Roasting and baking are two sides of the same coin. When I, or someone else, refer to roasting they are referring to putting a hunk of meat in an oven until done. If they are talking about putting bread, pastries, cake, etc. into an oven, they are referring to baking. In this post, we are going to be diving into what it means to roast, some precautions to take, recommendations and the extra equipment needed to utilize this simple cooking method.
When I was growing up, it seemed like every TV show had a stereotypical stay-at-home mom that would be making a Sunday roast or taking out a pot roast that cooked all day long. I’m not sure what happened to those mythical mothers and their meals, but it seems like roasting has fallen out of favor and grilling, deep frying and pan searing have taken its place. I’m here today to hopefully reverse this trend and shed some light on why you should be spending more time roasting.
One of the most attractive reasons to roast is its simplicity. Just last night I wanted some chicken breasts to go in my salad. I had two options: cook on the stove top or throw it in the oven. Know which one I chose? If you’ve been paying attention, hopefully you know I chose the latter. Instead of pre-heating a pan, butterflying the chicken breasts and then standing attention while they cooked; I instead lined a sheet pan, put on the chicken breasts, seasoned and then stashed in the oven for 35 minutes. Afterwards, instead of washing and caring for my cast iron skillet, I wadded up and threw away the aluminum foil. If the option is to cook on a stove-top or roast, I will take the roasting option 98% of the time. In addition to its simplicity, roasting also gives you the most reliable results. I’ll be talking about this more in the next section, but in short, since you use a thermometer versus a timer, your results are going to be near perfect each and every time.
Alright, now that we know what roasting is and why you should roast, let’s take a look at the specific equipment you’ll need before roasting your first meal.
You only need four main components in order to start roasting:
- An oven
- A vessel for your food – roasting pan, dutch oven, baking sheet or something else similar
- An oven-safe thermometer
It should be painfully obvious that you are going to need both an oven and some food before you can begin roasting (if this doesn’t make sense, might I suggest this site instead). In addition, it should be common sense to know that you’re going to need something to put your food on or in. You can go out and buy a roasting pan, but in my experience that isn’t immediately necessary; I’ve been roasting for years and have made due without a roasting pan just fine. All my roasting is done on sheet pans or in a dutch oven. When you want to get fancy and roast prime rib, that would be the time to invest in a nice, solid roasting pan.
Getting an oven-safe thermometer is really the only piece of specialty equipment you need for this job. Why use a thermometer versus setting a timer? Well, that’s a little bit complicated. When roasting, you are aiming to get your food to a target temperature. For poultry, that’s 165°. For pork roasts, that’s around 155°. For beef roasts, that can vary from 135° – 155° depending on personal preference (but you are doing it all wrong if you go above 145° on your beef). As such, most recipes will say to cook “X” pounds at “Y” temperature until desired doneness. In a hypothetical example, let’s say you are going for a lovely Beef-Eye Round Roast and the recipe calls for roasting a four pound round at 350° for two hours. Well, what if you could only find a five-pound roast? What if you don’t have two hours to spare for roasting? What if that recipe was cooked in a GE oven and you own a Maytag? These are just a few of the hundreds of possible variables you’ll have to deal with when roasting. A much easier method than guesstimating the doneness would be to invest in an oven-safe thermometer that will alert you when your target food has reached the optimal temperature. For under $30, you can get an oven-safe probe style thermometer. I love this model since you can stick the probe in your food and run the wire to your base station, enabling you to get a reading on your food’s temperature at any time. Get it and be happy you did.
For this section, I’d like to go over some basic tips and recommendations to keep in mind while you are roasting. Some of these may seem like no-brainers, but I’m hoping there is a nugget or two in here that you hadn’t heard or thought of before.
When It Comes to Pork & Beef, Low & Slow is the Only Way: If you were able to get a cross-cut of a pork tenderloin or beef roast (example below), you would want to see a nice, juicy center at your target temperature and small, outer rings of meat that is well done. This make sense to you, right? You want the majority of your food to be at your target temperature, not overdone. Well, what happens when you roast your hypothetical beef-eye round at 500°? You end up with a very small section of meat that is at 135° with the rest being extremely well done. The better way to cook is to let the temperature slowly increase inside the beef to where a majority of your meat is at 135° and only the small, outer sections are medium and well-done. Roasting between 200° and 300° gives you a larger “sweet spot” than roasting fast and furiously.
