The art of the roast
January 9, 2012 9:57 AM   Subscribe

I would like to cook roast beef. For starters, what's roast beef?

I have never cooked a roast before, but I'd like to. At the supermarket, I saw several roasts that looked like they might be what I have in mind when I think 'roast beef' but I wasn't sure what I was looking for and I wasn't sure what that cut of meat is actually called.

I'm looking to produce a roast that I can cook to medium rare and use as a standalone dish one night, and then for subsequent meals in Thai beef salad, in sandwiches, make hash, etc. Something I might make on Sunday that could produce lunch for a few days.


What specifically is the cut of meat I'm looking for? How many pounds?
How do I cook it?
What else can I do with leftovers and how long will they keep?
Can I/should I freeze some cooked meat for another purpose?
Interested in side dishes or sauces (specifically horseradish sauce, especially)

I'm a pretty good cook in general but haven't cooked a really large cut of meat, other than whole chickens. I do not own a meat thermometer but if you make me buy one, I will.
posted by A Terrible Llama to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 97 users marked this as a favorite
Where are you? In the US? It makes a difference because the names and cuts of beef are different in different countries (and indeed states, in my experience)...
posted by cromagnon at 10:02 AM on January 9, 2012

Response by poster: Where are you? In the US?

Yes, the US. Good question. New England.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:03 AM on January 9, 2012

Basically - here's all you might ever want to know IMO, but it might not help you for this weekend. Make sure you get the US edition, but that shouldn't be a challenge given where you are.
posted by cromagnon at 10:04 AM on January 9, 2012

Best answer: Here is a handy guide.

Don't buy chuck if you want to roast it to medium rare (it's tough and must be braised or roasted for hours to get tender, but that's not medium rare, is it?). Loin or sirloin. Tenderloin is less fatty but it's rich (what the make filet mignon from) so you don't need as much -- I once bought a 5 lb. loin and we had leftovers for several days.

Let it sit out an hour or two before baking. Put it on a rack with a drip pan underneath. I do 15 minutes per pound (or whatever the recipe says that I'm using - different for each cut of meat, etc.) and then check it with the meat thermometer. You have to take it out early so if you want 135 F, I take it out at 125 F. Then cover loosely with foil and let rest, as it will keep cooking. Make your sauce or gravy in the meantime.

Also tasty is draping bacon on top, this works well for pork loins too.

And the butcher always knows more than I do. They will tell you anything you want to know.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 10:09 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had outstanding roast beef results on New Year's using this recipe: Prime Rib with Rosemary Salt Crust.

The only caveat I'd add is that after the heat is turned down, it does take longer than 20 minutes for the internal temperature to get up to 125...probably closer to 45+ minutes. You'll definitely want that meat thermometer, by the way--it's the best way to determine doneness. Something like this, where you can stick the probe in the meat and walk away until it's done, is very handy.
posted by Vervain at 10:14 AM on January 9, 2012

Oops - too hasty with the buttons. The good news is that the best roast beef recipe from that book is available online. The magic translation is:

Aged rib of beef, on the bone (UK) = prime rib or sometimes standing rib roast (US), ideally one from a cow that is grass fed, not mistreated, and dry aged for 21+ days before you cook it. Compromising any or all of these things based on practicality won't hurt, but all three make for a *fantastic* roast. The cut comes in different sizes - i.e. the number of ribs, with one rib feeding two people with healthy [sic] appetites.

Aged sirloin, on the bone (UK) is more difficult to translate. "Short loin" is the correct major cut, but since it's usually found dissected into some common steaks (porterhouse, t-bone, strip) you might be reliant on a good butcher. For my money it's my favourite roasting joint, having more flavour and a harder texture than a rare-roasted prime rib. Again if you find it you'll probably be able to choose your own size/number of ribs.
posted by cromagnon at 10:15 AM on January 9, 2012

Best answer: I do not own a meat thermometer but if you make me buy one, I will.

