Surprising Top Beef Cuts Make for Succulent Holiday Roasts
If you’re thinking of serving beef this Christmas or New Year’s, you’re probably counting your quarters to see if you can afford a tenderloin or prime rib. Like many people looking for good beef cuts for holiday roasts, you might think that these are the only options. That’s certainly what anyone would assume after shopping the supermarket meat counter or reading the circulars.
Truth be told, there are many more succulent beef cuts for roasting. I discovered this while researching my cookbook “Pure Beef.” Through my recipe testing with an eye toward tenderness, flavor and value, I found many excellent roasts that are overlooked or undervalued, especially those from the sirloin (hip), round (upper leg) and even the chuck (shoulder).
Along with a variety of cuts to choose from, you can now also select the type of beef you buy and serve this holiday. The three main categories to know are natural, organic and grass-fed. Natural brands are generally hormone- and antibiotic-free. Organic meats are raised and processed in accordance with strict USDA organic standards, including feed and animal welfare. Grass-fed beef is growing in popularity due to its higher levels of Omega 3, CLA and other healthy fats and nutrients compared to beef from cattle raised in feedlots.
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After you select your roast cut and type, the only tool you’ll need for stress-free roasting is a reliable instant-read thermometer. There are many styles on the market, and I recommend a digital one from the mid-price range. A modest investment in a good thermometer will safeguard overcooking your roast.
For each roast on my list, I’ve included a general time-frame for cooking, but this will vary depending on your oven, the size and shape of the roast, and other factors. So let the thermometer be your guide. Then let the roast rest (it will continue to rise in temperature from 5 to 10 degrees) while you finish your dinner preparations. To serve these roasts, slice them ¼-inch thick against the grain using a sharp carving knife to preserve all the meat juices.
The very best part of roasting is that once the meat is simply seasoned with salt and pepper and in the oven, you are free to mingle and enjoy the occasion. The roast itself is the centerpiece of your holiday table, and it will bring you the gift of leftovers to enjoy in the days to follow.
My cut list
The roasts on my holiday list are a fraction of the cost of the luxurious tenderloin and prime rib. They are also widely available, but you may need to put in a request to the butcher wherever you buy your beef.
Most tender roast (after tenderloin): top blade roast
This cut is the second most tender cut on the entire beef carcass, but it comes from the chuck (shoulder), which is one of the toughest parts. Request a whole top blade roast, which is suitable for high-heat roasting (450 to 500 F). Plan to roast if for about 8 to 10 minutes per pound until an instant-read thermometer reaches 120 F for rare, 125 F for medium-rare or 130 F for medium.
Most flavorful roast: top sirloin roast
Also known as American chateaubriand, this cut from the top sirloin butt muscle of the hip is renowned for its deep beef flavors, just like sirloin steaks are. Request a center cut portion to roast at high heat (450 to 500 F) for about 8 to 10 minutes per pound until an instant-read thermometer reaches 120 degrees F for rare, 125 F for medium-rare or 130 F for medium.
Most undervalued roast: top round roast
Butchers prize this cut from the round (leg) for its flavor and versatility. This ultra-lean cut is best cooked at medium heat (300 to 350 F) for maximum tenderness and juiciness. Roast it for roughly 18 to 20 minutes per pound until an instant-read thermometer reaches 120 degrees F for rare, 125 degrees F for medium-rare or 130 F for medium.
Most unfamiliar roast: sirloin tip roast
Not to be confused with tri-tip, sirloin tip roast is cut from where the sirloin (hip) and round (leg) meet. It is very lean with fairly tender. Roast it at medium heat (300 to 350 F) roughly 18 to 20 minutes per pound until an instant-read thermometer reaches 120 F for rare, 125 F for medium-rare or 130 F for medium.
Most unexpected roast: beef brisket
The wild card in this list, beef brisket is typically smoked but it can also be roasted at very low temperatures (200 to 250 F) for one to two hours per pound until it registers 185 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer or you can shred it easily with a fork. This versatile cut can also be made into a roast using a combination of high-heat roasting and braising, or pot roasting, as in the recipe for rolled cranberry-glazed beef brisket.
Rolled Cranberry-Glazed Beef Brisket
This recipe transforms a standard beef brisket into a festive garnet-glazed roast worthy of a holiday celebration. The flat cut is the leaner, thinner part of a whole brisket. The technique of rolling and tying allows you to serve handsome round slices of the brisket with sides of butternut squash and wild rice.
Serves 6 with leftovers
1 (3½- to 4-pound) flat cut brisket
1 (12-ounce) bag fresh or frozen cranberries
1 medium onion, chopped
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup low-sodium beef stock or water
1 cup orange juice
1 bay leaf
1. Preheat the oven to 500 F. Cut 5 (14-inch) strands of butcher’s twine on hand. Trim any fat from the underside of the brisket, pat it dry, and season it liberally on both sides with the kosher salt. Roll it up tightly the long way with the fat on the outside and tie it with the butcher’s twine. Put the roast in a Dutch oven or other deep and heavy pot just large enough to contain it. Roast it uncovered in the hot oven until dark walnut brown, about 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, mix the cranberries, onion, brown sugar, ginger, pepper, cloves, stock, orange juice and bay leaf in a medium saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat.
3. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 F and pour the cranberry mixture over the beef. Cover the pot and cook the beef until you can shred the meat easily with a fork, 2 to 2½ hours.
4. Raise the oven temperature to 400 F. Transfer the beef to a clean oven-safe serving dish and remove the twine or bands. Strain the sauce, reserving the cranberry mixture and pour the sauce over the beef.
5. Discard the bay leaf. Roast the beef uncovered in the oven until it forms a shiny glaze and the sauce is syrupy, 12 to 15 minutes. Slice the beef ½-inch thick and spoon the cranberries all around it before serving.
Recipe reprinted with permission from “Pure Beef: An Essential Guide to Artisan Meat with Recipes for Every Cut” © 2012 by Lynne Curry, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Book Group.
Holiday roast. Credit: David L. Reamer