Rely on Your Probe Thermometer, Not Your Timer: Unlike frying or sauteing, roasting doesn’t own a watch. As Alton Brown would say, “it doesn’t have to worry about catching a train”. What I mean by this is that you should be solely relying on your oven-safe thermometer for determining the cook times for your roasted meals, not your kitchen timer. Get into this habit and everything you roast will come out perfectly the first time. One rule-of-thumb that you can follow to help you estimate your cook times is to remember that foods with a greater surface-to-mass ratio will cook quicker. Or in other words, something in the shape of a rolling pin will cook faster than something that resembles a toaster.
You are going to have to get good at inserting your probe thermometer in order to become an expert roaster. First things first, always insert the thermometer into the thickest part of your food as this will take the longest amount of time to reach your target temperature. In addition, you want to stick your probe in from above and at an angle – this is to prevent any of the tasty juices from escaping.
Rest Your Meat: One of the most common mistakes I see from beginning cooks is that they take their meat right from the oven or grill and immediately start slicing it up for serving or eating. No! Bad! Bad Cook! The proper course would be to set off it to the side while loosely wrapped in foil for a period of five – 30 minutes. Why would you do this? Well, let’s talk it out. Imagine you are the bird that just got put into a 425° oven for an hour. That was probably pretty stressful for you, huh? Now imagine, someone starts taking a knife to you as soon as you land on the counter. You are going to probably freak out and lose all control of the flavors built up during the cooking process by letting the juices in your body go all over the cutting board and plate. Wouldn’t you be much more relaxed, calm and able to hold everything together after you’ve had a few minutes to think about what you’ve been through?
Well, that’s my cutesy take on this whole thing, but in reality, resting your food is just as important as cooking it. This is what really happens under the surface: the resting period gives the heat and pressure time to subside and for the juices/flavors to be reabsorbed into the meat tissues. Don’t believe me? Well, you could try a simple experiment: take two steaks and cook them the same amount of time and doneness. Take one steak and immediately cut into it while letting the other sit for 3 – 5 minutes before cutting. Notice anything? The plate that holds the steak that you immediately cut should be swimming in juices and not taste as great as the steak sitting on the well rested, dry plate.
Don’t Trust Your Oven: Just because you set your oven to 350° and heard the DING! doesn’t mean it’s time to open your oven door and throw in your food. What that DING! means is that the temperature of the air inside your oven just barely hit the 350° mark. When you open that door, all that hot air is going to rush out resulting in a significantly cooler oven – sometimes more than a 100° difference. What I recommend doing is letting your oven sit there for another 10 – 15 minutes so the heat has a chance to seep into the walls of the oven, this will help the temperature rebound after opening up the door. In addition, especially for those with older ovens, do not trust your temperature settings. I recommend getting a cheap oven thermometer so you can be sure of the actual internal temperature of your oven.
Getting Crusty: The best meats always seem to have a crusty, almost crunchy exterior, while having a perfectly moist interior. You can achieve this one of two ways: either by searing before roasting or searing at the end in your oven. The first option involves getting a separate pan hot on the stovetop and searing all sides for a few minutes before stashing in your oven. The other, simpler, option is to set your thermometer’s alarm for 10° below your target temperature, removing your meat and covering it tightly with aluminum foil before cranking your oven up to 500°. Once 500° has been reached, put the food back in the oven and cook until you have a golden brown and delicious crust.
Need Some Recommendations?
I hope you are enjoying our brief tour of all things roasting. Naturally, around this point, people understand the concepts and tools behind roasting and they are now anxious to try out a few recipes. Well, never fear because I’d Cook That has you covered. Here are some great recipes to get you started on your roasting journey:
- Roasted Whole Chicken with Poblano Peppers
- Pork Tenderloin
- Whole Turkey
- Almost any kind of vegetable, I’m partial to squashes, brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes
Got any further questions that weren’t covered in this guide? Or do you have some tips/suggestions that have worked in your kitchen? Either way, drop a line in the comments, it’s always appreciated. Until next time….#idcookthat.