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Beef Roast Basics

A large beef roast is the simplest of all party entrees to prepare well. Select it carefully and cook it right and you will hear nothing but praise from your diners.

Basic Beef Roast Info
Dry-aging a Rib Roast at Home
Preparing to Roast
Estimating Cooking Time for Large Beef Roasts
Cooking One Prime Rib by the Hi/Low Method
Cooking Two Roasts at the Same Time
Roast Beef Rub

Basic Beef Roast Info

  1. What cut of meat should I buy for my roast beef?
    A:  Every cut varies in flavor and tenderness. Rib roasts and loins are naturally tender and flavorful. Chuck roasts are juicy due to their good marbling, but require lower, slower cooking to get tender. Rump and round roasts are very lean and if thinly sliced can make excellent sandwiches, but they can be tough. Only the top grades of round and rump have enough fat to roast well; many do better if braised, pot roasted or stewed. For a round roast, you want top round. Eye of the round LOOKS like a good roast, but is tough and needs moist heat; bottom round is also pretty chewy when roasted.

    When purchasing a bone-in rib roast, be sure to ask the butcher to trim off the feather, or chine, bone to make carving easier. I skip the boneless rib roasts. The bones give the roast a more dramatic look, add flavor and convey heat better into the roast. Choose a rib roast that has a bright color with adequate milky white fat. Avoid dull colored meat and yellow fat; both are signs of poor quality. Also, look for even fat distribution and a good layer of fat around the ends. This isnt the time to look for the leaner cuts.

    Trim: Look for an experienced butcher. The perfect prime rib needs a very professional touch, because a professional will know to leave it alone. Except for the feather bone mentioned above, the less trimming the better. You want all the bone and fat right where it is. Unless something is hanging off, no trimming.

    Size does matter. It might seem backwards but larger roasts are actually easier to cook. Small roasts are less forgiving. Think about it this way. A small roast can go from perfect to ruined in a few minutes, but a larger roast will give you a bigger window of opportunity. As long as you can fit your roast where you are going to cook it (i.e. roasting pan, grill, smoker) you can go as big as you want. Smaller might seem easier, but it really isnt. I dont recommend a rib roast under three bones.

  2. What does it mean to age a roast?
    A:  This is a process of slowly drying out the meat under controlled conditions to concentrate the flavors and make it more tender. Hard to find and more expensive, because the meat shrinks and loses weight as it ages.
  3. Why are the cooking times different for different roasts of the same size?
    A:  With beef roasts, the size and shape of the piece and the amount of fat or marbling in the beef affects the cooking time. Larger roasts are more forgiving in their cooking- they are harder to overcook and get more tender with long slow cooking.
  4. What is a standing rib roast or prime rib?
    A:  A standing rib roast is another name for a bone-in rib roast. There are up to 7 ribs on the rib roast, from the chuck or shoulder back to the loin; the prime rib is usually NOT prime grade, but refers to the 3 or 4 ribs next to the loin. Also called the "small end", these are the most tender.
  5. How big a beef roast do I need to buy to feed 20 people?
    A:  This varies depending on whether you are carving yourself or serving buffet style. For party size entree servings that YOU serve, typically, you can plan for 1/2 pound boneless uncooked roast per person, which gives 6 ounces cooked meat per person.  For self service, you must allow 10 ounces per person. For bone in standing rib roast, allow 1 full pound per person for party-size servings. Thus, for 20 people, you would need 20 pounds, or two to three roasts.
    Note: The USDA's food guide pyramid recommended serving sizes are 3 ounces cooked meat or 4 ounces uncooked. However, expect your guests to eat more than this "average serving" at party or holiday meals.
    For receptions or "come and go" cocktail parties, you need about 1/2 what you would want for a sit down meal.
    For pot roast with vegetables or pulled beef sandwiches, you can allow 6 ounces raw boneless beef per person.
  6. How many minutes per pound do I cook my roast?
    A:  The minutes per pound varies depending on how big your roast is and what cut of beef you have.  Refer to the Estimating Cooking Time for Large Beef Roasts timetable below for advice on specific times.
  7. Should I cook it hot or "low and slow"?How well done should I cook my roast? 
    A:  Dry or "open" roasting is a great cooking method for a large, tender cut of beef such as a rib or sirloin roast. Sirloin-tip, rump, rolled-rump, eye-of-round or top-round roasts can also benefit from this cooking method if they are graded prime or choice. Lesser grades and lesser cuts will benefit more from a wet cooking method, known as braising or potroasting.

