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roast beef and gravy

Your Fearless Guide to a Perfectly Cooked Holiday Roast Beef

You’ve got a beautiful roast beef ready to cook and think to yourself, “Now what?” Read on.

Cooking meat is daunting to many. But the truth is, it’s the easiest part of the meal.

That may sound crazy, but in my experience cooking meat–and especially a roast–is practically a cooking no-brainer.

All I do is follow three key steps:

  1. source the beef well, which for me means grassfed beef purchased directly from a rancher
  2. cook it to the correct temperature using the Thermapen, an indispensable instant-read thermometer
  3. rest it for at least 20 minutes, but generally longer, especially for roasts 3 pounds and over

roast beef

In a this previous roast beef post, I present the cut options other than tenderloin suitable for holiday meals. In this post, I’ll walk you through three cooking options with some extra resources and tips for roasting with confidence.

Plus, there’s an all-purpose gravy recipe at the end.

Classic roasting techniques

When it comes to cooking a whole roast in the oven, there are two classic methods: high heat roasting and slow roasting.

roast beef dinner with gravy overhead

High heat roasting is over 350°F and should be reserved for only the most tender cuts like tenderloin, top blade roast and rib roast.

Slow roasting is the other dry-heat method, below 300°F, and is necessary for less tender roasts, like top round roast and eye of round.

So, if you know that your roast is one of the most tender cuts, then you’re safe starting it in a 450°F oven and, for larger roasts, reducing the heat to finish cooking. This is the way people have cooked prime rib and standing rib roast (the bone-in cut) for generations.

And, if you know that the cut you’ve chosen is one of the less tender cuts, slow roasting is the only way to go. The meat cooks more evenly with less risk of overcooking and retains the all-important moisture in the meat that makes it juicy.

The new way to roast

But there’s another way to cook roast beef, a modern way that utilizes both high heat and slow roasting to the best effect. It’s called reverse sear.

Why “reverse” sear? Because it changes the order of that classic high-heat roasting technique I described above.

sliced roast beef

Instead of starting with a high oven temperature, you start with a low temperature (300°F and below) to cook the meat until it’s almost to the temperature you want to serve it at (more on that below). Then, you raise the heat and sear the outside of the meat into a gorgeous and tasty crust.

The bigger the roast, the better this technique works. Here’s an article I wrote on the reverse sear for Fine Cooking for more about the particulars of how and why it works so well.

The surprise (holiday) bonus is that you can cook the roast all the way through, then let it rest for up to 2 hours. Then, just before you’re ready to serve you pop it into a hot oven for just 10 minutes. It comes out beautifully seared and ready to serve!

Here’s my prime rib recipe from Food52 that’s a great introduction to the reverse sear method.

How to know when it’s done

I don’t own a real roasting pan, but I can’t live without my trustworthy instant-read thermometer. It’s the only essential tool for roasting.

The simple reason is that timing is unreliable. So use any roasting time chart only as a planning guide.

Here’s why: when it comes to roasting large cuts of meat, everything is a variable. The temperature and size of your oven, the size, shape and composition of the roast, etc.–all of these (and maybe the orientation of the sun–just kidding–but you get the idea) affect how quickly your roast will cook.

roast beef and gravy

So, the only reliable indicator of doneness is the thermometer.

Here’s my detailed chart with the temperatures for roast beef doneness from rare to well. With this guide, you’ll know when to take your roast out of the oven for the all-important rest and what to look for when slicing.

roast beef doneness chart

View my roast beef doneness Temperature Chart full size as a PDF.

For example, for medium-rare roast beef (the most recommended serving temperature), you’ll take the roast out of the oven when the instant-read thermometer registers 125°F to allow for the fact that the roast will continue to cook well after it’s removed from the oven! (It’s called carry-over cooking, for those who like the technical stuff.) By the time it has rested, the center of the roast will be at 135°F.

The larger the roast the more carryover cooking and the longer it should rest.

sliced roast beef overhead

Here’s the thing: once the roast is cooked, it will wait for you–for much longer than you might believe. So, I always plan to have the roast ready well in advance of the other last-minute meal preparations.

This avoids the “is it done yet?” panic. (Yes, I’ve been there, and I don’t recommend it when people are waiting on dinner.) It also ensures that meat has a chance to rest and finish cooking.

Once the roast reaches your ideal temperature, just set it in an out-of-the way place, preferably away from drafts, (you can tent it with foil if you’d like). That baby will hang out just getting juicier as the meat juices redistribute. The bigger the roast, the longer it can wait.

Finishing touches

No matter what cut of beef you choose or how you cook it, there’s one constant: the gravy.

roast beef dinner close up

To be honest, I do not make gravy often. For one reason, I adore herb butters, yogurt sauces and other fresh and bright meat accompaniments. But good gravy has a time and place.

A holiday roast is just the time. Enjoy your holiday to the hilt!

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Roast Beef Gravy

This is my all-purpose gravy recipe. It accommodates for the fact that the grassfed meats I cook are generally very lean, so I add some butter. It also works even when I do not have any homemade beef stock on hand by using a small amount of miso paste for its umami flavors and color.

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 8 people
Calories 43 kcal
Author Lynne Curry

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup best-quality beef, chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon brown or red miso paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Instructions

  1. Remove the roast from the pan to a platter or cutting board with a trough to catch the meat juices while it rests.

  2. Pour any fat from the roasting pan into a saucepan. While the roasting pan is hot, add 1 cup boiling water and scrape all of the drippings from the bottom of the pan until it is clean. Pour all of the liquid into the measuring cup and set it by the stove.

  3. Set the saucepan over medium heat with the butter and any fat from the roast. When the butter foams, add the flour and stir to incorporate the butter with the flour to make a roux paste. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

  4. Add the liquid from the measuring cup plus the stock and whisk to blend the roux into a smooth sauce. Reduce the heat to simmer for 10 minutes.

  5. Add the miso paste and Worcestershire sauce as well as any of the meat juices that have collected from the resting roast. Whisk to blend it well. Taste the gravy for seasoning and serve piping hot.

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