Russ Parson's Dry-Brined Turkey [Food52] (photo by James Ransom)
With the holidays just around the corner, it's time to focus on the centerpiece of many festive meals: the roast. Crisp on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside, large cuts of meat like prime rib, leg of lamb, and whole turkey are something worthy of oohs and ahhs. But getting that roast to the table can be an intimidating task, especially since we're not practicing these sorts of recipes on a regular weeknight (or even regular weekend, for that matter). There's no reason to fret -- whether you're looking to hone tried-and-true recipes or it's your first time hosting one of the many big meals, we're here to help.
The Basics of Roasting Large Cuts of Meat
- The best large-format meats for roasting are those that are naturally tender. Stay away from tough cuts such as shoulders and chuck roasts, as they are better suited for braising or other low-and-slow methods.
- Fat is helpful when roasting. Well marbled meat is important for a roast. You can also ask your butcher to "lard" your meat by inserting strips of pork fat within the meat or "bard" the meat by wrapping it in a thin web of fat. Both methods help prevent the meat from drying out.
- Make sure your cut of meat is thick -- at least two or three inches. If you decide to go thin, roll your meat and truss it to keep it moist. Check out some tips on trussing or ask your butcher to do it for you.
- Plan on buying about 1 1/2 pounds of meat per person. Keep in mind that bones are extra weight, and won't fill anyone up!
- Make friends with your butcher! They're professionals, and can usually impart some important knowledge. Don't forget to order ahead if you're looking for special cuts, and especially around the holidays.
- Fresh or frozen, take your pick. Just remember if you are buying meat ahead of time and need to freeze it, the meat will need about 24 hours of thawing (in the fridge) per every four pounds. Plan ahead!
- When buying a whole turkey, a plump breast and pinkish-white skin usually means a healthy bird.
- Looking for more guidance? Check out this helpful how-to on buying a turkey from Whole Foods Market.
Tools & Set Up
- Your roasting pan will be your new best friend. Buy one that is sturdy, with large handles for pulling the roast out of the oven. Ditch the aluminium foil pan which won't hold the weight and will only disappoint when your lovely roast (and all those hard-won drippings) makes a run for the floor.
- Stay away from non-stick or dark interiors if you want to capitalize on the drippings. They won't give you that same carmelized taste that's so crucial to the best gravies.
- High sides are helpful for keeping the hot, dry air circulating around your roast and any vegetables fully contained.
- Many pans come pre-equipped with roasting racks. If yours didn't, make sure to pick one up. This keeps your roast from getting soggy and boosts air circulation and even browning. In a crunch or feeling creative? Make a rack from hard veggies like carrots or parsnips. The main idea is to not let your meat touch the bottom of the pan.
- A thermometer is a must for every roast! In-oven corded varieties allow you to check the temp without opening the oven door (and letting precious heat out). But instant-read ones work just fine, as well -- just don't dawdle!
- Remove your roast when it hits five degrees below the desired internal temperature. It will keep cooking after you remove it from the heat. Every roast benefits from resting (for about 15 to 20 minutes) before its carved to ensure carryover cooking has finished its business.
- Some recipes suggest starting your roast off at a higher temperature, and then lowering the heat down the road. This helps give your roast that crisp exterior that we all long for. Whether or not you use a single- or dual-temperature method, check the roast every so often to ensure it's browning evenly (rotating it in the oven to even things out) and tent it with foil if it threatens darkening too much.
Spatchcocked Roast Chicken; Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Port Wine Sauce. Photos by Melanie Einzig (left) Sarah Shatz (right).
Getting Acquainted with the Perfect Roast
- You might want to truss your turkey if you plan on cooking it whole. This means tying the outer thighs together to keep the bird in a compact shape, helping it cook more evenly and keeping the breast from drying out.
- Brining your bird before cooking is a popular option. You’re essentially giving your bird an overnight salt bath (often mixed with herbs) to help keep your bird juicy and tender when roasted. You can also dry-brine a turkey, which takes up a heck of a lot less space in the fridge.
- To speed up roasting time, you can spatchcock your turkey -- that is, remove the spine of the bird so it lays flat on your roasting pan. Check out this step-by-step guide on Food52.
- Chicken is perhaps one of the easiest dishes to roast, but is just as satisfying as one of the larger birds. Crisp, golden, and packed with flavor, there are just a few things to remember when roasting a whole chicken.
- After pulling out any bits of feather that might be stuck to the skin, make sure to dry the chicken thoroughly.
- For crispy brown skin, rub the skin liberally with softened butter. Make a compound butter before you spread it on the chicken for extra flavor.
Goose and Duck
- No need to baste this fatty bird -- in fact, if you decide to roast a goose, watch out for oil spatter when you pull it out of the oven.
- Always save the fat drippings because you can freeze them and use them in recipes for up to a year. They make a great substitute for butter or oil in many recipes, especially roast vegetables!