    There are two modern basic approaches to dry-roasting beef: cook the meat from start to finish at a consistent slow to medium temperature, which reduces shrinking and sputtering and produces a juicy, evenly-cooked roast but no crusty edges; or form a crust by putting it in a very hot oven for 10 to 15 minutes at the beginning or end of the roasting, using a lower temperature for the remainder of the cooking time, which helps brown the roast and caramelize its surface juices. Contrary to a widely held belief, however, this browning does not sear the surface and thereby lock in its juices, and it DOES cause shrinkage up to 1/4 the original weight of the meat.

  8. How well done should I cook my roast? 
    A:  Cook a roast medium rare for a large group of people, especially if you will be reheating.  The end pieces will be well done and the middle will be more rare which will give your guests a variety to choose from.

    You would know that the roast is done when the temperature in the center of the roast reaches 120F to 125F, (49C to 52C) for rare, 130F to 140F (55C to 60C) for medium rare, 145F to 150F (63C to 66C) for medium, and 155F to 165F (68C to 74C) for well done. (Note: 120 is a very rare roast).

  9. How do I know when my roast is done? Do I really need a thermometer?
    A:  Using the roasting timetable recommended minutes per pound as a guide for when your roast should be done, you will be able to make a good initial estimate. But roast beef is EXPENSIVE, they vary by size, shape, and fat and ovens differ in cooking times. Don't waste your money or your effort: the best way to determine when your roast is cooked is to use a meat thermometer. 
    Know what kind of thermometer you have: the instant read meat thermometers will either melt or explode if left in the meat in the oven. Also check the accuracy: 5 degrees is the difference between rare and medium for some cuts.
  10. How do I check and calibrate my meat thermometer?
    A: You can check both the old fashioned in-oven and instant read thermometers, and you can adjust or calibrate instant read thermometers if they are off, as long as they have a tiny calibration screw and can read from 32-212.
    To check if your thermometer is correct, you need to test it in freezing and in boiling water.  Start by filling a glass with ice and adding water to fill.   Insert the meat thermometer and check to see if it reads 32F.  If it does not read 32F (freezing), find the tiny screw at the base of the thermometer and turn it slightly until the needle reads the correct temperature. 
    Next, boil some water in a sauce pan on your stovetop.  Insert the meat thermometer and check to see if it reads 212F (boiling).  Again, adjust the screw at the base of the thermometer until it reads the correct temperature when inserted in the boiling water.
    Altitude/ Sea level Alert: Water boils at 202 in Denver. Make sure you are at or around sea level, or allow for your altitude.
  11. Why do you recommend a shallow uncovered pan? What about a Dutch Oven?
    A:  In roasting, the hot air acts on the surface of the roast to caramelize the meat juices and form a delicious crust. If it is covered, or the sides are too high, the moist surrounding the meat prevents this tasty crust from forming. A Dutch Oven is typically used to make pot roasts.  It is a large, heavy pot 3-4 inches deep with a close fitting lid. It retains a great deal of moisture, stewing or braising rather than roasting the meat.


Dry-Aging Beef at Home

  • You can only age a whole rib-eye or loin strip at home. This method does not work with individual steaks. Unwrap it, rinse it well with cold water, and allow it to drain; then pat it very dry with paper towels.
  • Wrap the meat in immaculately clean, large, plain white cotton dish towel(s) and place it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator - which is the coldest spot.
  • Change the towel(s) each day, replacing the moisture-soiled towel(s) with fresh. Continue to change towels as needed for 10 days, to 2 weeks. Clean towels as directed at the bottom of this list.
  • After the desired aging time, cut off steaks from each end, trim as desired. Allow the rest to continue to age in the refrigerator, changing the towels daily.
  • If, after 21 days, you have not eaten all the meat, cut the remaining piece into steaks, wrap each steak in freezer-proof, heavy-duty plastic wrap, and freeze. The steaks will keep for several months in the freezer.

