How to Make the Best Roast Beef
It takes careful cooking to transform a large piece of beef into tender, succulent slices. To find the best ways to do this, we’ve developed dozens of roast beef recipes. Here we share with you all of the knowledge we’ve gained—including the ingredients, equipment, and know-how—after spending years creating roast beef recipes for anything from an inexpensive sirloin roast to a pricey beef tenderloin.
We’ll explain the importance of tying a beef roast, how to trim a tenderloin, and the key steps to turning out a perfect beef roast.
How to Trim Beef Tenderloin
1. DISCARD THE STRIP
Discard the fatty strip (or chain) that runs along the length of the tenderloin.
2. TRIM THE SKIN
Remove the sinewy silver skin (and any other large pieces of fat) by inserting the tip of the knife under it and slicing outward at a slight angle.
Steps to a Great Beef Roast
TIE, SEASON & LET STAND
Many cuts of meat benefit from trussing before being cooked. This forces the beef roast into a more even shape, ensuring the thin, narrow ends won’t overcook before the thick middle part is done. (Tying also makes for a nicer presentation and easier slicing.) After the meat is trussed, dry roast with paper towels, then sprinkle the exterior with salt (preferably kosher) and let it stand at room temperature for at least an hour. As the roast sits, the salt draws out its juices, which then combine with the salt before being reabsorbed into the meat. The result: a beef roast that is flavorful both inside and out.
SEAR BEFORE ROASTING
Browning meat produces new flavor compounds that are essential to the success of a roast. But blasting the oven temperature to accomplish this can dry out the meat's exterior and doesn't uniformly brown the entire roast. To guarantee a well-caramelized crust, sear the roast in either the roasting pan or a skillet, before putting it into the oven.
CHOOSE APPROPRIATE COOKING METHOD
Most roast beef recipes call for cooking roasts in a moderately hot oven, but this method can lead to an overcooked exterior and an unevenly cooked interior. We generally cook roast beef at temperatures between 250 and 350 degrees, depending on the meat's size and shape. Roasts should always be taken out of the oven before they reach the desired degree of doneness. A phenomenon called “carry-over cooking,” in which the meat’s exterior transfers heat to the cooler center, will cause the internal temperature of the roast to rise another 10 to 15 degrees.
LET MEAT REST
All roasts should rest under a foil tent for 10 to 20 minutes before being carved. As the protein molecules in the meat cool, they will reabsorb any accumulated juices and redistribute them throughout the roast. This also allows for “carry-over cooking” to take effect.
Essential Roast Beef Equipment
A roasting rack raises beef roasts out of their drippings while giving the oven’s heat easy access to the whole surface—a good start toward a well-rendered exterior. We prefer V-shaped roasting racks because they hold our beef roasts snugly in place, and their fixed shape doesn’t adjust when you least expect it, like adjustable roasting racks tend to do.
There are two types of instant-read thermometers: dial face and digital. Both models are accurate, but we found the digital models to be quicker to register and easier to read. Our winner is affordable and has saved more beef roasts than we care to remember.
As a beef roast is sliced, it sheds liquid, which a carving board’s channels can trap—as long as they’re deep enough. Some boards’ channels are too shallow to contain the juices, which overflow and make a mess. We recommend carving boards with generous surface area and deep, wide trenches that keep the beef roast’s juices from running over.
After too many debacles carving roast beef into lopsided, haphazard slices with the wrong knife, we know better. Past evaluations gave us some criteria to look for in our slicing knife: an extra-long blade, enough sturdiness to ensure a straight cutting path, and a round tip that wouldn’t get caught coming down. We also found that knives with chiseled out recesses close to the cutting edge produced the thinnest slices with the least amount of effort.
When it comes time to sear our beef roasts, we prefer traditional skillets made of stainless steel sandwiched around a core of aluminum. Aluminum is one of the fastest conductors of heat, but it reacts with acidic foods. Stainless steel is nonreactive, but it’s a poor conductor of heat. But a marriage of the two metals makes the ideal composition for a traditional skillet.
