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Tastes of Texas: A Prime Rib Primer

Tastes of Texas is here to teach your how to properly purchase and prepare the best cut of beef on the market.

Happy New Year, Longhorns! I hope y'all had an absolutely fantastic holiday season full of delicious food and drink. For 2013's first Tastes of Texas we're going to move away from the BBQ and cocktails and explore the quintessential New Years Day main course: Prime Rib.

I realize that today isn't January 1st, and you won't be able to enjoy this delectable dish on New Year's Day with your black eyed peas, but it's still worth discussing. Many grocery stores that don't otherwise keep whole prime rib roasts in stock throughout the year do so during the holidays, and they will often buy too many. Now that the season has come and gone, there's a good chance you can get a very good deal on what is otherwise an incredibly expensive cut of meat. With that preface out of the way, let's hit the basics.

Prime rib is considered by most meat enthusiasts to be the Ferrari of beef, or as I like to think, the Ferrari is the prime rib of cars. Prime rib is cut from the center of the cow, just behind the shoulder. The name "prime rib" is actually bit of a misnomer and can cause some confusion among the uninitiated because of the use of the word "prime." The proper term for prime rib is actually "standing rib roast," and the USDA does not require prime rib to be cut from "prime" grades of beef; essentially, "prime rib" is a colloquial term. You can purchase a prime rib roast with the bone on or off. The bone-out version is far more common throughout grocery stores, but many consider the bone-in version to be superior. For the bone-out version, the roast can be as small as 2 ribs or as large as 12 ribs.

Prime rib gets its well deserved reputation due to a combination of tenderness and marbling. Prime rib has more fat marbled throughout the meat than any other cut of beef, and it is almost as tender as the tenderloin. The marbling gives the prime rib a rich flavor not found in other cuts, and the tenderness allows the meat to be prepared as rare as the cook desires.

So, what should you look for when you're purchasing a rib roast? First, try to find a roast with the bone still intact. The bone will impart level of flavor into the meat that the bone-out version simply can't match. Second, the meat should have a considerable amount of thin marbling all throughout the meat. Cuts that have an over sized chunk of fat in the middle of the meat indicate an overfed cow, and you should avoid them. That piece of fat is mostly unavoidable, but if it is excessive in size, you are throwing money away. Third, I recommend you buy a roast that is no less than "choice" grade. The meat will still be very tender with lower grades, but it will not have the marbling and richness of higher grades. Finally, when considering the size of the roast, plan on one "rib" for every two people.

Before completing your purchase have the butcher cut the bone off the meat and secure it back to the roast with butcher twine. By doing this, the meat will still take on the flavor from the bone during cooking, but it will cook more evenly throughout. Additionally, the bone acts as its own roasting rack, so you will not have to procure any sort of special cookware to keep the roast from burning.

Now that you have your roast, what is the next step? The good news is that prime rib is incredibly easy to cook. The process is little more than seasoning the roast and sticking it in the oven until the internal temperature reaches your desired doneness. Unlike my BBQ, I will rarely attempt a prime rib without a meat thermometer; prime rib is a very expensive cut of meat, and I absolutely refuse to risk over cooking it. Additionally, I don't get very creative with my seasoning. I season the meat with a mixture of kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper, and a little bit of garlic powder. That's it. Prime rib is so flavorful that I don't like to overpower anything with a fancy rub, but If simple isn't your thing, feel free to experiment with different seasonings, pastes, and marinades.

Prior to cooking you'll want to let the roast sit out for a couple of hours to reach room temperature. As with all meat, the roast will cook much more consistently if you start at room temperature. Season the meat with your choice of spices, and insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the roast; ensure the thermometer isn't touching the bone. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, place the roast in a roasting pan bone side down, and put the pan into the oven. Cook until the meat reaches the desired internal temperature: 120-125 degrees for rare, 130-135 degrees for medium rare, and 140-145 for medium. Once the roast is finished, tent it with aluminum foil, and let it rest for about 20 minutes. Remove the butcher's twine and bone, slice the meat, and serve with your favorite sides.

There you have it. The best cut of meat on the cow also happens to be the easiest to cook. Follow this guide, and your dinner guests will rave about the main course while you sit back with a smirk knowing very well that if this was hard it would be called BBQ.