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Choosing the Right Roast

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2011

Choosing the right roast is almost as important as deciding how to cook it.

While testing our Best Prime Rib recipe, we discovered that choosing the right roast was almost as important as deciding how to cook it. Butchers tend to cut a whole rib roast (which contains seven ribs) into two 3-rib roasts, known most commonly as first-cut and second-cut roasts. Our recipe calls for a 3-bone first-cut roast, which sits closer to the loin end of the cow and consists of ribs 10 through 12. First-cut roasts feature more of the flavorful, tender rib-eye muscle than do second-cut roasts (ribs 6 through 8 or 9), which are comprised of a mix of smaller muscles and more pockets of fat.

We also found prime-grade prime rib, the darling of steakhouses, to be consistently more tender and flavorful than choice-grade prime rib because of its higher level of intramuscular fat (or “marbling”). It’s true that these upgrades add to the sticker price (prime costs roughly 25 percent more than choice), but we think they’re well worth the extra money.

Prime vs. Choice

With more marbling, prime-grade beef is more tender and flavorful. Choice-grade beef is a bit less expensive than prime, but it also has less marbling; it is our second choice.

First Cut vs. Second Cut

A first cut roast features more of the prized rib-eye muscle. A second-cut roast trades some of the rib eye for a mosaic of different muscles and more pockets of fat.