How to Cook a Perfect Roast Beef
There's a lot of conflicting information out there about how to cook roast beef. Here, we answer your most pressing questions so you can cook a perfect roast beef — every single time.
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Prime Rib with Roasted Vegetables; photograph by Olga Ivanova
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Roast beef has long been a favorite centerpiece for the Christmas table — one bite and it's hard to argue against this particular tradition. Whether served for Christmas or as a classic British Sunday dinner with veggies, Yorkshire pudding, and horseradish cream, roast beef is at once comfort food and celebration. Here's how to do it right.
Jump ahead to:
What is roast beef?
The broad term "roast beef" refers not so much to a specific cut of meat, but to the cooking method: While a pot roast is, in fact, a type of beef roast, it's not considered roast beef, as it's usually prepared by braising in a closed dutch oven or slow cooker as opposed to roasting uncovered. (Consider this: pot roast is cooked in ... a pot! Roast beef is cooked in a roasting pan.)
So if a roast isn't always roast beef, then what is roast beef? Simply put, roast beef is any cut of beef that's prepared by roasting. This means there are a wide variety of cuts you can choose from.
In general, the best cuts for roast beef are large and tender — avoid tough chuck roasts. Rib roast, top sirloin roast, round roasts, tri-tip, and tenderloin should all make for a tasty roast beef. Meat that is darker in color with a thick layer of fat and good marbling throughout is most likely to stay juicy through the roasting process.
A note on round roasts: These cuts are leaner, but the top round and eye of round are still good — and more economical — choices for a roast beef. The bottom round roast (or rump roast) is the leanest of these roasts and will need to be cut thin in order to be tender on the plate.
How to prep roast beef
Luckily, choosing your roast may be the most difficult part of the process! Roast beef is actually quite simple to make, and it's well within your reach to cook a stunning roast the very first time you make one.
There's not a lot of hands-on prep time required for most roast beef recipes, but you do want to take the roast out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes (for large roasts, up to 2 hours) before you cook it to help it come to room temperature.
Season the meat following whatever recipe you choose (we've got some tasty ones at the end of this article). For most cuts of meat — and particularly for leaner varieties — you'll want to drizzle the beef well with olive oil, then rub it all over the roast along with some kosher salt and black pepper.
For extra browning, you may be called on to sear the roast on all sides over high heat before roasting, but this step is purely optional.
Cook your roast beef on a rack to allow the hot air in your oven to circulate around the whole roast, making it cook more evenly. If your roast has a thick fat cap on it, place the fat side up on the roasting pan. This way, as the fat starts to melt in the oven, it will drip over (and into) your roast for extra flavor and tenderness.
How long does it take to cook roast beef in the oven?
Like many things in cooking, it depends. Your cooking times will vary based on the size of your roast, how well you want your meat done, and your oven temperature. Many recipes call for starting the roast at a higher temperature (anywhere from 400°-500°F) and then finishing off in a slower oven (anywhere from 275°-375°F).
If you're up for some light math, here's a rule of thumb: For every pound of meat you're roasting at 350°F, it will take approximately 18 minutes for rare, 20 minutes for medium, and 25 minutes for well-done. But your cook time can vary widely based on the cut used.
Bottom line? Pick a roast beef recipe for the specific cut you want to use and refer to the guidelines in your recipe. Expect cooking times to range from 1 to 2 1/2 hours for an average 3- to 5-pound roast.
How to know when roast beef is done
Clearly, you can't go by time alone to judge when to take your roast out of the oven. So how do you tell? Here's one question where we can give you a definitive answer: Take the temperature of your meat. For the best results (and peace of mind), may I recommend the Yummly® Smart Thermometer? Using a meat thermometer, check the internal temperature of your roast beef. As a rule of thumb, take your roast out of the oven when it reaches a temperature 10° below your desired degree of doneness, as the beef will continue to cook as it rests.
Roast beef cooking temperatures
The Yummly Smart Thermometer is a wireless, app-based solution to protect your meat. The leave-in thermometer continuously monitors both internal and ambient temperatures, then alerts you on your phone when your roast is done.