A heavy-bottomed Dutch oven with a capacity of at least 6 quarts is our preferred vessel for preparing pot roast. Dutch ovens are heavier and thicker than stockpots, which allows them to retain and conduct heat more effectively. Our favorites are made of enameled cast-iron, which does a good job of holding onto heat and cleans up easily.
Key Roast Beef Ingredients
We use beef broth to create the sauces that accompany our beef roasts, but we’ve found that the wrong kind can ruin your gravy and leave it tasting “vegetal and sweet.” All five of our top finishers had one ingredient in common: yeast extract. This flavor potentiator functions like salt, without straight-up salty flavor. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have our reservations about some of these beef broths. Ultimately, we preferred the broth that was made with the same natural ingredients we’d put in our own beef roast sauce.
Tomato paste is the backbone of many of our beef roast recipes, providing rich, deep flavor to a sauce or gravy. Even in these non-tomato-based recipes, its glutamates stimulate taste buds like salt and sugar, and bring out subtle depths and savory notes. Our winner did this especially well—and it’s also low sodium and contained one of the highest levels of natural sugars in the lineup.
Not all cuts of meat are the same. Choosing the correct cut from the butcher is always the first step toward making the perfect roast beef dinner. Here we go through what you need to know about our favorite roast beef cuts.
Best Roast Beef Recipes
For an expensive cut of meat that you probably cook just once a year, you’ll want to make sure you use the right method to prepare it perfectly. We wanted a meal that was good enough to justify the price.
While pricey cuts of meat like prime rib and beef tenderloin are the main attraction at many a holiday table, a less expensive top sirloin roast usually yields tough meat best suited for sandwiches. How do you transform a bargain cut into a tender, juicy roast that can stand on its own at any occasion?
The best roast beef is cooked gently to keep all its juices inside. But without enough pan drippings, how do you make rich, beefy gravy? We found a way, using the rendered fat and flavorful browned bits left behind from searing the meat on the stovetop.
Tomatoes, red wine, and garlic should complement an Italian pot roast, not overpower it. Many early recipes we tried tasted like meat boiled in bad spaghetti sauce. To get our flavors in order, we began with the tomatoes. After trying every likely tomato product, we discovered that the key to a thick, rich saice was to use not one but three tomato ingredients: canned diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste.
Most country style pot roast recipes produce pitifully small chunks of pallid meat floating in a watery liquid with hopelessly overcooked vegetables. Others result in rubbery, tough meat or meat that literally falls apart when lifted from the pot. Could we redeem this classic?
Beef tenderloin is certainly tender, but it’s not particularly flavorful. One solution is to wrap the tenderloin roast in a thick herbed crust. If only it were so easy, as the herbs burned quickly, lost their flavor, and just wouldn’t stay glued to the meat. We finally found the best technique for getting our herb crust to flavor every slice.
Prime rib roast is a traditional choice for an elegant dinner, but it can be expensive. We wanted a less pricy alternative without sacrificing flavor. The answer was to enhance the flavor of the meat with lots of garlic, and to choose an inexpensive top sirloin roast with a substantial fat cap still attached; the cap will render as the beef roasts, adding moisture and flavor to the meat.
Sauerbraten consists of roast beef that has been pickled (sometimes for as long as 10 days), braised, and then served over buttered spaetzle with sweet-sour gravy. Before the advent of the icebox, the long pickling process was the best way to preserve the meat, but we wanted to make a modern version that would taste authentic, yet could come together in hours instead of days.
Whether you call it “Beef in Foil,” “Sweep Steak,” or “Chuck Roast Winner Dinner,” the process is the same: Rub a chuck roast with dehydrated onion soup mix, seal it in aluminum foil, and cook until tender. Unfortunately, the results are often the same: dry, stringy meat and salty, artificial-tasting drippings. We wanted a version that was easy to make but didn’t taste like a TV dinner.
Tender, juicy, perfectly cooked roast beef is a meal worth making. But you aren’t going to impress anybody serving some of the gray, overcooked roasts we encountered during our tastings. We were after a tender piece of beef with a full-flavored and substantial gravy—just like grandma used to make.