Reverse sear is the best way to cook holiday roast beef

Updated: Jan 22, 2019

One of my family’s longest cooking traditions is roast beef for New Year’s Eve.

One of my first memories of any kind is sitting around a huge table while a bunch of hungry relatives I didn’t know yet engaged in small talk waiting for the huge hunk of beef to hit the table.

The conventional wisdom of my childhood held that the way to achieve the perfect beef roast, well browned on the outside and pink and juicy in the middle, was to sear it in a ripping-hot oven to “seal in the juices,” and then turn the temperature down until it was done.

In this instance, conventional wisdom had it backward. The king of beef roasts is the standing rib roast, and the best way of cooking it is doing the exact opposite, called a reverse sear.

I first read of this method at one of my favorite cooking websites,, and I have done it that way several times now, with unerringly good results.

First of all, I have to get this off my chest: The whole “searing seals in the juices” idea is a myth, whether we’re talking about a roast or a steak. Juices flow through browned meat just as easily as non-browned meat.

The idea is to slow-cook the roast first in a very low oven, no higher than 250 degrees, as low as 200 if possible, and then brown the outside last.

One of the keys to success and any roasting application, and certainly this one, is a meat thermometer. I have a plain, dial-face analog one, but they have thermometers these days with remote dials and digital readouts and even one with an app that alerts your phone when the desired temperature is reached.

In this case, the desired temperature is 125 degrees. That’s a nice medium-rare, and with carryover, it will be served just short of medium. I find that a rib roast with all of its wonderful marbling is a bit better at medium than medium-rare, which is how I generally like my steaks. Of course, you can adjust the temperature to suit your own taste.

So I put the roast in a 250-degree oven, stick in the thermometer, and wait. It will generally take 4-5 hours to get it to temperature, but in the words of Alton Brown, your patience will be rewarded.

When your preferred temperature is reached, take the roast out of the oven and let it rest. This is a step that should be taken with any roasting method, we’re just doing it earlier in the process.

At this point, I crank up the heat to as hot as my oven will go, usually 500 or 550. While I wait for it to get there, I brush the roast with a little olive oil using a basting brush. This will help the browning process.

When the oven hits its maximum temperature, put the roast back in the oven for six or seven minutes, or until the crust is a nice dark brown.

That’s it, no more waiting is necessary. You’ve already let the meat rest, so you can carve and serve it immediately, without causing a torrent of juices to flow out of it.

What you should find is a roast that is done exactly how you like it from edge to edge, without a too-well-done border, and a delicious brown crust on the outside.

Forget Norman Rockwell’s turkey, the image of a perfectly done rib roast is what gets my mouth watering.

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