Without getting into the science of it all ... no, your roast is not tired, but yes, it needs to rest. Resting simply means letting the meat sit for a minimum of 10 minutes before you carve it (up to 30 minutes for larger roasts). Why? To keep those juices where they belong: in your roast. Resting also helps even out cooking.
Carving a roast too early will flood your cutting board with delicious juices that will never make it to your unlucky diners' mouths. Resting the roast gives the beef time to reabsorb those flavorful juices. Don't skip this important step, no matter how hungry you are! While it's not a reason for resting, this step also gives you time to prepare a sauce and put your sides into warm serving dishes.
What to with serve roast beef
The leaner the roast, the thinner you should carve your slices. While a tender prime rib doesn't need any adornments — save for a decorative sprig of fresh rosemary or thyme — you can't go wrong with a decadent sauce or gravy on the side.
Consider an herbed beef gravy, a horseradish cream, or an easy (but fancy-sounding!) beef broth au jus. A hearty main like roast beef goes well with side dishes like roasted potatoes or mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables or brussels sprouts, and of course, Yorkshire pudding or popovers.
Best roast beef recipes
If you're just here for the recipes — and who could blame you? — dig into the following collection of our favorite roast beef recipes. From decadent roast beef rib to affordable eye of round, it's hard to go wrong with any of these family-approved centerpieces.
Prime rib roast
The king of roast beef, prime rib is sure to impress (although you'll pay a pretty penny for it). As one of the most tender roasts, it cuts beautifully into thick, juicy slices. You can buy it bone-in, as with this first recipe — it's also called a standing rib roast — or boneless, as in the second recipe.
Create an impressive holiday dinner in one pan when you roast a colorful mix of vegetables along with your prime rib. You'll start by browning the meat on the stovetop before you transfer it to a 350°F oven for a total time of 4 hours.
Mustard, horseradish, and herbs create a delicious crust for this easy and spectacular roast. You'll start the meat at 500°F to brown the outside (be sure to allow time to preheat the oven), then reduce the temperature to 325°F to cook to your perfect doneness.
Want more ideas? Check out one of these prime rib roast recipes:
Like prime rib, the ribeye roast also comes from the rib primal, or forequarter of the animal, and it's similarly juicy, tender, and richly marbled, but a bit smaller than a prime rib roast. Love ribeye steaks? This is the roast they're cut from.
A simple rub of cracked peppercorns, rosemary, and thyme flavors the roast, which is here cooked at a very high temperature for the first part of the cooking time.
Want more ideas? Check out one of these rib-eye roast recipes:
A beef tenderloin is another tender choice to splurge on for the holidays. You'll need to tie the roast before cooking it (don't worry — it's not hard at all); with the first recipe, a guided video, we'll show you exactly how!
Fresh thyme, rosemary, and garlic slivers tucked into and around the beef tenderloin ensure it comes out deeply flavorful. The red wine and mushroom sauce guarantees gourmet flair. As a bonus, the sauce reheats beautifully if you want to make it a day ahead.
Want more ideas? Check out one of these beef tenderloin recipes:
Eye of round roast
An eye of round is a leaner piece of meat, so should only be cooked to medium-rare to stay tender.
In this recipe, the roast is rubbed with olive oil and herbs the night before you cook it, then served with a savory red wine and beef stock au jus.
Want more ideas? Check out one of these eye of round roast beef recipes:
Top round roast
Leaner, less tender, and relatively inexpensive compared to other roasts, top round comes from the rump and back leg area of the animal. Marinating and low and slow cooking are a couple of options for ensuring tender results. Also key: Be sure not to overcook the meat.
Learn how to cook a top round roast with this foolproof recipe that takes advantage of a low oven and long cooking time to keep the roast tender and delicious.
Want more ideas? Check out one of these top round roast recipes:
Beef up your meat knowledge with these related articles and more ways to enjoy your cooked roast.