You’ve heard the names prime rib and rib eye, but what’s the difference? If you look at either cut of meat, they look rather similar, don’t they? Most people don’t know the big difference between the two, although many consumers know that prime rib will be more expensive.
And if you’re on a budget, you’ll probably opt for the rib eye.
There are differences to note, and if you want to know these differences, you really need to break down the fundamentals of the meat and where the meat is coming from in the first place.
Rib Eye and Prime Rib Are Both Cow Products
When you sink your teeth into either one of these steaks, you’ll be eating a cow. The same cow will produce a variety of meats, including: chuck, brisket, short loin, sirloin and shank, to name a few. But there area of the body will differ from one cut to the next and marks the main difference in the meat.
This is why steaks have different names and types – they come from different portions of the body.
Rib Eye Steak
Rib eye steak is boneless, and if you want to become a master of the subject, you really need to know the anatomy of a cow. The tricky thing is that rib eye is cut from the same area of the cow that prime rib is cut from.
It’s the same tasty, delicious area of the animal.
But since you have the rib eye and know it’s boneless, you know that it doesn’t contain the same bone as the prime rib.
Prime Rib Steak
Prime rib is expensive, tasty and still has the rib bone attached. The addition of the rib is a favorite among some people because it’s said to add to the flavor of the meat when cooked. You’ll often find prime rib at high-end restaurants for this very reason.
Both types of meat come from the same primal.
What this means is that they’re the same exact thing. If you cook the meat as a prime rib roast, the bone is kept intact. A rib eye will have a cut into the bone. Another interesting tidbit is that boneless rib eye steaks are cut from boneless prime rib roasts.
The same meat primals are used in both steaks.
Preparation is the Difference!
Since the meats are from the same meat primals, they’re essentially the same cut minus a few minor changes. When you have a prime rib, you’ll notice that the bone runs along the bottom. This is the key differentiating factor between the two cuts.
Rib eye leaves the eye in the cut, but the bones are moved.
When the bones are removed, the remaining gap looks like an oval-shaped eye, so the cut is given the rib eye name.
A chef can prepare these cuts in two different ways:
If you venture into the grocery store in the United States, you might see the USDA grade label on the meat, which is very confusing. The label may give the meat a “grade of prime,” but this doesn’t mean that this is prime meat.
See, the USDA grades the meat based on the quality of the meat rather than the cut.
Prime rib doesn’t necessarily have a prime rating, although it can because it’s an indicator of the quality of the meat.
Rib eye is not prime rib, while prime rib still contains the rib eye.
If you go to a restaurant and ask for prime rib, you’ll get a cut of meat from a cooked roast in many cases. Rib eye is raw steak that is prepared to serve, so this is something to consider if you want your meat prepared in a certain way.
Butchers note that the tastiest cut of a cow is the spinalis dorsi. This is a fancy term for the rib eye cap, which is the most flavorful and will not be cut into a single steak in most cases. The name for the cap is the “Butcher’s Butter.” While this cut will be a much more expensive, the taste is far better.
So, it’s a trade-off of taste.
And when you go to cook your next rib eye or prime rib, you’ll know that while the name is different, the meat comes from the same area of the cow.
Of course, the main deciding factor between any type of meat is the way it’s cooked. A good chef using the right tools can make a delicious steak using choice meat instead of prime rib.
If you were to go to the butcher and they offer you a specific section of the cow, you’ll want to ask for the middle of the rib. Why? This area will hold the largest portion of the cap muscle. If you move forward further, the cap will be smaller and provide you with less of the flavorful cap.