    To clean the towels for re-use, soak the soiled towels, immediately upon removing them from the meat, in cold water overnight. Next, soak them in cold, salted water for 2-3 hours to remove any blood stains. Then launder separately IN HOT WATER WITH CHLORINE BLEACH. Butchers used to cover sides of beef with cotton "shrouds" during the aging process - this is essentially the same thing.

  • Preparing to Roast

    1. Preheat the oven at least 1/2 hour, especially if doing more than one roast. Place rack in the lowest position so the the middle of the roast will be in the middle of the oven.
    2. Remove roasts from refrigerator 1/2 to 2 hours before cooking.
    3. Trim most fat from beef roasts, leaving an even layer over the top to self-baste while cooking; season. If you are a garlic family, stab all over with a thin knife and slide in bits of garlic to taste.
    4. Place on racks fat side up in shallow roasting pans, grouping roasts by size. Do not cover; do not add liquid unless you are making a covered pot roast type roast.
    5. Insert ovenproof meat thermometer into center of smallest roast so that tip is not touching fat or gristle. Place your thermometer in the middle of the piece in a nice solid muscle.
    6. For a more potroast-y effect, you seal it all up in a foil package with the tight multi-folded "butcher wrap closures that don't leak. If you do it this way and want saucy gravy, for a 20 pound roast put a cup of dried onion flakes, about 6-8 cups (6 cans) of thick cream sauce or cream of mushroom soup on top the roast before sealing.
    7. Conventional oven; 325F. Convection oven: 275F. Roast in preheated oven 8 to 23 minutes per pound (see table below) or until internal temperature of the smallest roast reaches 125F to 155F. Remove from pan at desired temperature.
    8. Transfer thermometer to next larger roast and repeat procedure until all roasts are cooked. This usually takes no more than 1/2 to 1 hour additional if the roasts are close to the same size.
    9. As you remove each roast from the oven, tent it with aluminum foil; let it "rest" at least 15, up to 60 minutes to redistribute juices and finish cooking. Temperature will continue to rise 5F to 10F. Allow for this further cooking when calculating what temperature to pull out the roast at.
    10. Use a meat slicer to slice rested roasts thinly across the grain for optimum tenderness. An experienced carver with a good sharp knife is a second option. Most beef roasts taste better thin-sliced, and except for prime rib, thin sliced is MUCH more tender.

    Estimating Cooking Time for Large Beef Roasts

    If you roast at a steady 325F (160C), subtract 2 minutes or so per pound. If the roast is refrigerated just before going into the oven, add 2 or 3 minutes per pound.

    WARNING NOTES: Remember, the rib roast will continue to cook as it sets. For example, the temperature of a roast removed from a conventional oven at 120 degrees F will rise to 125 degrees F to 130 degrees F. internal temperature (medium rare) at 15 to 20 minutes. If allowed to rest as long as an hour, the temperature will rise even higher. So, pay attention to both the temperature you remove the roast at, and how long you let the cooked roast sit.
    Special Considerations for Convection Ovens: If you use a convection oven, the temperature of your roast can rise as much as 30 degrees - so remove roast from oven at 110F on your meat thermometer for rare, 115 degrees F to 120 degrees F degrees for medium rare, and 125 degrees F for medium doneness.

    NOTE on holding a roast: You can hold a roast for one to two hours after it is ready. To hold cooked roast until serving time, immediately turn off oven and leave door ajar after removing roast. Let roast sit 15 minutes on counter and then return roast to the oven, door closed, for up to an hour, or even 2 hours for the biggest roasts. Check the temperature every 15 minutes. It will rise approximately 10 F at first, then gradually subside.

