How to Make the Holiday Roast Beloved by Meat Pros

December 11, 2017

During the holidays, we like to pull out all the stops and cook up the flashiest, most indulgent (and delicious!) main courses. We've partnered with the Beef. It's What's For Dinner to share some of our favorite ways to beef up our holiday dinners—and turned to one our favorite meat experts, Molly Stevens, for her tips on how to achieve meat perfection.

The majesty of a standing rib roast makes it an ideal choice for a full-on holiday feast, but its stature and expense can intimidate even the most experienced roaster. Happily, there's nothing overly complex about properly roasting this magnificent piece of beef. Whether you're tackling a rib roast for the first time or looking to brush up on your rib roast, er, chops, here are some helpful tips for ensuring a perfect standing rib roast every time.

Buy the right roast

A full prime rib is a colossal roast, consisting of 7 rib bones and weighing upward of 20 pounds. Most cooks shop for a more modest partial rib roast, figuring 1 rib for every 2 to 3 servings, or about 12 ounces per person. A roast from the loin end (sometimes called the "small end") will have a larger eye of rib meat and less fat than roasts cut from the shoulder end. If you're having 25 people over, go for the full prime rib; otherwise, seek out the loin end.

Choose the right oven temperature

The ideal roast combines a well-seared, flavorful crust and a succulent, juicy interior—and it's your job as the roaster to figure out how to achieve this combination. But don't fret! The well-seared crust is the easy part—simply slide a seasoned roast into a hot oven (400°F or higher) and let it sizzle away...but not for too long, as high-heat can quickly ruin a good piece of meat. If you leave a roast in a hot oven for more than 20 or 30 minutes, the heat will drive the juices from the meat, and by the time the center reaches desired doneness, the outside will be overcooked, dried out, and even charred. Thankfully, there's a simple solution: start the roast at high temperature to sear the surface, and then lower the temperature (325°F or lower) to allow the roast to gently reach perfect doneness.

Get a good sear

A well-seared roast is about more than just appearances (though we do love the way a golden-brown prime looks). Browning the exterior actually creates a complex series of flavor compounds that add immensely to the roast's flavor...and to the pleasure of eating. The following steps will help enhance the sear:

  • Season the roast up to a day in advance and let it air-dry in the refrigerator. This will insure that the surface is dry, which will lead to a more even and crispier browning. (The salt will also enhance the tenderness and juiciness of the interior.)
  • Take time to fully preheat the oven.
  • Let the meat sit at room temperature for an hour before roasting.
  • Use convection if you have it. The circulating hot, dry air will brown the meat faster and more evenly.
  • If the roast doesn't have a nice layer of surface fat, rub it with butter or oil before searing.
  • For a large roast, the easiest method is to start in a super-hot oven, but smaller roasts can be seared in a skillet on the stove top.
  • Make sure the roasting pan sides don't shield the meat from the oven heat. If necessary, raise the roast up on a rack inside the pan.

Use a meat thermometer

The single most important roasting tool is a reliable meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the roast. You don't need to check incessantly, but once you think a roast is done, take its temperature in a few spots (to be sure you are not hitting a bone or a pocket of fat that may throw off the temperature reading). Here's a smart thermometer that works with your phone.

Let the roast rest before carving

Carving a roast before it's had a chance to rest may be the biggest—and most easily avoidable—mistake in meat cookery. When you let a finished roast sit undisturbed before carving, you are allowing time for the juices to redistribute and settle, a step that insures a juicier, more evenly cooked roast. Small roasts, like rack of lamb or pork tenderloin, only need a few minutes rest, but large roasts, like standing rib, should sit for at least 30 minutes. If the kitchen is cool, you can tent the roast with foil, but do not cover too tightly or it will continue to cook.

What are your rules for cooking a prime rib? Let us know in the comments!

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“It creates juicier roasts with deeper browning and thinner layers of well-done meat.”
— Chris C.

We've partnered with the Beef. It's What's For Dinner to share some of our favorite ways to beef up our holiday dinners.

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Molly Stevens lives, eats and writes in Northern Vermont. She is the author of two James Beard Award winning cookbooks, All About Roasting and All About Braising. When the spirit moves her, Molly travels around the country teaching cooking classes.


Kate M. December 19, 2017
I sous vide my roast and finish with a torch or cast iron sear.
Mary W. December 18, 2017
I use the same high/low temp combination for all my roasts.
Chris C. December 17, 2017
Your searing instructions are backwards. Ideal method is to start low, end hot. It creates juicier roasts with deeper browning and thinner layers of well-done meat.
Becky December 13, 2017
Do you take the salt off before searing?
Author Comment
molly_stevens December 14, 2017
The salt will be absorbed into the meat, making it tender and flavorful, so there's none to remove. That said, if you do still see salt on the surface, you can brush it off. I never bother.