Steps for Roasting Large Cuts of Beef
The following are steps to follow for an good roast. You don’t need to follow all the steps (the marinade in particular is optional) but the more steps you follow the better the end product will be. You can also use these steps for barbeque, if you can control the temperature and have access to indirect heat.
1. Choosing the cut:
Size: Regardless of the number of people you are cooking for, a roast of at least 3 1/2 lbs is needed if boneless, or 4 1/2 lbs if bone in. The problem with smaller roasts is that they cook through too quickly to break down the tougher structures in the beef and make the meat tender.
Cut type: Myriad diagrams of cuts are available on the internet. In general, the further from hoof and head, the more tender is the beef. But since the most tender muscles are those that are little used, they are also less flavourful. For example, standing rib is a wonderfully tender cut with little fat, while brisket is a tougher, and very flavourful cut rich in collagen. In general, you pay a lot more for tender meat - if you’re willing to follow the steps below, it isn’t worth it.
Fat content: There are two types of fat on a typical roast. The first is cap fat, which is a solid fatty deposit on the exterior of the roast Cap fat is somewhat useful - on the bottom of a roast it can shield the roast from direct heat, and on the top it can baste the roast. However these effects are limited. The second type is marbled fat. The more of this there is, and the more finely it is distributed throughout the beef, the more tender it will be. You can inspect the marbling of beef yourself at the store.
2. Thawing the beef:
Most bought beef is frozen. If you can get never-frozen beef, that’s great, but it’s pretty unusual. Thaw the beef slowly. Never use the microwave and do not put it in water. If you need to speed it up, put it in a zip-lock bag, seal it, and put the ziplock bag in a bowl of warm water - this prevents the water from leaching flavour out of the meat. If you have time, just unthaw it in the fridge.
3. Marinating the meat:
There are two treatments possible for beef. The first is a dry rub. Typical ingredients in a dry rub are salt (lots), paprika (lots), cayenne pepper, garlic and onion powder, coriander, dried celery, and black pepper. The salt is important because it helps break down tissues in the meat and makes it juicier. If you are doing a dry rub, use as much as will stick to the meat. It may seem overwhelming, but a lot of it will fall off during cooking.
The second treatment is a marinade. A marinade includes similar ingredients, but also has a liquid (water, wine, vinegar, olive oil) or some combination of the two. An acidic marinade breaks down the tougher structures in the meat, but can also make the meat mushy. In general, I would use a dry rub unless you believe your combination of cut, size and cooking time (see below) will not be sufficient to produce an appetizing roast.
4. Warming the meat:
Meat should be brought to room temperature before roasting. This allows the roast to cook more evenly. Otherwise the outside can be done before the inside is even finished.
5. Browning the meat:
This is an optional step, but if you are cooking the roast low and slow (temperatures of 200 to 230 degrees) it is very important for both flavour and for killing any bacteria on the outside of the roast. If you are cooking the meat at high temperature, the oven will do this for you. To brown the meat, lightly coat the bottom of a frying pan with an oil with a high smoke point (light olive or safflower oil is good). Put your burner on maximum and heat the oil until it is almost smoking. Place the roast in the pan. It will immediately stick to the bottom. When it stops sticking, rotate it and repeat. Continue until all sides have a golden brown colour (not just grey).
Browning turns complicated molecules in the meat into simple chemicals our noses can pick up, and greatly improves the flavour of the meat. Note: some people brown meat by putting it in the oven at a high temperature and reducing afterwards (the oven does the browning) but I don’t know how long this takes so I cannot recommend it.
6. Cooking the meat:
Unless you have a very lean cut of beef (e.g. standing rib), are in a hurry, or have a really small roast I recommend a cooking temperature of 200-225 degrees, depending on the fattiness of the meat (the more fat, the lower the temperature). Stick a good meat thermometer into the centre of the roast.
7. Lettting the meat stand:
When the meat reaches 135 degrees, remove the roast from the oven, wrap in foil, and let stand for 20 minutes. This evenly distributes the heat around the roast and completes the cooking of the centre. This will result in a final temperature of 145 degrees, or rare. If you’re going to the trouble of cooking a beautiful roast, you might as well eat it when it is still juicy.
Note: if you have people who prefer both rare and more done meat at your table, cut it in half before you foil it and return the unfoiled half to the oven for overcooking.