Okay! You should buy a meat thermometer! 6 dollars has never done so much to improve my roasts, chickens and everything else.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:16 AM on January 9, 2012 [16 favorites]

Best answer: There are several different cuts that you can use for roast beef, and different techniques. I like the "500 degree eye-of-round" approach, which is quite simple and uses a readily available, fairly inexpensive cut (in fact, I just scored about 20 lbs of it this weekend on sale at $1.99/lb!). Make sure you let the roast rest for at least 20 minutes after cooking and before slicing.

Eye of round hasn't got a lot of marbling, so it holds together and does not disintegrate if you want to slice it thin for sandwiches. This also means it's not super moist, and is best served with a nice gravy or "au jus" on your first roast night. It's not heavily seasoned so it can be used afterwards in a lot of other different things.
posted by drlith at 10:17 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have a slow cooker?

If so, here's what you do:

Buy a chuck roast, a small one. About three pounds will do. You'll also need canned tomatoes -- I like to buy the San Marzano whole tomatoes and puree them in the chopper. And then you need an onion (chopped into little bits) a few cloves of garlic, some carrots, and some new potatoes.

Chop the onion first -- if you really prefer it in tiny bits and are not so great with a knife, you can put the chunks in a chopper.

Layer the onion with the little bit of garlic at the bottom of the cooker. Then chop carrots and add a layer of those. Next, potatoes, a layer of those. You don't want more than one or two medium-sized red baby potatoes, because they're bigger than they look and take up a lot of space. I use ten to fifteen chopped up baby carrots.

(Make sure you check if there's room for the whole roast in the pot. If not, you can cut the thing in half and freeze half for later.)

Dredge your roast in flour with a bit of salt and pepper.

You can brown it in the skillet in a bit of butter, or you can just stick the thing into the pot. Some say it's more tender if you brown it first. So go ahead and do that.

Put your roast in the pot on top of the onions, carrots and potatoes.

Now, take those pureed tomatoes. Add a bit of mustard powder, a bit of cumin, some chili powder. More salt and pepper. Stir. (On the mustard powder/cumin/chili powder front, I tend to go for about a teaspoon of each.)

Pour this gloop on to the roast. Don't worry if it's not covered completely; the juices of stuff will cook up.

Cook on high for four hours, or on low for eight. (My slow cooker doesn't do so well on low, and eight hours tends not to be enough. So I stick to high, though if your low setting works it might make your meat more tender.)

When the roast is done, you'll know several ways: First, the potatoes and carrots will taste done. They won't be crunchy. Second, the meat itself should fall apart when you pluck at it with a fork. If it's not fork-tender, you might cook it a bit longer. You don't so much need a meat thermometer for slow cooker messes/might not find one particularly helpful, as the meat will get up to "cooked" temperature long before it's fork-tender.

Once the roast is done -- and this is important -- take the meat out of the goop and cut it separately. Then store it in its own container in the fridge so you can use it to make sandwiches and so forth. That there meat should last you up to a week in the fridge.

As for the potatoes and carrots and goop, you serve that alongside the meat the first night. You can refrigerate and reheat and serve it for another three or four days.
posted by brina at 10:22 AM on January 9, 2012 [18 favorites]

And the butcher always knows more than I do. They will tell you anything you want to know.

Depends on where you're buying your meat. In my experience, low-end grocery stores stock their meat departments with any breathing body old enough to operate heavy machinery. The extra couple of bucks you spend at a nice grocery store, like Whole Foods, may be worth it because the person at the counter will tell you what looks especially good, or if cut X in the case looks nice, but is too expensive for your tastes, then cut Y is a good substitute.

If it's your first time making roast beef, I'd be hesitant to recommend tenderloin, because it is both expensive and has a relatively small margin of error compared to prime rib if you want juicy meat that is still tasty several days later. Eye-of-round is cheap, but has a small margin of error in my experience. Prime rib is expensive, but has a big ol' margin of error and is almost impossible to screw up, especially with a good meat thermometer*, letting it sit uncovered in the refrigerator for as long as you can stand, and a horseradishy-mustard-rosemary crust applied the night before.

