We all look forward to a big roast during a special holiday meal. Whatever you decide to roast, these are some essential tips to help make it stress-free and the best it can be.
1. Plan ahead.
This is key, as you don't want to be stressed and hurried when you'd rather be spending time with guests. Whether you're marinating, brining or simply salting (which is pretty much a dry brine), season early for optimal flavor, even days in advance. Also remember that roasting a large piece of meat can take longer than expected, so start cooking early so you don't feel any last-minute pressure to get the food on the table.
2. Get the right size roast for your party size.
All types of meat are a little different in the amount of cooked meat they will yield after trimming, cooking and deboning (if there is a bone). It is safe to figure around 1 pound of uncooked meat per person to feed everyone about 8 ounces after it is trimmed and cooked. This should also leave enough for some sought-after leftovers.
3. Salt is the best seasoning.
No matter what flavors you want to be infused into the roast, salt is the most important for bringing out the natural flavors of the meat, and also helping to make it juicer and more tender. You can (and should) salt the roast at least 1 day in advance so it penetrates all the way through. My preferred salt is Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Check out Salt 101 to go even deeper on the important subject.
4. Temper the meat.
Bringing a large cut of meat up in temperature is important for cooking evenly so the outside doesn't cook before the inside is done. It doesn't necessarily have to come to "room temperature," but leaving it out on the counter for 1 to 2 hours is perfectly safe and will be enough to make a big difference.
5. Cook by temperature, not by time.
Sure, a recipe might say how long something will take to cook. While that's a good baseline, it's not going to be completely accurate because of all the variables involved, including your specific piece of meat and its starting temperature, the oven temperature, humidity, etc.
A good meat thermometer is absolutely essential, which is the only way to know for sure when it's done.
My favorite that I use every day is a Thermapen instant-read probe thermometer. The ChefAlarm is an invaluable cooking alarm that has a probe you leave in the meat and it will let you know when it reaches the desired temperature.
6. Be aware of the pull temperature vs finished temperature.
When you want that perfect doneness, you have to pull the roast out of the oven before it reaches the "done" temperature. The desired finished internal temperature is different from the temperature at which the roast needs to be pulled out of the oven or smoker to account for carry-over cooking. Depending on the size of the meat and the temperature it is cooked at, the internal temperature can continue to rise 5 to 15 degrees after it is out of the heat source.
If the roast isn't removed at the "pull temperature," it will overcook beyond what you were shooting for.
7. Take it outside.
Cooking your holiday roast in the smoker is an amazing way to switch things up, and you might never go back. It also frees up your oven for making sides and desserts.
8 Don't forget to turn on your range exhaust vent.
Chances are your oven (especially a natural gas range) emits combustion gases that can harm your indoor air quality. The hood vents them outside (hopefully) so you don't breathe them in, and it helps keep smells and smoke out of your house.
9. Know your oven.
Just because your oven dial is set to a specific temperature, doesn't mean it's actually calibrated perfectly. Place an oven thermometer inside your oven so you know the actual temperature and can adjust accordingly. Also, keep that oven door closed as much as possible so heat doesn't escape.
10. Splurge on the meat.
11. Don't skip the rest.
Especially if you're in a hurry, there's a temptation to pull the roast out of the oven and carve right away. Don't. This Smoked Prime Rib is a good example: 30 minutes of rest gives it enough time to reabsorb the juices so they don't run out when slicing.
12. Slice to serve.
Slicing the entire roast before you serve it can lead to drying out and cooling too fast. Always slice against the grain and a sharp knife makes all the difference. A long Granton slicing knife is my favorite.
13. Plan a week of meals around the leftovers.
I really hope you and your loved ones enjoy your holiday roast as much as I enjoy helping you make it perfect. Knowing that people are having more fun cooking and eating with their loved ones is the best part of my job.
Essential Tools & Equipment
These are my favorite tools I use every time a roast is involved.
- Butcher twine
- Large cutting board
- Thermapen instant-read probe thermometer
- Remote thermometer
- Long slicing knife
- Diamond Crystal kosher salt