Whether making fond memories at a yearly family gathering or an easy midweek dinner, beef roasts are a delicious traditional menu item for many households. From the luxurious prime rib to the west coast favorite tri-tip, beef roasts are very easy to make on your kettle with the Slow ‘N Sear. The cooking techniques are largely the same for most beef roasts with your Slow ‘N Sear, so first we’ll help you learn a little about some of the more common roasts. There are a few details you need to know to ensure your efforts are well rewarded.
Prime Rib: When selecting a prime rib for your special dinner, you want to be sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck. Prime rib is simply a roast from the rib primal of the steer (rib primal~prime rib) the same hunk of meat ribeye steaks are cut from. In fact, you can view a prime rib as a bunch of ribeye steaks stacked together, before they’re cut. We recommend having the butcher remove the bones.
Prime is the best, Choice is midrange but still very good, and Select is the lowest of the three, nothing too special. If you are able to find a prime rib that’s actually “Prime” grade, you will pay dearly for it! You should at least try to get Choice. You will be very happy with a quality Choice grade roast and it will be a little easier on the wallet. “Angus” beef is popular in many areas, and Angus Pride or Certified Angus is widely seen on supermarket shelves. Angus is a brand and regarded as Choice grade beef in most places in the USA and is typically a great cut of meat. For more on beef cuts and grades in the USA see our article here on USDA beef grades.
Tri-tip: Tri-tip is popular in the southwest USA, particularly the Santa Maria area of California. Tri-tip is a triangle or boomerang-shaped roast cut from the bottom sirloin, typically around 2 pounds. If you’ve never heard of tri-tip, you are not alone. It’s not widely known in other areas of the USA, and often it’s cut up for other uses instead of left as a whole roast. Meathead, on AmazingRibs.com tri-tip page educates us in case your butcher hasn’t heard of tri-tip, “Tell her it is the tensor fasciae latae muscle from the bottom sirloin, and it is number 185C in the NAMP book, the butcher’s bible.” Tri-tip can be a chewy roast, so slow cooking up to rare or medium-rare is recommended.
Whole strip loin: The strip loin, or the muscle to the rear of the rib primal, is another excellent roast to use in this fashion. As you may have guessed it, this is the cut where the strip steaks, most often referred to as “New York Strip” steaks come from. It too can be treated as a whole roast with excellent results. And as you might suspect, it falls under the same grading system in which Prime or Choice grade will give you the best results.
Tenderloin: The most tender cut of meat on the steer is the tenderloin. It is where the luxurious “filet mignon” (steaks) and “chateaubriand” (center roast) come from. And yes, you can cook a whole tenderloin on your kettle with the Slow ‘N Sear! Tenderloin is expensive, and as the name implies it’s very tender, yet it’s also quite lean. Lean meat can result in less-flavorful meat. Lean meat is also very easily overcooked resulting in a dry roast. If you purchase a whole tenderloin or chateaubriand, you must be very careful to not overcook it.
For the budget-conscious: Perhaps prime rib, strip loins, tri-tips and tenderloins just aren’t in your budget. Maybe you’re wondering about all of those bottom round roasts and sirloin roasts you see on the shelves. Snag one up! These roasts are often tougher, drier, and generally much leaner than a prime rib or strip loin, and therefore are cheaper. However, it doesn’t mean they are no good. Especially if you want to practice ahead of time for the big prime rib dinner, these roasts make great meals if you follow the right techniques. They need to be cooked in the same manner as more expensive roasts, slowly up to medium-rare, which is good news for you and your Slow ‘N Sear! Just understand that what you put in is what you get out. An eye of round roast will not eat like a prime rib, just like a bottom round steak won’t eat like a ribeye.
Fat caps should always be removed from your beef roasts, whether the pricey prime rib or the more economically priced bottom round roasts, or anything in between. Fat prevents salt penetration into the meat and also prevents the formation of the seasoned, seared brown flavorful crust we call bark. Fat will not melt and seep into the meat or ‘baste’ the meat, it drips off. Good quality roasts have plenty of internal fat and marbling to give the roast flavor, so remove all of the exterior fat. Many roasts will also have a thin tough layer we like to call “silverskin.” Sometimes it’s very hard to get this off, but if you can, try to remove it. It won’t melt and will make the pieces tougher to chew once cooked. The more actual “meat” you have on the exterior of your roast, the better and our salt, seasonings and smoke have more meat surface area to form our delicious crust.
Salt: As with any meat we want to dry brine our roasts at least a few hours before cooking. Overnight is better, and a day or two is best. Especially so on larger thicker roasts like prime rib. Salt will penetrate into the meat deeper with more time. This both flavors the meat and helps the muscle fibers to hold onto more moisture during the cooking process, resulting in a moist and tastier finished product.
Add approximately ½ teaspoon of coarse kosher salt per pound of meat to the entire exterior, 360 degrees around. If you have a 9lb prime rib, after trimming, you’ll use about 4 ½ teaspoons of coarse Kosher salt. A little extra won’t hurt on thick roasts. If you do not have coarse kosher salt, you can use regular table salt, however you must use about half the amount!
*Notice: Use about ¼ teaspoon per pound of meat when using table salt. Table salt has smaller grains so more salt will fit into a given volume measurement, therefore you should use about half. You risk over salting your food if you do not pay attention to this!