* The $10 instant reads at the grocery store are fine, but don't leave them in the meat!
posted by joyceanmachine at 10:23 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's true, joyceanmachine. Locally owned markets tend to have knowledgeable butchers and if you're friendly, they'll give you a deal or get you something special from out back.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 10:25 AM on January 9, 2012

Best answer: I cooked a delightful top sirloin roast yesterday following the Cook's Illustrated method described in this PDF. Lots of info & advice in there about the various cuts as well as cooking methods.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 11:20 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Horseradish sauce yum. If you're up for the trouble, get a fresh horseradish root, chop off the ugly ends, peel it, and grind up in food processor or grate it. (There will be some eye and sinus searing fumes in your kitchen from this process...) If you aren't up for the fresh, use the jarred grated horseradish. Either way, mix a good couple of spoonfuls (or more if you like it with a bite) of the grated horseradish with mayonaise, sour cream, salt, lemon juice, and a bit of sugar to taste. (Sorry I have no idea of quantities -- I just keep adding more horseradish and glop until it tastes good to me.) This is good with all kinds of stuff, not just roast beef. If you've used fresh horseradish and have some left over, you can mix with a bit of vinegar and sugar and put it in a tupperware in the refrigerator, and then use for other purposes (bloody marys, for instance).

Yes, two people per rib on a standing rib roast for the main dinner; more if you want leftovers. I cover my roast before cooking pretty amply with garlic salt, onion powder, and peppper and then roast it at 350 until the internal temp hits 120 for rare/medium rare, then take it out and let it sit for 20 plus minutes with foil over it. But there are all kinds of methods and if you pay attention to time/temp all should give you a really nice roast.
posted by Cocodrillo at 11:50 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What you're describing is a pot roast, brina. Totally delicious in its own right but kind of the opposite of roast beef. Pot roast is a tough cut of meat that's braised low and slow for hours until it falls apart. Pretty much foolproof, and a great way to make a roast without having to put a lot of effort into it.

Roast beef, on the other hand, is a tender cut of meat that you dry roast to the minimum amount of doneness possible, to preserve its tenderness. It's a lot more finicky, but the results can be spectacular.

I coincidentally made my first rib roast last night, and it turned out spectacularly. I would endorse Vervain's method, rosemary, salt, and pepper were the only seasonings I added. If you've gone to the expense of buying a rib roast (by far the best roast cut IMO), you may as well go easy on the seasonings and let the flavor of the meat shine through.
posted by TungstenChef at 11:52 AM on January 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Good Eats: Pot Roast

Youtube: part 1, part 2
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:37 PM on January 9, 2012

Best answer: So here's the battle that raged in my house growing up. "I want roast beef", "No, you want pot roast!" "No, pot roast is for damn yankees, down home we eat roast beef!"

To me...Roast Beef is cooked absolutely no more "Done" than medium rare. You need to chew it. Pot Roast is cooked in a slow cooker or a dutch over for about 3 hours longer than it needs to be and it falls apart and makes its own gravy. Also, I don't like Pot Roast but I have killed a small village and 3 chickens in exchange for Roast Beef. (Ok, no, but I might.)

You don't need to buy expensive meat to make a good roast beef, however...
Growing up we ate sirloin roasts. Now, for whatever reason, getting a sirloin roast that isn't EITHER 20lbs OR only cut 1.5 inches thick is difficult. I personally usually use Rump Roast or Eye of Round, as mentioned above. Fat is your friend, gristle not so much. Rib roasts are AMAZING but unless you're fabulously wealthy or extremely connected to a friendly beef farmer, you may have to sell your corneas to afford one, same with tenderloins. (I personally would never, ever, ever "roast" a tenderloin, but to each their own.)

Growing up, my mom just did the "salt and pepper and oven" thing. Then my dad convinced her that pre-salting is the devil, and that he should cook all the meat, and now they don't eat roast beef any more because he is dumb.