    Beef Cut Approx. Weight of Single Roast Oven Temp
    Standard oven
    Interior Temp of Roast when removed from oven Minutes per pound based on one roast Total Cooking Time
    NOT including standing time
    Rib Roast, Boneless
    "Prime Rib"
    20-25 300F 125F (rare)
    135F (med)
    9 to 12
    12 to 14
    4 1/2 to 5 h
    5 to 6 hrs
    Standing Rib Roast (bone-in) 14 325F 125F (rare)
    135F (med)
    9 to 13 2 1/4-3 hrs
    Ribeye 4 to 6 350F 135F (rare)
    145F (med)
    155F (well)
    17 to 19
    19 to 21
    21 to 23
    75-100 min.
    1 1/2 to 2 h
    1 2/3-2 1/4 h
    Tenderloin, whole 4 to 6 425F 135F (rare)   45 to 60 min
    Strip Loin 10 to 12 325F 135F (rare) 10 1 1/2-2 hrs
    Top Sirloin 8 300F 135F (rare) 25 3.5 hours
    Top Round, smaller 10 300F 135F (rare)
    145F (med)
    18 to 19
    22 to 23
    3 to 3 1/4 h
    3 1/2 to 4 h
    Top Round, larger 15 300F 135F (rare)
    145F (med)
    3 1/2-4 hrs
    4 -4 1/2 hrs
    Round, Rump 50 250F 135F(med)
    145F (well)
    10 hours
    11 to 12 hrs
    Whole chuck/shoulder, boneless*
    Dry roasted
    25 250F 135F(med)
    145F (well)
    4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours
    5 to 6
    Whole chuck/shoulder, boneless*
    Pot roasted moist
    25 350F 1 hour
    then 225
    135F(med) 11-12
    4 1/2 to 6

    *This cut varies a lot in shape and amount of marbling/ fat, cooking time varies more than any other roast. Use the thermometer! Warning!!! The reason the chuck gets tender is the SLOW roast. Cook it fast and it will be done but not tender.

    Cooking One Prime Rib By the Hi/Low Method

    Rib Count

    Approximate Weight

    Oven Temperature

    Total Estimated Time

    Meat Thermometer Reading (Rare)

    2 ribs

    4  to 5 pounds

    450/325 F

    60 to 70 minutes

      120 F     

    3 ribs

    7 to 8.5 pounds

    450/325 F

    1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours

      120 F     

    4 ribs

    9 to 10.5 pounds

    450/325 F

    1 3/4 to 2 1/4 hours

       120 F     

    5 ribs

    11 to 13.5 pounds

    450/325 F

    2 1/4 to 2 3/4 hours

       120 F     

    6 ribs

    14 to 16 pounds

    450/325 F

    3 to 3 1/4 hours

       120 F     

    7 ribs

    16 to 18.5 pounds

    450/325 F

    3 1/4 to 4 hours

    120 F  

    Cooking Two Roasts At the Same Time

    Beef Cut # of Roasts Approx. Weight of Roasts Oven Temp Interior Temp of Roasts when removed from oven Minutes per pound Total Cooking Time
    Rib Roast, Boneless
    "Prime Rib"
    2 56 300F 130F (rare)
    135F (med)
    145F (well)
    5 to 6
    7 to 8
    5 to 5 1/2 h
    6 hours
    6 to 7 hrs


    Roast Beef Rub

    about 1 cup

    4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) sweet paprika
    2 tablespoons chili powder
    2 tablespoons ground cumin
    1 tablespoon salt
    1 tablespoon dried oregano
    1 tablespoon granulated sugar
    2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
    1 tablespoon ground black pepper
    1 tablespoon ground white pepper
    1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more to taste
    OPTIONAL 1-2 teaspoons Accent (MSG)
    OPTIONAL 1 teaspoon dry mustard
    OPTIONAL 1 teaspoon garlic powder
    OPTIONAL 1 teaspoon onion powder

    Mix all ingredients together in a 1 gallon plastic zip top bag. Can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature. Store away from heat or light for up to six months.


    Reheating Roast Beef

    your best bet is to probably cook it, let it rest until cool, and then slice it into the portion sizes you have in mind. Then the next day heat your oven to somewhere between 300oF and 400oF, place your slices between very large leaves of cabbage, then put the cabbage/cow packages into the oven on top of a rack placed within something to catch drippings. Reheat 2 Reheating without cooking the roast further is a difficulty. Slice off the amount of roast that you want to reheat, slip into a Ziploc bag, seal, and drop into hot tap water (about 120-140F). The water will gently reheat the meat without pushing it into well done status (like a microwave oven would). The amount of time it takes to reheat to eating temperature varies depending on the thickeness of cut and how cold it was when you started to warm it up. Exchange the water even ten minutes or so to keep the water temperature up.