Saturday, November 13, 2010

Do We Know How to Roast Beef?

I have deep sensory memories of returning home from church as a child, opening the squeaky back door, and sniffing a houseful of roast beef.  So satisfying and delectable to come home to!  So when I make roast beef, it is usually for Sunday dinner after church.

But roasting beef is not easy.

It seems that generations past knew how to roast beef, but when I look for techniques and even recipes in my cookbooks, I'm so lost. Gradually, after discussing this often with other cooks, I've picked up a beef roasting lexicon and method of sorts. Please add your tips (or trials) in the comments.

How I Roast Beef  [credited where possible]:

1. Use a fully thawed beef roast and salt it well the night before you want to roast it [Alice Waters].

2. Drizzle a little balsamic vinegar over the roast when you set it in the roasting pan - it's a tenderizer [Esther Shank].  I use grass-fed beef, which is lean and not as soft as the fattier, grocery store beef.

3. Sprinkle well with pepper, marjoram.  Lay onion slices over and around the roast  - occasionally, I insert garlic cloves in slits in the roast.

4. Pile scrubbed root vegetables around the roast - bigger vegetables are better because smaller ones will bake into mush.  Potatoes, turnips, carrots, mushrooms.  Sprinkle those with salt and pepper too.

5.  Add 1-2 cups of liquid to the bottom of the roasting pan - water or wine or combination.

6. Cover loosely. I use a black enamelware roasting pan and its lid fits while allowing steam to escape (a tight fitting lid means you are actually steaming the beef - another cooking technique; no lid is what Martha Stewart and Alice Waters recommend and that is actual true roasting, but boy, you have to know what you are doing to roast without steam!)

7.  Bake long and slow [my mother].  I do a 3-4 pound roast at 325 for 2.5 to 3 hours.  It has a chance to come to room temperature first before the oven comes on, which is what Alice and Martha both recommend.

8.  Allow to rest for up to half hour while you make gravy, etc.  Slice thinly. 

Whew.  Maybe we can discuss gravy another time.  That's another kitchen skill that is hard to pin down in a recipe, something you have to learn at a cook's elbow before you timidly venture out on your own. 


  1. Roast is my totally, all-time, absolute, favorite meal!!! My family and I like to do ours in the crock pot. 6-8 hours or so and it comes out perfect every time : ) This is great if you're going to be away from the house all day (church, etc. I'm not comfortable yet with setting the oven and leaving it all morning.)

  2. My techniques are similar to yours, except that I use a frozen beef roast, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled liberally with salt and black pepper. It goes into the oven in a roasting pan with a lid right before my husband or I go to bed, and cooks all night at 275 degrees. In the morning we add the scrubbed root vegetables, plus celery, and a bit of water. Turn the oven down to 250. Put the lid back on and the roasting pan with vegetables and meat back in the oven and head for church at 8:30 a.m. Come home at 12:45 ~ 1:00 p.m. to find meat and vegetables tender and a lovely thick and tasty "pot liquor" that we use as gravy or as a stock for future soups.

  3. I roast my beef in the traditional way on a roasting rack in the oven.......the trick is to continually baste the joint with it's own juices, then potatos are par boiled for 10 minutes drained, then they are given a vigorous shake in the saucepan with the lid on to fluff the edges up so they crisp while roasting in the meat tray around the beef. You can't really leave this to cook alone because of the continual basting, but it's delicious.
    The juices are then used as the gravy base.
    The beef should rest for at least 10 minutes before being carved.
    florrie x

  4. Big hunks of meat scare me. This post helps to ease my terror. Thanks.

  5. I'm so glad that you posted your method, and I'm thankful for the other commenter tips... the past few roast beefs that I've made have been bad. Tough and rather flavorless, which is such a shame because I love a good roast beef, especially during cold weather.

    We're in the process of purchasing a quarter of a cow so I expect to have a nice number of roasts to play with over the next few months. Maybe I'll see some improvement {oh, I hope!). Now, if I can just convince my husband that it's really not unsafe to leave the oven on while we're at church...

  6. I'm in Christian's boat. My roasts have been hit or miss...mostly miss. I've tried the crockpot method with one good result and about twenty bad. Perhaps I'll give it another try your way. I just hate the rejection after all that time and anticipation.

  7. Christian, we just picked up our beef quarter on Friday. My freezer is jammed full! We've been doing this for a few years now, so that's part of the reason I had to learn how to make roast beef.

    Christian and Punk, I do have a tried and true crockpot roast posted on my blog. Here's the link:


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