There is no risk in dry brining too long, as long as your meat’s “use by” date allows it, a long dry brine will not hurt you meat. A dry brine has a fixed amount of salt that you’ve added to the meat. It is not like wet brining, where with more time more salt gets sucked into the meat. With dry brining the salt you add today is the salt that’s in the meat tomorrow or the next day. One more thing, avoid using a salted rub if you’ve dry brined! Use an unsalted rub. If the only rub you have is a salted rub, then use it as the dry brine.
Rubs: We HIGHLY recommend you use a different rub than you would with pork. We know you love your favorite rib rub or pork rub and you may be seriously thinking it’ll be great on beef roasts too, but beef is generally better suited to peppery profiles, or herbal, and not sweet rubs like pork.
A great option is to use equal parts: salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic powder (if you’ve dry brined, skip the salt). Add an instinctive amount of each. A little too much won’t hurt, since with these roasts we’ll slice them thin, giving each slice only a thin rim of seasoning to complement each piece.
Some other good options for rubs are Meathead’s Big Bad Beef Rub for its big, bad, and bold taste. Or if you’d like something more traditional, herbal, and a little less peppery, we’re also fans of Meathead’s “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow Crust”.
Or perhaps you like things very simple: salt, pepper, meat. Nothing wrong with that! Many people will call salt & pepper “Dalmatian rub” for obvious reasons. Use equal parts salt & pepper (or plain pepper if you’ve dry brined), and taste all the beefy goodness of the finished product.
Do you add oil to the meat first? Mustard? Sure, you can. But you don’t need to.
These additions are merely to help the rub adhere to the meat better. Even a light coating of plain water will suffice. We like to use a quick spray of PAM or similar, simply because a spray can of anything is simple and easy! Add your rub generously. Seasoning on roasts is different than say a beef rib, where you might take a bite and get a lot of bark in your mouth. With roasts or briskets there will only be thin layer of bark/crust on each slice, so you can afford to put it on generously. It’s not a bad idea to add another light sprinkle of salt to the surface after the rub is on.
With any thick beef, including roasts or thick steaks, we recommend reverse sear. This means get your grill to ~200-225 F, by following our modified 225 for reverse sear lighting technique.
Remember, when we cook a roast we aren’t setting the Slow ‘N Sear up for a long 8hr smoke, so we don’t need to use a full chimney of unlit coals for longevity as with our standard 225 lighting technique. Most roasts will take from 45 minutes to 90 minutes, depending on size and thickness, to reach an optimal doneness of 130-135 F (medium-rare). As always, watch your thermometer(s) not the clock!
For this, we recommend starting with 12-14 well-lit coals, and add them to about 1/3 chimney of unlit coals. Leave all vents opened fully until the grate temp as measured by a good digital thermometer (such as Thermoworks Smoke®) at grate level reads around 175 F. Then close your vents as our lighting instructions say to about “a crack” on the bottom vents and ¼ open on the top vents. Once the grate temp reaches anywhere from 200-225, add the meat right from the refrigerator. The small amount of unlit coals lighting as the cook progresses will provide some light charcoal smoke flavor.
Place a thermometer probe into the center-most spot of your roast, and keep the grate probe 2-3” inches from the meat. Once internal temperature of the meat reaches about 125-130, or 5-10 degrees below your target temp (if cooking to medium rare 130-135, for instance), move it overtop the coals of the Slow ‘N Sear to begin searing the meat*. This total time will vary considerably with how big a roast you have, and total thickness. Expect anywhere from 30-45 min for a smaller roast like a tri-tip, to 90 min for a larger prime rib. Remember, though, times are approximate since we cook to temp not time!
*For best results, light a ½- ¾ chimney of fresh coals when the roast hits an IT of ~100 F. Then, when you’re ready to sear the roast, these coals should be well-lit. Add these blazing hot coals to the charcoal basket of the Slow ‘N Sear. Then, your sear will be much more productive and quicker!
To sear, rotate (roll) your roast every minute or so until all exterior edges get a nice brown crust developed. Continue doing this until your target IT is reached. We highly recommend rare (125 F) to medium-rare (130-135 F), since this is when beef is at its most tender and juiciest. Going much above medium will result in a drier and tougher roast, especially on tri-tip and leaner cuts like sirloin and eye of round. If someone at your table absolutely cannot stomach juicy delicious beef if it’s pink, you can always toss a couple slices back on the grill to cook them a little further.
Wood? For the traditional roast, we recommend either going very lightly or just skipping the wood smoke. We often find beef taken to a juicy medium rare, with the meat’s natural juices largely still inside the fibers, such as steaks and roasts, benefit from less smoke. Therefore, we recommend you limit or skip the wood this time. Charcoal, when used per the above lighting instructions for roasts, will still add a certain level of that BBQ bliss that we cannot get from a gas grill or a home oven.
We’re all different, and tastes are as individual and varied as what you’ll eat with your meat, so you may find a smoked roast suits you better than the next pitmaster. If you absolutely must add wood, keep it simple to start, perhaps one golf ball sized piece. Adjust from there on your next cook.
Should you rest? Serve promptly. No one wants lukewarm meat. Many cooking shows and books will tell you to ‘rest your meat 5-10 minutes.’ In reality, a 5-10 minute unintentional rest will happen, therefore we do not recommend any further intentional resting of the meat. Slice and serve while it’s hot!
Slicing: We recommend that roasts be sliced thin, and against the grain. Especially so on tougher cuts of meat like round roasts. Most times it’s quite obvious and natural which way is the best way to slice. On some roasts however, like tri-tips or briskets, it could be less obvious which way is against the grain due to the natural shape of the muscles in the roast. Prime rib, being so tender, can handle thicker slices than some other roasts.