The allure of a buffet lies largely in the ability to choose what you want, and how much of it to eat. That extends to the carving station, where a jaunty line cook will cheerfully slice the beef thin or thick to your specifications, and from the rare middle or the crusty outside edges. Buffets vary in the quality of beef they serve, with round roasts for high-volume or low-cost events and premium cuts, such as prime rib or striploin, at upscale buffets.
For sheer value, round roasts are the clear winner. They're moderate in price, and their relative leanness means they lose less weight in cooking than better-marbled premium cuts. High-volume buffets typically order the whole round, often called steamship round or baron of beef, which average 40 to 50 pounds in weight and can serve 1000 or more people per roast. You can use smaller cuts from the round for a smaller crowd, but size does matter. You'll have relatively less waste from the large steamship round, because it loses less moisture to evaporation and has more inside slices for every ounce of trimmed-off, crusty edges.
Sirloin roasts represent a middle ground between inexpensive round roasts and higher-cost premium cuts. They're better marbled and more flavorful than the round, though less tender than truly premium roasts. A full sirloin can weigh nearly 30 pounds, with smaller cuts such as the top sirloin ranging from 10 to 16 pounds, depending how carefully they're trimmed of fat. They'll serve dozens of diners each.
A prime rib roast, or standing rib, is the grandest and showiest of carving-station roasts. The full roast includes the first seven of the steer's ribs, and can weigh 30 pounds or more before roasting. The bones are quite large and the roast is richly marbled and streaked with fat, so you'll feed fewer people for every pound of uncooked roast. Still, a 30-pound rib roast can feed 40 to 50 diners adequately and no other roast makes quite the same visual impression.
Other Premium Roasts
Other premium cuts can also be seen at the carving stations of upscale commercial buffets or at catered events. Rib-eye is the same roast as a prime rib, but with the large rib bones removed for more even cooking and easier carving. A whole boneless striploin is almost as tender, and yields impressive, steaklike slices. They average about 14 pounds, and can serve 25 to 30 people. Beef tenderloin is the tenderest and costliest cut of all, averaging just 5 to 7 pounds each but with almost no waste. Each tenderloin can feed 10 to 12 diners.
- On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals; Sarah Labensky, et al.
- Beef Food Service: Product Information: Roasts
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications: Fresh Beef, Series 100
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