Slow roasted, mouth-watering roast beef so tender it melts in your mouth is easier to make in the oven than most people think. All you need to make delicious roast beef is this recipe, a nice roast, and a couple of hours.
A long-time staple of Sunday dinners and holiday feasts, making roast beef at home has somewhat fallen out of favor, which is a bit of a travesty. Roast beef has so much to offer when cooked right, with a crisp crust paired with deep garlic and herb flavors. It can be the centerpiece to a nice dinner, the starting point for a fantastic roast beef sandwich, or sliced paper-thin and served as a cold appetizer. It’s also pretty tasty as a late-night snack.
To develop this roast beef recipe, we wanted to respect the techniques and ingredients that helped make the dish a classic while adapting it to how people cook today. That meant figuring out what type of roast to use, which seasonings highlight the flavors in the beef, and the best way to cook it.
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It also meant figuring out the answers to perennial questions, such as do you cook a roast covered or uncovered, sear it in a pan or brown it in a hot oven, how long should it cook, what’s the right temperature to pull it out of the oven, and how long should it rest. All of which are answered below.
We also wanted the recipe to be easy enough to use and so delicious that people would make it over and over again. For a more visual version check out our web story for Cooking Roast Beef.
The Joy of Classic Roast Beef
There is a reason why slowly cooked, tender roast beef has been a traditional dish since the middle ages. With its ability to take on flavors from a wide variety of herbs and spices, the beef serves as a canvas for cooks, letting them build entire meals around a coherent set of flavors.
It’s also communal; whether it’s a small sirloin roast or massive prime rib, beef roasts are meant to be shared with family and friends.
The Sunday roast is a staple of English cuisine, dating back to the middle ages when large roasts would be hung on a spit and roasted over an open fire. In Consider the Fork, Bee Wilson describes how the English love of spit-roasting beef during preindustrial times led to breeding dogs with short legs and long bodies who were tasked with walking on treadmills to keep everything turning while the meat cooked.
For those who weren’t lucky enough to live in a large house, a roast would be dropped off at the local baker on Sundays to be cooked for dinner alongside Yorkshire Pudding, roasted potatoes, and vegetables.
Cooking a 3 to 5 lb piece of meat can feel extravagant the way most people cook these days. However, the intention has always been that leftovers from Sunday dinner would be a part of what fed the family during the following week in sandwiches, pies, stews, and other dishes.
Picking Out the Best Cut of Beef
There are many choices when it comes to picking out a beef roast, including size, quality, and cut. By definition, a roast is considered any piece of meat suitable for roasting, which isn’t very helpful when you’re picking out something to cook. In practice, roast generally means a larger cut intended to serve multiple people, which, as it relates to beef, means it can come from almost any part of the steer.
The USDA grades beef for tenderness, juiciness, flavor, and the amount of usable lean meat. The grades include Prime, which is known for its abundant marbling and is usually sold to restaurants and hotels.
Most of the meat found in grocery stores and butcher shops will be graded Choice, known for its high quality but with less marbling than Prime, and Select, which is uniform in quality but leaner than the higher grades.
The cuts that work best for roast beef will be graded Choice or Prime, are flavorful, and can be thinly sliced after roasting. The beef should always appear fresh, with a strong reddish color, and appear slightly slick but not wet. Beware of pieces with lots of brown or have an off-putting smell to them.
We usually prefer using Eye of Round over Top or Bottom Round when making roast beef for dinner or having it in the house for sandwiches or leftovers. All of the Round cuts come from different parts of a steer’s hindquarters.
Our testing found that Eye of Round was usually a little more tender and just as flavorful as similar cuts as long as it’s slow roasted and sliced thin. One of the nice things about any of these cuts is how affordable they are.
If you’re making dinner for a special occasion or the holidays and want a complete show stopper choose a standing rib roast. They come in various sizes, are incredibly flavorful thanks in part to still being on the bone, and look amazing when carved tableside. Another excellent choice is a ribeye roast that comes from the boneless center of the rib area or beef tenderloin.
Prime rib is a fantastic choice when you’re going all out for a special occasion; with tons of marbling and unparalleled tenderness, it almost deserves to be in its own category. Make sure you’re getting the real thing by checking that it’s graded Prime; sometimes, standing rib roasts graded Choice will be labeled prime rib.