I'm sure all the previous instructions are AWESOME, but I still want to tell you what I personally, just me---what I do.

Find a nice thick eye of round. Thick. Like. 5 inches. Length isn't as important. Now, you should have a tapered end and a "cut" end. In the center of the cut end, cut a slit almost all the way across the piece of meat. Maybe an X back towards the taper. You're trying to make a cavity. Now, inside that cavity, you're going to pack, and I mean PACK, like JAM it full of the nastiest, stinkiest bleu cheese you can find. The "Amish" stuff is good, no need to for full-on Stilton. I normally put a couple skewers through to close it up, or maybe some tooth picks. Then I roll the whole thing in fresh ground black pepper (not like a crust, you know, just some pepper) and some sea salt or kosher salt or no salt, whatever. Maybe some red pepper. Or not.

Then I put him in a roasting pan (no rack! very importantly no rack!) and I drape foil over him, like a turkey, and roast him at about 325-350 until I feel like he's done enough. Do NOT wrap him entirely in foil. Note that I like my roast beef rare to medium rare at most.

Now here's the trick, you're thinking "All of that delicious bleu cheese is going to drip out", and it will. You're not hoping to keep it in there, because that would be stupid and hard to eat.

What you're doing here is melting bleu cheese into natural, fatty, beefy drippy goo. The foil is to keep that delicious bit of delicious from evaporating in the oven, you want it all.

So now when you take him out of the oven, pick him out of the pan, let him drain, and scrape any extra cheese off of him. Set him aside with your piece of foil over him to let him rest. Now, get your fork and smoosh up the bleu cheese goo with the beefy drippy goo until it's somewhat chunkily uniform. Feel free to add MORE CHEESE if it's thin. You want it chowder consistency. Spreadable, but liquid enough to soak into bread or potatoes.

After 10 minutes (20 minutes is too long, he will get cold), slice that bastard on an angle across the grain. Eye of round isn't Mr. Tender, so maybe thinner cuts than thicker, but if you've gone rare you should be able to get 1/4 inch or so thick.

Now for the best part---spoon out the cheesy gooey mess onto the meat. Go easy at first, because it is a little strong. Now go eat it. Your head might asplode because it is made of awesome.

If you're feeling extra awesome, bake some fresh bread and serve it with this mess, and then your brain can argue with itself "DO I SOP THE BREAD IN THE GOO OR THE MEAT IN THE GOO OR THE BREAD IN THE MEAT IN THE GOO?!"

I just shared with you the recipe that I've fed to all my friends and made their respective heads asplode. It is very, very rich and likely not good for you. Served with a nice malty ale and/or something like asparagus or maybe a baked potato (but only a baker with crispy skin!) you may just think that you' sneakily died and you're in heaven.

Also, all cuts of meat are "him" unless it's female parts. FYI and such.

(One night not too long ago I tried this with a sirloin that I rolled up and tied with kitchen twine. It worked...kind of...but it was VERY HARD to get the middle done w/o overcooking the outside.)
posted by TomMelee at 12:42 PM on January 9, 2012 [276 favorites]

The roast beef you're describing is, to me, what most people call prime rib or rib roast--it's the part of the cow where the ribeye steaks come from. Chuck roasts or round roasts cooked in a covered pot or slow-cooker, or braised in any sort of liquid, are going to be tasty, but not quite what you're looking for, as they don't slice well and aren't versatile enough to be used in the different sorts of applications you're describing.

You will hear both things called "roast beef" depending on where the speaker grew up and a zillion other factors. It can be confusing and will probably make the answers here pretty interesting. :) But from the applications you're describing, I think you're looking for a rib roast.

Note that these can be pretty spendy cuts, even considering that they'll be feeding your family for several days. My family gets ours from our local Costco, which has surprisingly high-quality meat at pretty awesome prices.

Note also that "prime rib" is a misleading name, as "prime" is also a premium grade of meat, and the cut of meat referred to as "prime rib" can be any grade at all. I suggest looking for Choice grade, or Prime grade if you've got the wallet capacity for it.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:47 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great answers, all, and thank you.

