The Classic Holiday Prime Rib

By Mark Wilhelms

Being a young boy in Wisconsin, I grew up going to Supper Clubs with my parents for weddings, fish-frys and of course the ever popular Saturday night Prime Rib dinner. I can remember standing on a foot rail, just peering over the bar gripping the fake leather padding surrounding the edge, then climbing up on a brass studded, red leather stool to enjoy the sweetest coca-cola, I’d ever have, in a low-ball glass filled with smooth ice cubes, sipping through a straw the size of an uncooked piece of spaghetti. What a vantage point for a young man to get a glimpse of the adult world of professional bartenders, Old Fashions, ice cream drinks, and the going-on’s of horned rimmed glasses wearing, cigarette smoking, 30 something’s. (Otherwise known as hipsters today except they shaved back then)

My Dad and Mom would ask for the menu early and get their order in as the entire reason we there, was to eat Prime Rib. The practice of ordering at the bar is customary to this day since restaurants in Wisconsin do run out of meat, so you want to get your order in before being seated, otherwise risk getting stiffed. That happen to me only once and once is all you need to never let it happen again. After my Dad had a few drinks and Mom a few less, the waitress reappeared to let us know that our table was now ready. The Bartender would transfer the bill to the table as a matter of protocol back then. There was never any need to close out the tab at the bar as there is now. Bartenders in the day never plotted to squeeze tips out of you the way they do now. They were happy to serve you drinks as the quintessential professionals they prided themselves to be.

PrimeRibMarkAnyway, back to the “Meat” of the story. The Prime Rib is served pretty much the same as it was in the day: King or Queen cuts. If you want the Butt, just ask for it. I like mine medium rare but on the rare side. Be sure your meat is bloody red in the center, warm and not over cooked. If it is, send it back as vigorously as you would a home run hit ball by the opposing team at Wrigley field. Any place that kills a prime rib and still serves it should be given the “Stink eye” when you ask for a new one – they know what they did. Baked potatoes lathered in sour cream and/or whipped butter is a standard side. There’s normally some canned green beans still in the water, which I normally gloss over and order another old fashioned instead.

A standing rib roast, as they called it in the 60’s, is a cut of beef from the primal rib, which is one of the eight primal cuts of beef. The entire rib section comprises ribs six through 12 of the animal; a standing rib roast can comprise anywhere from two to seven ribs. It is given the name “standing” because it is most often roasted in a standing position, that is, with the ribs stacked vertically and the vertebral processes on the bottom. Butchers will also “French cut” which is nice if you like “Bone-In” when you serve. An alternative is to cook with the rib bones on the bottom and the vertebral processes removed for easier carving. That’s the way I like it. You can cook one without the bones but that would be like taking a trip to Florida, getting in your swimsuit and looking out the window at the the beach the entire time and not getting the full benefit of basking in the actual sun. Why go? Bones give the meat a sweet flavor. Bone marrow is the secret sauce of meat. The bones are also fun to naw on in the kitchen just before carving when nobody’s looking.

A standing rib roast, if sliced when uncooked, would yield a number of rib steaks. Rib eye steaks result from removing the bones and most of the fat and lesser muscles (tail).

The popular term for this cut is simply “Prime rib”. Historically, this name stands out regardless of the grade. In addition, the USDA acknowledges this historical note by not requiring the cut “to be derived from USDA Prime grade beef”. At my house we serve 100% Grass-fed/Grain-finished Prime Rib. Grain finished provides a little more sizzle (fat). My friend Ben Harrison, Master Butcher at Whole foods here in Chicago says he doesn’t like Grain-finished because it tastes like French fry’s! He’s right but I still prefer it over 100% Grass-fed. Love the smell of heavily seasoned fat lighting dripping in the pan while its being cooked.

A slice of standing rib roast will include portions of the so-called “eye” of the rib as well as the outer, fat-marbled muscle known as the “lip” or “cap”. The traditional preparation for a standing rib roast is to rub the outside of the roast with salt and seasonings and slow-roast with dry heat.

Prime rib is surprisingly easy to cook. Here’s a Fool-Proof recipe given to me by Chicago’s, Standard Markets Master Butcher, Joe Parajecki.

Joe’s Fool-Proof Prime Rib
This method produces a perfect medium-rare roast. It is very important not to open the oven door while the roast is in the oven to achieve this.

1 (3 Rib) 5-6lb Rib Roast
2 T Kosher Salt
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 tsp black pepper

Preheat oven to 350°f. Place Roast in a Roasting Pan on a rack. Season with salt, pepper and garlic

Place roast into the oven (do not add water to the bottom) and cook for 60 minutes turn off oven and allow roast to sit in oven for at least 2 hours without opening door. If you want a little better crust on top, cook it at 400°f for a half hour or so then reduce to 350° for the last 30 minutes. I’ve even reduced it to 200° for an additional 60-90 minutes and it worked. Always use a meat thermometer and watch it through the glass.

After you given your roast two hours of “Me time” in the turned off oven, you are one hour away from serving your dinner whenever you like. Even the next day. Just 1 hour before serving, turn the oven to 350° and roast for another 45-60 minutes. Always use a meat thermometer and watch it through the glass. An internal temperature of 165° is desired. Once you hit 160° turn the oven off. Remove Rib Roast from oven and allow to rest 15 minutes before carving. Be sure to heat your plates before you serve. Nice touch and keeps it warm while you’re carving. This recipe works every time. Thanks Joe Parajecki.

A Holiday Prime Rib will take me back to my Wisconsin supper clubs with smoke filled air, laughing women, the buzz of Alexander’s and Grasshoppers being made in a blender while the juke box gushed out the sounds of Dean Martin, Johnny Cash and polkas. Heaven.

Mark Wilhelms is the Founder of Red Meat Market. You can find Mark on and Twitter