Some cuts such as chuck roasts, rump roasts, and other lean cuts with lots of connective tissue that needs to be broken down to keep them from being tough should be braised. One of our favorite ways to cook these is to turn them into a Tender and Delicious Pot Roast using an Instant Pot. If you don’t have an instant pot, use a dutch oven to slowly braise the beef until it’s fork tender.
How to Cook Roast Beef in the Oven
Under seasoned or overcooked beef is the very definition of blah. The best roast beef recipes find ways to embed flavors deep into the beef while creating a crisp crust on the outside with meat so tender you can almost cut it with a fork.
A part of the challenge in seasoning larger cuts of beef is figuring out how to infuse every bite with flavor. So often, bites with the outside crust are tasty and delicious, while those lacking any crust are bland and boring.
Our approach is to cut tiny slits around the outside to slide in slivers of garlic, creating pathways for the flavors in the garlic and spice rub to work their way into the interior. It also helps to baste it with a combination of beef broth and meat juices.
Using fresh rosemary and garlic makes a difference; they impart so much more flavor than their dried or powdered versions and do a better job of embedding their flavors into the meat.
A tip that brings the flavors in the beef alive is to sprinkle a tiny bit of salt across the slices right before they’re served. It’s almost magical how the salt brightens up the flavors and makes everything pop.
Cooking Tender Beef Roasts
Learning how to cook roast beef that is tender and juicy is easy once you have the basic technique down and a few helpful cooking tips.
To start, let the beef come to room temperature before roasting. We like to season it when it comes out of the fridge, giving time for the flavors to soak in while it comes up to temperature. It’s also ok to season the roast the night before and store it in the fridge.
To cook it evenly from edge to edge, use a roasting pan with a rack that lets the hot air in the oven circulate around the beef. We like this stainless steel roasting pan that comes with a rack.
The best way we’ve found to create a nice crust on the outside of a roast is to start it in an oven that has been preheated to 450℉ (232℃). Once the beef has been in the oven for 15 minutes the heat should be turned down to 325℉ (163℃) and cooked until it reaches the desired internal temperature.
Browning a roast in a hot oven is significantly easier than trying to sear it in a skillet before sticking it in an oven. It also produces better results. The heat from the oven is more even and, when done correctly, produces just as lovely a crust.
To help make the beef even juicer, add some liquid to the roasting pan to create a small steam bath in the oven. Beef stock or chicken stock works well, especially if you want to use the drippings to make gravy. Adding liquid to the pan also provides something to baste the meat with, helping to deepen its flavor.
If the cooking liquid is going to be used to make a gravy or pan sauce, use sodium-free or a low-sodium stock or broth so the liquid doesn’t get too salty as it reduces.
The roast should be cooked uncovered and on a rack to help it develop flavor and texture. There’s a big difference between roasting and braising. While technically, cooking it in the oven means it’s being baked, elevating the beef and keeping it uncovered is the best way for most people to approximate using a rotisserie to roast the beef over an open fire.
Braising is a great technique to use with a chuck roast or other tougher roasts that benefit from being cooked covered in a liquid when the goal is to break down the connective tissue in the meat, so it becomes fall apart tender. Braising is not a good choice when the goal is to thinly slice the beef before serving.
Roast Beef Cooking Times & Temperatures
The real secret to fabulous roast beef is to cook the beef to your desired level of doneness. The simplest way to keep track of the meat’s temperature is to use an oven-safe thermometer and remember that the internal temperature will rise around 5 degrees as it rests when it comes out of the oven.
A general rule of thumb for roast beef cooking time is:
- 18 minutes per pound for rare
- 20 minutes per pound for medium-rare
- 22 minutes per pound for well done
Here is a temperature guide for doneness and a reminder that using a meat thermometer is more accurate than a clock.
|Very Rare||Very red, bloody, and cold||Below 125℉ (52℃)|
|Rare||Cold red center & soft to the touch||125℉ (52℃) to 134℉ (56℃)|
|Medium Rare||Warm red center, firmer with a bit of spring||135℉ (57℃) to 144℉ (62℃)|
|Medium||Pink all the way through & firm to the touch||145℉ (63℃) to 155℉ (68℃)|
|Well Done||Gray and brown all the way through, very firm||156℉ (69℃) to 165℉ (74℃)|
|Way Over Done||Dark and crusty inside and out||166℉ (74℃) plus|
Giving the beef time to rest is key to keeping it tender and juicy. When the meat comes out of the oven, leave it in the roasting pan on top of the rack, covered lightly with aluminum foil for at least 15 minutes, which also happens to be the amount of time it takes to make gravy.