TomMelee: Just. wow.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:25 PM on January 9, 2012

Prime rib is not roast beef. I dislike prime rib and love roast beef. Also, roast beef is not pot roast, either the Yankee or Southern versions (there are both). Pot roast is cooked on the stove and involves a delightful mess of soup/gravy stuff and the cooking of potatoes and onions and carrots with it. Prime rib is a particular cut of beef that people cook that is very soft in a way that I don't care for. Roast beef is a cut like a rump roast (though I have substituted other cuts labeled as "Great for Roasting" by the grocery store if I couldn't find it, I think they tend to be bottom rounds? but I'm not sure. They should be a a big hunk of beef that is like 3-4 inches tall and like a big lump, prime rib tends to be a flatter longer thing), that you cook in the oven and then use the drippings to make gravy with that you serve with mashed potatoes (because mashed potatoes and gravy are delicious!).

It's a fairly simple thing to cook, but meat thermometers are vital to cooking such things. In fact, my Christmas dinner was saved by one of those lovely thermometers that you stick in the meat, but has a cord that runs out of the oven into a device that you can set to tell you when a certain temp has been reached (otherwise I would have over cooked my roast by an hour, freaky things were happening that day I swear). One of these.

My recipe is simple but very delicious. Take hunk of meat, poke with fork all over and sprinkle with meat tenderizer. Let sit for 15 min. Then sprinkle liberally with seasoning salt, garlic powder, and black pepper. Put meat in a deep pan and put water in the pan (enough to provide a thin amount over the bottom of the pan about ½ inch) and cook for 15 min at 425 (F) to brown. Decrease the oven temperature to 350° F and cook for 25 min per pound or till the meat reaches 130° F internal temperature. Make sure to keep water in the pan. Let sit for 10-15 min before cutting.

And the gravy (because you are making gravy right?): Remove beef from the pan. If necessary, add water to the pan and scrap up the beef drippings. Put the pan on medium-low heat on the stove. Mix 1 tbsp of flour and 1 cup water together (until all lumps are gone) then slowly add the flour/water mixture to the pan. Add 1 beef bouillon cube to the pan (you can add a second one later if you want it beefier, I find it depends on how much water I ended up with/how much gravy I am trying to make). Cook, frequently stirring until gravy has reached desired thickness (make more water/flour mixture to add if need more thickness, add more water to decrease thickness).
posted by katers890 at 4:05 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

For the record, "Prime Rib" as we know it at most establishments in the US is just a giant rib roast that hasn't been cut. If it were to be cut, it would be "Ribeyes", the thick sliver of fat we recognize in a ribeye between the main blade of meat and the outer, more tender layer tends to melt close to entirely in a "Prime Rib", as does most of the fat in the piece. This process is what gives "Prime Rib" that soft, almost primal richness and softness. You can roast a rib roast in a way that it is NOT a "Prime Rib", (and I would, if I had the liquid capital to purchase a rib roast) but that's the basics. Ask your meat cutter for "Prime Ribeye" and cook HIM to medium rare and again, your head will asplode, especially if you use the Alton Brown method to get a good Maillard reaction.

Or, if you're more ghetto-fab like myself, ask for "Spencer Steaks", pay 1/4 the price, and marvel at the mostly-secret cut of ribeye you're enjoying. Do this before the hipsters catch on like they did with flat iron steaks and london broils and Sriracha.

Also, in case you haven't noticed, I don't do "understated" well. ;-) Enjoy.

(and a tiny clarification from my opus above. Do not cut a hole all the way through the meat, when I said about the X, I meant "towards" the tapered end, not "from" it. So you've got a cone of meat, the "cut" side, the "big" side will start with a slit larger than where it ends back towards the taper.)
posted by TomMelee at 6:00 PM on January 9, 2012

TomMelee = Ron Swanson.
posted by Madamina at 1:55 PM on January 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

Can't resist..."Is this something I would need a TV to understand?"
posted by TomMelee at 5:40 PM on January 10, 2012

Hi. Just want to jump in here and offer my personal recipe. FWIW: Professionally I am a chef, personally AND professionally I am obsessed with trying to perfect my prime rib roast. Here's the one I serve every year for Christmas and the one I served at our wedding rehearsal dinner.

