Holidays used to be called “feast days,” and feast days meant one thing: large cuts of juicy meat to carve and share. Whether for formal holiday feasts or casual open-house buffets, roasts are still stunning centerpieces for festive gatherings.
Given how crowd-pleasing they are, roasts are also very easy to cook. Not every cut of meat responds equally well to the dry heat of classic roasting. Check out the list below for descriptions of, and tips for, popular holiday beef and pork roasts.
The star of all roasts, prime rib, is a cut from the center of the ribs (precisely, the seven ribs from rib number six to rib twelve) with the rib bones still attached. The bones add flavor and moisture to the roast, and the ribs conveniently act as a roasting rack. Prime rib is traditionally seasoned with salt and pepper and roasted to medium rare. As with all roasts, be sure to let the meat rest for at least 15 minutes (and up to 30 minutes) after roasting but before carving to let the juices settle and the temperature of the roast to even out.
The seven ribs of meat of a classic prime rib make up a massive roast — 20 to 30 pounds. Butchers also sell three or four-rib prime ribs. “Second cut,” “blade end,” or “chuck end” prime ribs are from ribs six to nine and are fattier than “first cut” or “loin end,” which are ribs ten to twelve and have less fat and a larger eye of meat at their center. First cut prime ribs are, as you might guess, more expensive per pound than second cuts.
Technically, “prime rib” is also from meat graded “prime” by the USDA. Only about 2 percent of beef in the U.S. is graded prime, and it almost all goes to restaurants. But any good quality beef makes a delicious “prime rib” when properly seasoned and cooked.
Standing Rib Roast
A standing rib roast is another name for prime rib and is the name restaurants use when the beef isn’t graded “prime.” While the name “prime rib” gets plenty of people’s mouths watering, “standing rib roast” can sound quite grand when stated with flourish.
Rib-eye roasts are standing rib roasts or prime rib roasts with the bone removed. It is the part of beef that when sliced becomes rib-eye steaks.
Various sirloin roasts (they come with many names and specific regional versions) come from the upper rear of the cow. They respond very well to the dry heat of roasting, have tons of flavor, and tend to be a less expensive than the various rib roasts.
This is the cut used for pot roast. With lots of muscle development, plenty of juicy marbling, and scads of connective tissue, chuck roast needs slow cooking to become tender but rewards patient cooks with excellent flavor.
Briskets are notably popular for Hanukkah. The cut comes from the lower chest of the animal, below the shoulder muscles and just above the forelegs. Since these muscles contain a lot of connective tissue and are heavily used, they develop excellent flavor. Briskets must be properly cooked, however, or they turn tough as nails. Slow roasting with plenty of basting or braising will result in the best briskets.
Whole briskets are usually cut in half for retail sale. Point briskets are less expensive, and many cooks prefer them for the extra flavor they get from the bit of fat at their ends; flat briskets are leaner.
The tenderloin is the leanest cut of either beef or pork, and it can be roasted. Sear the outside over high heat to brown it first and then finish cooking it by roasting for the best results. Tenderloins are expensive and easy to overcook, so give them the attention they deserve.
Crown roasts can be spectacular, especially when stuffed. They are simply two pork loins with the ribs still attached tied into a circle with the ribs pointing up. While single loin crown roasts are possible to construct, you need to cut down into the meat to get the ribs to bend enough, which increases the surface area of meat exposed to heat and tends to result in a dry roast.
Whichever roast you choose, we hope you enjoy this holiday season!