fat composite material capable of giving concrete a run for it's money in the strength department. When it's time to clean up, put the pan back in a low oven (250 F) to heat and soften the fat and partially dissolve the salt in juices. Then break up the mass with a suitable tool and dump it in your triple-layer salt waste disposal bag.


TT-MON! (author)2012-02-14

I used to be the Prime Rib cook in a restaraunt. There they cooked the roast in low heat (can't remember the temperture. That was 30 years ago) and the oven had a lot of steam.
You may be able to go that way if you put a pan of water in the oven so the roast does not burn.

Shades of Grey (author)2010-12-20

Throwing away that rock salt! There is potential for some great flavored ice cream here. This is a great 'ible, thanks for the pictures.

vandal1138 (author)2009-07-01

At this stage I would recommend using some butchers twine and making a little "net" with it (just lie some strings vertically, then make horizontal rows and tie where they meet) then braid some to make handles. Put your net down on top of the salt, then put the beast on the net. You now have a VERY easy way to remove the roast without puncturing it, keeping all those tasty juices inside and allowing the carry over heat to do its job. Great instructable though!!

twocvbloke (author)2009-06-30

I have to say, I don't think I would enjoy heavily salted roast beef, though my mother might (she likes her salt, what she uses in one meal I could use on 6!!!), but personally I like it roasted the traditional way, or if I were salting beef, it would be for preservation... :) Looks damned tasty though, but being a meatatarian, all meat looks tasty... :D

westfw (author)twocvbloke2009-06-30

It actually doesn't get that salty, except for the very edges. The salt is more of a heat spreader, moisture retainer, and fat sucker-upper than a seasoning. Gravel would probably work just as well, except that the remnants would not dissolve the juices, and you'd break your teeth. :-)

twocvbloke (author)westfw2009-06-30

I like the idea of heat spreading (and yep, gravel would be pretty horrible!!!), but I do like the juices left over for making a proper flavoursome gravy... :)

autolycos (author)2008-01-03

Have you ever had luck rinsing and recycling the salt? Seems like something reasonable to try--just rinse it in a colander. BTW, great instructable! I look forward to trying it!

westfw (author)autolycos2008-01-03

think the problem is that the salt is soluble, and the stuff you'd want to rinse off (mostly beef fat) isn't. Even if it worked, you be rinsing off that beef fat to go down your drain and congeal into plumber-requiring lumps... You could probably make brine and beef fat, if you have a use for brine...

Crash2108 (author)westfw2009-04-09

Maybe dissolve the salt in a couple gallons of water, cool until the fat rises and congeals on the top, take the fat layer off and dehydrate the brine. Either way, you could still at least use the salt for the driveway in the winter.

modelmanjohn (author)2008-01-03

Dude... clean your oven! Otherwise, my mouth is watering right now as I look at those pics. As Rachael Ray would say, "Yum-o!"

Oh hon, that's what everyone's oven used to look like before that self-cleaning stuff came along. Now it's only broken ovens (like mine) that look like that. I'd say that your comment just volunteered you to clean the oven, but the stuff in those sprays is very, very unfriendly to lungs. Rather keep the oven dirty and your lungs clean. Not speaking for westfw, and considering that yummy recipe he just gave us and the prime rib roast that's been in my freezer for two weeks, I give him a free pass on the dirty oven thing. westfw, get yourself a plate of that stuff and have a seat right near me. That was an incredible Instructable, you know. Definitely an A+ result. b d

Crash2108 (author)SlothOnSpeed2009-04-09

My oven has charcoal on the bottom.

westfw (author)SlothOnSpeed2008-01-08

I prefer to think of my oven as "well seasoned"; it doesn't need cleaning till it generates "burning" smells instead of "cooking" smells when I use it :-) (more seriously, it is self-cleaning, but it vents into the house, so running a cleaning cycle creates an objectionable odor. I'll wait for spring when I can open the windows...)

Rishnai (author)westfw2008-05-05

Ha, that's my indicator of oven cleanliness, too! And for the microwave, when everything comes out smelling like lasagna 3 weeks after I cooked lasagna, time to clean.