Leaving the meat on the rack allows air to circulate underneath, helping to keep the crust crisp while the juices redistribute themselves.
To slice the roast, use a sharp knife and cut across the grain while holding it in place with a pair of tongs or serving fork. In general, the leaner the cut, the thinner it should be sliced.
A few other ways to cook beef roasts include Sous Vide Roast Beef, which is tender and juicy from edge to edge with an almost velvety texture. Using a smoker is a great way to make a Smoked Beef Roast that is dynamite for barbeques and picnics during the summer.
Making Beef Gravy and Au Jus
An advantage to adding liquid to the roasting pan is the whole time the beef is cooking; it’s flavoring the base for the gravy, giving it loads of deep umami flavors.
To make a simple brown gravy, use the meat juices that remain in the pan with enough sodium-free beef stock to have 2 cups of liquid that can be combined with a simple roux. For additional tips on making a smooth, delicious gravy read A Better Gravy Recipe.
The remaining liquid and the beef broth can also be used to make a simple au jus by combining them in a small pan along with some mirepoix before straining it. Simply use the beef stock to deglaze the pan and simmer it with any leftover cooking liquid while the beef rests.
Serving Roast Beef
There are lots of ways to serve roast beef. If we’re serving it for a dinner party, we like to slice it tableside and make White Cheddar and Horseradish Mashed Potatoes and a nice gravy using the pan juices as a base.
If we’re gilding the lily, we’ll serve some roasted or Grilled Mushrooms tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, and fresh herbs that people can spoon across the top. A few other side dishes that pair well with this recipe are Sautéed Rainbow Chard and Green Beans with Balsamic Vinegar.
Leftover roast beef will last in the fridge for a week or so after it’s been cooked. It can also be frozen for later and will last for 3 to 6 months in the freezer. The best way we’ve found to reheat it, sliced or whole, is in a 300℉ (149℃) oven until it’s been warmed through.
Whether it’s being served for dinner or as sandwiches, we love to put some horseradish sauce and a few good mustards on the table for people to choose from, along with a little dish of salt that they can sprinkle on top.
- 3 lb beef roast
- 3 tsp rosemary, minced
- 3 cloves garlic, cut into slivers
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 3 tsp Kosher salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 3 cups stock, chicken or beef, recommed sodium free or low sodium stock
- 2 cups liquid, combination of pan juices & additional stock
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
Cooking Roast Beef
- Take the beef out of the fridge an hour before putting it in the oven to let it warm to room temperature.3 lb beef roast
- Slice the garlic into small slivers and mince the rosemary.3 tsp rosemary, 3 cloves garlic
- Combine the rosemary, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper with the Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and olive oil to make the spice rub.3 tsp Kosher salt, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 1 tsp lemon juice, 2 tsp olive oil
- Using the tip of a sharp knife, make small slits in the roast. Insert the garlic slivers into the slits. Spread the rub on the outside, covering the whole thing.
- Set the roast in a roasting pan with a rack, and then pour the stock into the bottom of the pan.3 cups stock
- Place the roast into an oven that has been preheated to 450℉ (232℃) for 15 minutes.
- After 15 minutes, turn the oven down to 325℉ (163℃) and cook the beef uncovered until the internal temperature has reached 135℉ (57℃). For a 3lb roast, this takes around an hour.
- While it's cooking, baste it with the pan juices a couple of times. We use a turkey baster every 25 minutes or so.
- When the meat has reached the desired temperature, take it out of the oven, keep it on the rack while covering it loosely in foil, and let it rest covered for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Slice the beef into thin slices against the grain and sprinkle a tiny bit of salt across the top of the slices right before serving.
Making Beef Gravy
- Once the roast has finished cooking, remove the juices from the pan and add enough stock to have 2 cups of liquid. Recommend using low sodium or sodium-free stock or broth.2 cups liquid
- In a saucepan, make a roux by whisking the butter and flour together over medium heat. Once the roux has turned golden brown, slowly pour in the liquid while continuing to whisk.1/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup butter
- Add the salt and pepper and continue stirring until the gravy has reached the desired consistency. This usually takes 5 to 7 minutes.1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper
- The gravy will start to thicken as it cools.