A classic Sunday dinner dish, roast beef is a savory piece of meat, roasted to brown perfection. Cooks who have perfected this dish often keep their secrets to themselves, including their seasonings, cooking times and even which cut of meat they use. Fortunately, there are many cuts of beef that make a great roast.
Before choosing a cut for your roast beef, you should first decide how you like your meat cooked and presented. Some cuts are tasty cooked well-done, others should not be cooked past medium-rare lest they dry out and become tough. Certain cuts look nice when thinly sliced, others are better in chunks.
Large, thick cuts like rump or round make excellent roasts for slicing, due to their cylindrical shape. These cuts are inexpensive and can be tough, so long, slow cooking is required to tenderize them. Chuck roasts, which are usually flat and wide (no more than 2 inches thick), are typically used for "pot roast," which is a common variation of roast beef. This type of roast can be difficult to slice and is often better served in chunks--it will pull apart or shred on its own if cooked properly. Due to the tough nature of the meat, chuck roasts should be cooked in a covered pan with some liquid, which is actually a braise rather than a roast. This will produce meat that is tender even when cooked through (medium-well or well-done). This is also an effective method for cooking brisket.
Roast beef is extremely versatile--it can be served as a main dish, or cooled and sliced thinly for sandwiches and salads. Cut into chunks, it can be added to soups and stews or made into chili. Leftovers can be served hot or cold.
For an impressive presentation, a standing rib roast or a cut of prime rib is an excellent choice. The bone-in nature of these cuts makes them very dramatic, although they can be more difficult to carve. Beef tenderloin is another good option for a beautiful presentation, but it must be cooked carefully to avoid dryness. A common method of roasting beef tenderloin is to make Beef Wellington, in which a tenderloin is encased in puff pastry prior to roasting. The pastry protects the delicate meat and seals in moisture. These cuts are quite costly, but worth the price for a special occasion. These roasts should never be cooked beyond medium-rare, as they quickly dry out at higher temperatures.
All roasts should be brought to room temperature before cooking, to ensure even cooking throughout. Seasoning is also essential, so be sure to season your roast with plenty of salt and pepper before cooking.