Migs (author)2008-06-29

What a nice Instructable. Lots of pictures and a great explanation! Keep up the good work! -Migs

iskandr (author)2008-06-19

I'm a butcher, and for all my prime rib customers I recommend using bone in rib roasts. Ask your butcher if they will debone the roast and then tie it back with butcher's twine. You can follow any recipe for cooking, then cut the twine before carving. You get the extra flavor from the bone and the ease of carving.

westfw (author)iskandr2008-06-19

You mean have it deboned, and the tied back to the bone? An interesting idea! However, the main reason I use the boneless version is because it fits the pan better; other cooking methods may work better with bone-in roasts.

katesisco (author)2008-01-21

Way back when, the secret, now long forgotten, is low heat. LOW HEAT During the depression I read that lining a hat box with straw, sawdust, ect and adding hot coals, then the covered dish then more insulation, and the dish would could just fine. Just need the size so meat won't dry out. What I do now is get a nice 3 lb roast and freeze it, pop it into a LOW HEAT oven for hours and take it out while the inside is still red. Very tender. Can also do chuck not frozen low heat longer. Just not high enough to cause the tendons to toughen. Believe me this works; and this type of info long available before and after WWII; lost so commercial interests can take over for profit. Sorry to lecture, but seems we are always reinventing the wheel for commercial interests.

westfw (author)katesisco2008-01-21

The "low heat" methods were what I was alluding to when I mentioned in the intro "reasonable time and reasonable food safety." Given the modern meat processing industry, I don't know that I trust cooking methods that involve keeping the meat at prime bacterial growth temperatures (internally) for relatively long periods of time. (OTOH, most contamination is surface contamination. And on the gripping hand I think risks are generally exaggerated, so...) I found plenty of "how to cook prime rib" instruction elsewhere recomending 200F ovens, so I don't think it's a "hidden" secret at all (I think it has more to do with families not having someone home to spend hours prepping dinner.) I did do an experiment with an on-sale roast at 200F "till cooked", and it does make for a more even internal done-ness. (And feel free to post an instructable on your alternate method. There's certainly more than one way to cook a roast!)

SpinWard (author)2008-01-04

I really want to try this but ,this may sound weird, but I'm not a fan of salt. I just don't like the taste. I'm sure the outside is salty but is the inside okay? Can I wrap it with foil to keep the salt taste out but cook it well? Thanks for the info!!

smaple (author)SpinWard2008-01-04

I could suggest that you use kosher or sea salt because you are going to need it for the cooking process. Salt and pepper are fine and believe it or not salt enhances not only the flavor the meat, but other spices used. It will not be salty on the inside. I am not a fan of table salt, but sea salt is great and you can ground it like pepper.

westfw (author)SpinWard2008-01-04

The inside does not get noticeably salty.

SpinWard (author)westfw2008-01-04

Yay!! That's great! Thanks!

Quixii (author)2008-01-03

Teehee, I took the pictures. =) They really do look delicious.

I'd say I look forward to using it at home, but..

SpinWard (author)2008-01-03 that looks delicious. My husband loves to eat prime rib when we go out. Now I know how to cook it at home. Great instructable and yummy pictures!! I thanks you and he will too!!

noahw (author)2008-01-03

This question has been on the burning questions list for three rounds straight and no one took a shot at answering it during all that time. You've done a great job on this Instructable and I'm glad to have as part of the Burning Questions Group. Nice work!

matseng (author)2008-01-03

I agree with modelmanjohn: Clean the oven :-) But I'll definitely try to salt bake some meat in the next couple of weeks. Probably beef ribs since pork isn't a big hit here... What about those rubber oven mitts? I seen something like them in a store here. Do they work well? They seems so thin, but maybe the insulation factor is much higher in that material than in the standard cloth type. It really p*sses me of every time I'm getting something hot and moist out of the oven and the mitt gets damp and conducts the heat as well as a piece of tin foil. The rubber ones doesn't get affected by moist, right?

westfw (author)matseng2008-01-03

Like you, I find that the major failure mode of cloth oven mitts is that they get wet with hot juice or grease, which ruins their insulation AND is hot. The silicone mitts don't get wet, so they're immune to that, and then seem to insulate well enough. I recall an ad that showed someone dipping their silicone-mitted hand in a pot of boiling water, and you really can do that... I like them. On the other hand, fit is more of an issue. My daughter with her smaller hands has problems being able to use them at all...

GorillazMiko (author)2008-01-03

Boy, does that look delicious. My dad and mom do this all the time, it comes out great! Thanks for showing!
(added to favorites)

canida (author)2008-01-03

That looks good.
I haven't tried the salt method before- maybe for our first go we'll do something a bit smaller. ;)

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