You need a roast that is from a cut that could yield steaks. What I mean by this is a rib roast, ribeye roast, striploin roast, etc.. This means that the cut is large, but will be tender when cooked rare/medium rare. I'm going to throw some dirty tricks in here, but the two most important things that will affect the quality of your roast are temperature and seasoning. You need to salt/season your roast THE NIGHT BEFORE you plan to cook it--if that is not at all possible then a minimum of two hours before. I could go into all the Harold McGee/Alton Brown scientific reasons for this, but just trust me, the end result is that it tastes better.
That being said, here's the process, beginning to end:
Rub about a 1/2 cup vodka all over the roast. Rub the roast all over with kosher salt and black pepper (bonus points if you add some finely chopped rosemary!).
Locate the fat cap of the roast (that's the side with the huge covering of white fat; if you have a rib-on roast the side opposite the ribs). Make 6 or so small slits in the fat, and insert bay leaves in them. Leave the roast in the fridge, uncovered, overnight.
At least two hours before you want to cook your roast, bring it out and let it come to room temperature.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
Place the roast on a rack above a pan--fat side up--and into the oven. Cook for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees. Cook for 15 min per pound. After the time determined by your math, check the temp with your handy new meat thermometer. It's 125 degrees? That's mid-rare, pull it. Let it sit, on the rack in a warm place (near the stove, on the door of the turned off, open oven) for 30 minutes. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART. Do NOT cut it right out of the oven.
Carve, serve and enjoy!
posted by kaiseki at 12:04 AM on January 11, 2012 [15 favorites]

Just remember whenever you make the roast beef to ask your dining mates if they know what the difference between roast beef and pea soup is. Works every time.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:32 AM on January 11, 2012

Self-link (sorry!) but here's an article I wrote last month on this topic. Short version: the butcher is your friend.
posted by tizzie at 3:00 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I tried TomMelee's recipe tonight. Normally I hate blue cheese, as I think it tastes like the vomit of a newborn cacodemon, but when properly smooshed and combined with the beef juices, it is transformed from devil puke into a savory nectar. It is witchcraft! Or science.
posted by Dr. Zira at 5:55 PM on January 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

What is Roast Beef?

Roast Beef is generally cooked from a large single piece or cut of tender beef cooked in the open on a tray in a relatively hot oven. (or slightly covered with foil in the oven). it is definitely NOT cooked in a liquid or braise (which it seems the USA confusingly calls a "Pot Roast").

A good butcher will have a variety of cuts of beef that can be used for 'roasting'. These will be tender cuts of beef - and usually not too lean (as lack of fat can result in too dry a roast). These will be called different things and can have different shapes in different countries / areas / butchers.

How large a piece of meat? well I usually opt for about 150-250g per person - depending on whether they are big eaters or small and whether you want leftovers.

I would recommend buying a meat thermometer - as this is the easiest way to avoid over-cooking / under cooking.

Personally I don't find roasting meats to be particularly difficult or stressful. You stick it in the oven, baste it once or twice, check temperature around the time its expected to be finished and there you go.

There are various formulae for calculating the time needed to cook a roast at various temperatures. Keep in mind that these are approximations and should be used for a guide only. Many factors, such as shape of roast, actual oven temperature, airflow, moistness of the meat, starting temperature of meat, etc can significantly impact on the required coking time.

Oh and horseradish sauce! yes I just made some at christmas from fresh horseradish grated, and mixed with cream!it was easy and too delicious.
posted by mary8nne at 3:02 AM on January 13, 2012

« Older The Internet is a series of tubes, right?   |   My mother-in-law hates me! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.