- Get that goose skin crisp by steaming it gently before roasting: Prick it all over with a fork, and then set it in a roasting pan and pour boiling water over it. Cover tightly with parchment paper then aluminum foil. Set your roasting pan over two burners and cook over medium high for about an hour. This will render some of the fat, and prevent it from getting too greasy.
Roasted Prime Rib with Sauteed Mushrooms and Mom's Creamy Horseradish Sauce; Ann Seranne's Rib Roast of Beef (photos by James Ransom)
- Brisket is cut from the breast of beef or veal, usually with two sections, the flat and the point. The flat has significantly less fat on it than the point. There should be plenty of fat throughout, not just on top.
- When roasting a brisket (as opposed to smoking or braising), trim off the large piece of fat on top, known as the fat cap.
- Don’t buy a corned beef brisket for roasting -- it’s made for braising and will be too salty.
Whole Beef Tenderloin
- Big, boneless, and very tender, beef tenderloin is a prized roast. (It is, after all, where the coveted filet mignon comes from.)
- The tenderloin is the part that sits just under the spine of the steer and therefore doesn’t get much use, which is what makes it particularly tender.
- Since it’s naturally very tender, there’s not much need for a tenderizing marinade, but feel free to use one to add flavor.
- If you’re looking to stay simple, but elegant, the tenderloin is one of the easiest cuts to roast, carve, and serve -- no bones to work around or odd angles!
- This cut is from the ribs of beef and can encompass anywhere from two to seven ribs. it contains the ribs and ribeye.
- Technically called a standing rib roast, prime rib refers to a standing rib roast from a prime cut of beef.
- When you stick this roast in the oven, place it with the ribs faced down and the fat side up to allow the roast to self-baste.
- Prime rib is notoriously well marbled, which means even when the roast is cooked to medium instead of, say, medium rare, it will remain moist and tender.
- If you’re serving a lot of people, sometimes it’s easiest to cut the roast from the ribs after cooking so you can carve thinner slices, allowing you to serve more people (instead of one thick, one-rib cut per person).
- A very simple, but impressive-looking centerpiece for a holiday meal, crown roast is formed by tying the rib section of pork, lamb or, veal into a circle. Your butcher can do this for you -- just make sure to make the request ahead of time.
- Traditional crown roasts can be filled with stuffing. If you choose to stuff, pay attention to cooking times as the stuffing may take longer to cook since it’s in the middle of the roast. You don’t want to overcook your meat while leaving your stuffing cold, so temperature adjustments may be required, too.
Leg of Lamb
- Purchase your lamb leg either with the bone in or out, just remember that keeping the bone in makes for a more flavorful roast (though it extends the cooking time).
- Often seasoned with rosemary and garlic, lamb also pairs well with Mediterranean spices. A yogurt & mint marinade or serving sauce is another a popular option.
- Leg of lamb can be dry rubbed with a spice mix and roasted right away or you can season the leg and leave it overnight. Some prefer to cut "pockets" all over the leg and insert garlic cloves for a more intensely infused flavor.
- When roasting bone-in lamb, you typically won’t have uniform "doneness" as the thicker parts (towards the thigh) will come out more rare, and the leaner part (closer to the ankle) will be more well done. This makes it easy to please a crowd with varied preferences. For more uniform doneness, select a boned leg of lamb.
- Ham can be purchased uncooked, or “fresh” (usually in the form of the thigh), or precooked. Be aware that cooking times and temperatures vary greatly if you are cooking a raw ham versus a cooked ham, which merely needs to be heated through.
- When roasting precooked ham, most recipes call to add at least a cup of water to the bottom of your pan to add moisture.
- Glazes are great for cooked hams. Usually on the sweeter side, everything from honey, to apple to brandy make great glaze bases.
- Score your precooked ham before roasting (making diagonal cross-cuts with a knife about one inch apart). Not only does this add aesthetic flair, it also allows for your glaze to seep into the seams and focus the flavor into your roast.
- If you didn't buy a spiral-sliced precooked ham, don't fret -- slicing is simpler than it seems. Using a sharp chef's knife, cut down until you hit the bone. Make several slices this way, and then cut horizontally along the bone and pull your slices off. Repeat until you have enough ham on your platter.
For more information, check out this handy guide to roasting times and temperatures for a variety of meat and poultry.
Photos by James Ransom
Roasted Beef Tenderloin
Roasted Brisket with Parsley, Mint and Thyme
Crown Roast of Pork with Wild Rice Stuffing
Standing Rib Roast with Caramelized Onions
Butter and Herb Roast Turkey [Food52]
Leg of Lamb with Garlic Sauce [Food52] (pictured above, left)
Super Simple Glazed Ham [Food52] (pictured above, right)
Care to share your holiday roast tactics? Share your cooking tips and techniques in the comments section below.