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A Genius Method for Cooking a Holiday Roast

Use the reverse-sear technique for perfectly cooked beef tenderloin or other big cuts of beef.

by Lynne Curry

fromFine Cooking
Issue 132

We’ve all been there. You’re cooking a big, expensive roast for a large family gathering when the doubts begin to set in: Is it done yet? It is undercooked? (Or worse: Is it overcooked?) Well, I’m here to take that worry away with a simple method: reverse searing.

When you cook a roast, you typically brown the outside first to develop a deeply flavored crust before finishing it in the oven. Reverse searing is the opposite. You cook the roast slowly in a low oven until it’s just about done, and only then do you sear it in a scalding hot pan or blazing oven. Not only does the reverse sear work, but it works beautifully, keeping the inside of the roast cooked to the same rosy color from the center to the very edge, where a savory, deeply browned crust meets it.

Here’s why it works: Large cuts of meat, such as standing rib roast or even beef tenderloin, cook more evenly at lower temperatures. As the roast nears doneness, the lower heat prevents the meat’s internal temperature from spiking to overdone, which can happen in a blink when roasting with high heat. As an added benefit, searing already-cooked meat takes less time than searing raw meat, and less time searing helps keep that sad gray outer ring of overcooked meat at bay.

With this genius method, you can cook the meat hours ahead of the final sear, allowing you to pull the rest of the meal together without worrying about when the meat will be done.

I once cooked prime rib this way for 200 people, and there was only one problem: I didn’t have enough well-done pieces because even the ends of the roast were pink.

If, like me, you think that’s a good thing, the reverse sear will become your new normal. It has for me!

Good to know

Temperature trumps time
The times given for roasting in the following recipes are a guide and will vary depending on your oven, the size of the roast, and whether you use grain- or grass-fed beef. Use an instant-read thermometer and rely on temperature to gauge doneness.

Sitting out is safe
The USDA, which errs on the conservative side, says it’s OK to leave an almost-cooked roast out at room temperature for up to 2 hours.

Two ways to sear
Searing on the stove allows for more control since you can see the browning, but the oven is hands off with less smoke and spattering. The choice is yours.

No rest required
If you roasted well ahead of the final sear, you don’t need to let the roast rest before slicing. Go ahead and carve away.

Roasts with the most

Since the reverse-sear method is all about keeping it simple, easy-to-carve boneless roasts like the ones shown below are the way to go. In the recipes that follow, you can swap one for another, but know that the tenderloin will cook faster than the larger roasts.

Boneless rib roast
A streak of fat is part of the charm of a luxuriously rich boneless rib roast (aka prime rib). If you prefer it leaner, ask your butcher for a roast from the “small end.”

Top loin roast
Not to be confused with a top round or sirloin roast, which won’t cook up as tenderly, the top loin is where a New York strip steak comes from, so yum. Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s also referred to as a strip loin roast.

Beef tenderloin
Because who can resist filet mignon? A whole beef tenderloin tapers, so it’s better to roast two center cuts for a crowd. They’ll cook more evenly and yield slices that are all around the same size.

  • Boneless rib roast
    Boneless rib roast
  • Top loin roast
    Top loin roast
  • Beef tenderloin
    Beef tenderloin
Step-by-step
season Roast first Then sear perfection
1. Season 2. Roast first 3. Then sear Perfection!

Photos: Scott Phillips

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