A holiday roast must be delicious, showstopping, and memorable—a true centerpiece. I’m here to show you how it can be all those things without being complicated to make. A few top-notch ingredients and the right techniques are all you need to create a perfectly cooked, supremely flavorful roast with an extra-special must-have feature: a killer crust.
Salt early, roast low, slow, and straight from the fridge
It’s always wise to season a roast thoroughly with salt in advance of cooking. Salt is the primary flavor enhancer for all types of meats, and the earlier you salt a roast, the more that salt flavor permeates throughout.
When salt makes contact with meat, it initially attracts moisture to the surface. Then, over time, the water reverses course, and the salty liquid is drawn into the depths of the roast, just like a brine.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s no real point in leaving a large roast at room temperature for an hour or two because it doesn’t measurably increase the internal temperature of the meat. It actually takes 10 hours for a 4½-lb. pork roast to come to room temperature. Also, bringing meat to room temperature does not speed cooking time. So while it’s been a standard instruction for roast recipes for ages, a sizable body of evidence now shows that you absolutely can roast straight from the fridge. A cold start also helps to maintain even internal temperatures while cooking to achieve that perfect uniform medium-rare finish.
The final crucial roasting technique I rely on for any large meat cut is low and slow cooking. Each of these recipes employs low-temperature roasting (below 400°F). This allows the meat to cook more evenly from center to edge, so you end up with a super tender roast that’s cooked to the doneness you prefer. Hitting that perfect doneness doesn’t need to be a big mystery. Using an instant-read thermometer takes away the guesswork.
Meat crust forms in the oven due to a chemical process called the Maillard reaction, in which amino acids in the proteins along with simple sugars react to heat over time at temperatures 300°F and above. To accentuate this natural crusting reaction, I add another layer of crust built from everyday ingredients. Taking inspiration from salt-crusted versions, I give my prime rib roast a twist by seasoning it like porchetta and coating it with egg white and then an herb-salt mixture for the final crispy crust. For the pork roast, I rely on dark brown sugar in a spiced sweet-and-sour crust reminiscent of mostarda. And for the tenderloin, I adapt frico, the baked Italian cheese crisps, to encase the beef within a crispy, savory Parmesan and black-pepper crust.
Trussing these roasts with string would interfere with the gorgeous crusts that make them special. You’ll get the most magnificent results if you skip the truss.
Any one of these three holiday-worthy roasts would be a showstopper on your table. And each perfectly tender slice will deliver morsels of crust that flavors every succulent bite.