The staple of fancy blow-out buffets the world over, hand-carved roast beef is an elegant way to step it up at your next holiday cocktail party or feast. It’s easy, too, especially with our step-by-step guide to making sure your beef looks—and tastes—its best. Tip: Look for a roast with at least a ¼-inch fat cap on top; the fat renders in the oven, basting the roast and helping to keep it moist. Juicy and tender, this beef will steal the show.
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.
Account for Carry-over Cooking
Roasts should be taken off of the heat well below the desired degree of doneness. A phenomenon called “carry-over cooking,” in which the meat’s exterior transfers heat to the cooler center, will continue to cook the roast 10-15 degrees even when it’s taken off the heat.
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.
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.