Prime Rib vs Ribeye – What is the Difference?

With the obvious exception of vegans and vegetarians, almost everyone seems to love a juicy, perfectly cooked steak. However with so many cuts to choose from it can sometimes be hard to know how to choose the right one, how much to pay for it and how to perfectly cook it. In this guide, we’ll take a look at two of the most flavorful cuts you can experience: prime rib vs ribeye.

Whilst the similar names can cause some confusion, there are significant differences between the two cuts. We’ll help you to discern between the two, how to choose the right one for your needs and suggest preparation methods to get the most out of each of these mouthwatering cuts of steak. 

Are Prime Rib and Ribeye the Same?

This is a surprisingly common question with a very simple answer: no!

Although both prime rib and ribeye come from the same part of the cow, there are some key differences to be aware of. Most significantly, prime rib is a large roasting joint that contains a large bone. Ribeye, on the other hand, is a smaller cut that can be boneless or have a small amount of bone.

When you hear the word ‘prime’, you expect quality and with prime rib, that’s exactly what you get. It is usually taken from the most tender part of the rib section between bones 6 and 12. This area yields the highest quality meat that is packed with flavor.

Ribeye can be cut from the best part of the rib region but can also be taken from less high quality areas. Ribeye tends not to have the same level of fat and muscle as prime rib. It is cut from the cylindrical longissimus dorsi muscle near the rib.

Flavor of Prime Rib vs Ribeye

Prime rib and ribeye steaks are cut from the same part of the cow and therefore both have a very strong beefy flavor. However, because it contains additional fat as well as the bone, prime rib tends to have a deeper taste vs ribeye. Aside from this, the method of cooking prime rib also helps develop the flavor. Because prime rib is cooked at lower temperatures for an extended period of time, it allows for the meat to become more tender and moist.

Cost of Prime Rib vs Ribeye

Due to it being larger, prime rib is much more expensive than a single ribeye. However even if you take size and weight out of the equation and look at things on a pound-for-pound basis, prime rib will usually still come out more expensive. This is because it will often be higher quality meat with more marbling.

Another factor that makes prime rib more expensive than ribeye steak is availability. Whilst it is easy to find ribeye for sale at your local supermarket, you’ll likely need to go to a speciality store or butchers for a quality prime rib. Because they don’t benefit from the same economies of scale as large chains, these stores are often more expensive which means you’ll be paying more.

An interesting caveat to this rule of prime rib being more expensive is when you go out for steak. If you’re at a steakhouse you’ll often find that prime rib is actually cheaper than ribeye. Confused? Don’t be – it’s economies of scale at work again. It’s less expensive for the restaurant to cook a larger prime rib than individual servings of ribeye.

Prime Rib vs Ribeye – Which is Better?

As with many things in life, the answer to the question of which is the better choice depends on personal taste and circumstance.

If you’re looking to cook a delicious meal for multiple people then prime rib is an excellent choice. On the other hand, if you just want a couple of steaks that are easy to cook but high in flavor then pick up some ribeye.

How To Buy Prime Rib

If you’re buying prime rib to cook at home, it’s essential to choose carefully. After all, if you’re spending over $100 you want to make sure that you’re getting the best value for money.

When buying a prime rib roast, understanding the grade of meat is important. Confusingly, whilst the word is “prime” is in the name, not all prime rib is prime grade. According to the USDA only 2% of beef is prime cuts. You’ll want to look for meat with a lot of marbling, the fat that is spread throughout the meat. For the best results buy prime rib roast from a specialty store or butcher.

When buying a ‘cut down’ prime rib roast smaller than 6 ribs, ask for the chuck end. This meat has more fat and is slightly more flavorful than the leaner and more tender loin end. Be sure to buy bone-in rather than boneless joints. To make carving at home easier, you can ask the butcher to cut the meat off the bones and tie it back on.

How Much Prime Rib Should You Buy Per Person?

When working out how large a joint of prime rib to buy, keep in mind how many people or meals you’re planning to serve. As a rule of thumb allow one pound per person. This weight includes meat and bone so will provide a satisfying amount of prime rib roast when served.

If you’re buying for a large meal, choose a full rib roast with 6 ribs. Following our above rule of one pound per person this translates as one rib per two diners. Therefore, if you’re cooking for 8 people a 4 rib roast should be perfect.

How To Buy Ribeye

As with prime rib, when buying cuts of ribeye steak it is important to look for as much marbling as possible. In addition to the high-fat content, you will also want to look for the best grade of cut, with “choice” cuts being the best grade available. Avoid steaks that are “enhanced” with coloring, flavorings, or tenderizers as well.  

How to Cook Prime Rib

The ideal prime rib will be juicy and medium-rare. There should be a brown crust on the outside of the roast, very little grey along the edges and a pink center. To cook the perfect prime rib there are 4 different methods according to Spruce Eats:

  • The Traditional Prime Rib: The standard way of preparing a prime rib. This is suggested for larger cuts that are 11 pounds or over. Start the roast at a higher temperature, at 450°F then lower it to 325°F after 20 minutes to finish cooking.
  • The Slow-Roast Prime Rib: You will want to first brown the roast on the stove. After you have achieved a nice color, you cook it in the oven at a lower temperature.
  • The Sear-Last Prime Rib: Similar to the slow roast method, however, you slow roast it first then let it rest, and then pop it back in the oven at a high temperature to finish it off just before serving. 
  • The Closed-Oven Prime Rib: Best for small roasts, less than 8 pounds. You will calculate the timing based on the exact weight of the roast but it is pretty simple.

How to Cook Ribeye

Compared to prime rib, you have more options to cook ribeye since it is is a steak rather than a big roast joint. There’s no shortage of cooking methods, marinades or seasonings you can use.

The most common methods you can use are: oven-roasting,  pan-frying with a hint of olive oil and butter to add an extra bit of crisp to the steak and our personal favorite: grilling.

Grilling is especially good when using a charcoal grill that adds to the depth and richness of the flavor by adding a smoky element. The key to cooking the perfect ribeye steak is practice, lots of it. To find the best ribeye steak for you don’t be afraid to experiment with different marinades, cuts and cooking methods.