When I sat down to talk about beef and pork roasts with John Kruse, Willy East’s Meat Manager, I thought I knew a thing or two about the subject. Twenty minutes later, I realized how much I had to learn! John is the type of cook who regularly prepares amazing dishes without following a recipe. He makes it up as he goes and is almost always successful because he understands how food works: how to pair flavors and textures; how the properties of food change as it cooks; and most importantly, he’s not afraid to experiment and make mistakes. Talking to him made me hungry, and taught me everything I needed to know to confidently and creatively cook delicious roast beef and pork. I hope by the time you’re done reading this, you’ll feel the same way. Happy cooking!
The beautiful thing about roasts of any kind is that they are very low maintenance. All you have to do is stick them in the oven or crockpot and wait. No flipping, no tending. The hardest thing about them is the time commitment—if you rush them you’ll end up with an inferior product.
The first thing to know, is that there are two different types of roasts, slow and fast. Here’s the scoop:
Slow roasts include pork shoulder, chuck (also sometimes called arm or shoulder) roasts, and round roasts. These are the most affordable roasts, and tend to have more connective tissue (i.e., they’re tougher). They’re best cooked at low temperatures (200-250ºF) in liquid, either in a crockpot or Dutch Oven. The cooking time should be at least 5 hours, maybe longer—John said that he often will cook these roasts for 8-9 hours! This is the time it takes for the connective tissue to break down and that tough piece of meat to turn into a tender, delicious pot roast. When the roast is fork-tender it’s done.
To prepare the meat for a slow roast, rub just a little seasoning (it can be as simple as salt and pepper) on the meat beforehand. The majority of the seasoning should go in half way through the cooking process.
There are many different liquids that can be used when cooking a slow roast. John’s favorites are stout beer for beef, and chicken stock for pork. There are lots of other options, depending on the flavors you enjoy: fresh or hard apple cider, dry red or white wine… I’ve even seen recipes that use kombucha! Generally, sweet and light flavors pair better with pork while the darker, more bitter flavors pair better with beef.
It’s true the meat is the star of the show here, but that’s no excuse to forget the veggies! Given the long cooking time, John suggests dense vegetables cut into relatively large pieces. He adds them about half-way through the process so they are still firm and provide a nice counterpoint to the soft meat. Carrots, celery, rutabaga, celeriac, sunchokes, sweet potatoes, turnips, potatoes, and winter squash are all great choices.
Fast roasts are more tender (and more expensive) cuts that are best cooked in a dry oven at higher temperatures. These roasts include pork loin, sirloin tip, and ribeye roasts. As the name suggests, they don’t require the same time commitment. John recommends cooking fast roasts at 350ºF for about 20 minutes per pound.
These roasts should be seasoned well ahead of time using a spice rub. John uses a simple salt and pepper rub for beef, since beef (especially our grassfed beef), has naturally complex flavors that are easy to overpower with too many spices. Pork can take a bit more seasoning—sage is a favorite addition, as well as a tiny bit of brown sugar or maple syrup to bring out the sweetness.
John recommends using some butcher’s twine (available in our housewares department at both stores) to tie these roasts into a nice tight package. This ensures the meat will cook evenly and stay tender. This also allows you the opportunity to stuff the roast. This is a common practice with pork loin roasts, which can be stuffed with anything you like: seasonal fruits like peaches and apples work well, as do mushrooms, spinach, or any other seasonal vegetable.
It’s best to elevate fast roasts while they cook, so they don’t stew in their own liquids. You can accomplish this with a rack in a roasting pan, but you can also get creative and prop them up on cut vegetables (the same list of firm veggies applies here as well). This is a great technique since the fat from the meat drips down and adds flavor to the veggies as they cook.
How to tell when a fast roast is done? John’s rule of thumb is 20 minutes per pound, but it’s also best to use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. He recommends pulling the roast out when it’s medium rare (130-140ºF) and letting is rest for at least 10-15 minutes. It will continue to cook during this time, and the internal temperature will rise a little bit, giving you meat that finishes at medium (140-150ºF).
Resting the meat is a very important and often overlooked step—it gives time for the moisture to evenly distribute, and makes for a much juicier roast. John recommends delaying some last minute meal preparations until after the roast comes out of the oven. This gives you something to do while you’re waiting and lessens the temptation to dig in right away!