Techniques and recipes for guaranteeing tender meat from the toughest cuts of beef
Super Slow Roasted Beef
By Shannon Hayes, December 2010
As winter settles around our home, my family braces for the storm of another “cookbook year,” as we’ve come to call them. Deprived of their familiar favorites, Saoirse and Ula must come to the table ready to try every new grassfed meat dish I set before them (the upshot is that they are allowed to tell me if they don’t like it). Bob, who handles our family grocery shopping and kitchen clean-up, is confronted with food lists filled with new ingredients, and countertops blanketed with grease-splotched scraps of paper, covered in my penciled scrawl, which he is forbidden to discard or move. Recipe testing for a new cookbook presents work for the entire family, and it even extends to our friends and neighbors.
Unable to consume all the food we must cook, we often invite folks over to share our untried dishes. It is easy to figure out who has enjoyed successful past experiments, because they eagerly accept return invitations. Those who don’t seem to come around for lunch anymore serve as perpetual reminders to me of my recipe failures. My neighbor, Frank, is a prime example. He got the bottom round.
Admittedly, Frank came to our kitchen table when I was very new to meat cooking. The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook was a mere idea, and I had devoted my year to learning how to cook every piece of meat that came off a beefer. To prepare the bottom round, I followed a recipe I’d found in a modern cookbook, advising that I roast it “slowly” (at 300 degrees), and that I remove it while the internal temperature of the meat was “rare” (145 degrees). Suffice to say, I don’t refer to that cookbook anymore.
The roast was gray, tough, and unpalatable. We all politely muddled through dinner, then shortly thereafter Frank took to raising his own beef (and finishing it on grain), forever scarred, I’m sure, by the horrible grassfed meat experience he’d had in my own kitchen.
My aim in writing grassfed meat cookbooks was to help bring the delicious bounty of sustainable livestock farming to more American’s tables. If our dinner with Frank was any indication, I had an uphill battle.
There had to be a better way to prepare grassfed meat than the recipes I was finding in most of my current cookbooks. But to do it, I couldn’t look forward. I had to look backward, to a time when not all meat was grain-fed. That’s when I discovered Adelle Davis’ 1947 cookbook, Let’s Cook It Right**. Once I had her volume in hand, I was able to learn how to cook meat.
Adelle Davis argued that the tougher cuts from the round and the chuck would be tender and delicious if cooked in a very cool oven, ideally, at a temperature no greater 150 to 160 degrees. Most modern ovens don’t go below 170 degrees, but I went ahead and experimented with her technique, choosing to take it out when the internal temperature was 125 degrees, long before I reached the USDA recommended internal temperature for “rare” meat (145 degrees). It was fantastic.
What had happened?
- The meat wasn’t over-done. During the cooking process, myofibrillar proteins begin to harden once meat approaches higher internal temperatures. Furthermore, once meat crosses the internal temperature of 145 degrees, the muscle fibers contract at an accelerated rate, drying the roast out. While the USDA recommends that beef be cooked to a minimum temperature of 145 degrees for food safety concerns, it is important to remember that they assume you are eating beef from factory-farmed animals, processed in large batches in industrial slaughter houses, where there is a much greater chance that your dinner could be harboring food-borne pathogens. Since anyone reading this article is likely using reliably-sourced local beef that was raised on grass (which greatly reduces the risk of disease transmission), I advocate enjoying beef cooked to lower internal temperatures. (Shameless self-promotion moment: Don’t forget that grassfedcooking.com sells handy refrigerator magnets that give the ideal internal doneness temperatures for reliably-sourced grassfed meat. If, when you click the link, you don’t see the bright yellow magnet right away, scroll down the page a bit.)
- The oven temperature was super-low. During this super-slow roasting process, the external surface of the meat dries out, but moisture is locked in. The oven temperature is so low, the muscles fibers do not contract and force the juice out of the meat and into the pan. Thus, the connective tissue in the meat is broken down by the meat’s own juices, resulting in a wonderfully tender roast.
The best part of this method is that it is the absolute easiest way to cook a roast that I know of. It will work on a London broil, a sirloin tip, an eye round, top round, bottom round, or any chuck roast. It is no-fail. Now, if only I could persuade Frank that it is safe to come over and try it out….
Here’s how to do it:
Super-Slow Roasted Beef
Preheat your oven to 170 degrees. Rub any of the above mentioned roasts with a little salt and pepper, or any dry-rub seasoning blend of your choice. Place the meat in a cast iron skillet or roasting pan, and roast, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes per pound (leaner roasts will cook closer to 30 minutes per pound, fattier cuts will cook closer to 40 minutes per pound). Use an internal meat thermometer to determine when the meat is done to your liking.
** I would like to remember Suvilla Fisher, the Amish grass farmer who originally tipped me off to Adelle Davis’ books. Suvilla and many of her family members were tragically killed in a car accident a few years back, and my battered copy of Adelle Davis’ book is my perpetual reminder of their grace, joy and wisdom.
Shannon Hayes is the host of grassfedcooking.com, and author of Radical Homemakers, The Farmer and the Grill, and The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook. Her newest cookbook, Long Way on a Little: An Earth Lovers’ Companion for Enjoying Meat, Pinching Pennies and Living Deliciously, is due out in 2012. Hayes works with her family raising grassfed and pastured meats on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in upstate New York.