How to Master the Art of Slow-Roasted Cooking
Slow-roasting meats is a delicate science. It takes time, patience, and a keen eye for detail during the preparation stages. This isn’t a meal you toss together on a Tuesday after work. You need a full day to do it right. That’s where we come in.
These tips are here to make sure you pull the juiciest, tastiest piece of meat out of your oven at the end of a long day. It’s not going to be easy to sit around inhaling delicious aromas all afternoon without dipping in for a taste, but it will be worth the wait when you finally dig in at dinner.
Here’s what you need in order to make sure your next slow-roasting experience is your best slow-roasting experience.
Go to a butcherYes, of course you can still buy your meats from a grocery store and google weights and times, but going to a butcher and talking to them about your plans will let them steer you to the best cuts of meat. They'll also be able to provide you with the right cooking time and temperature for the cut of meat you’re walking out the door with.
When in doubt, go bone-inIf you’re deciding between cuts, getting a bone-in piece works best for slow-roasting. The fibers and cartilage of a bone cut break down during a slow-roasting process and keep the meat moist. “Pork shoulder with the bone in is one of my favorites,” shared Kurt Wewer, Executive Chef at the Garlic Poet near Harrisburg, PA. “We do one for our tacos that’s roasted with malt syrup which is used in home brewing, salt, and beer and that’s it. We put it in the oven at 315-320 degrees Fahrenheit for four hours, mix it with all the juice that’s in the pan and put it right on the tacos. It’s fantastic.”
Don’t avoid fatWe’re all on a health kick, I get it, but if you’re slow-roasting, you don’t have to skip by cuts with a fatty layer on them. The one Achilles heel of slow-roasting is the possibility of drying out the meat. Fat content will help hydrate the meat as it cooks, keeping things juicy, tender, and moist.
Brine the meatThe easiest way to make sure you’re getting the maximum flavor out of the meat you’re roasting is to brine it first. Brining will help keep the moisture in the meat as it roasts. It also combats less experienced cooks’ tendency to want to under-salt. Brining the roast will season the meat the entire way through and keep it flavorful on every bite.
Sear your meat firstNo matter what you do, you want to brown your meat first, chef Wewer noted. It’s the difference between a novice cook and a professional cook. The main benefit of slow-roasting is that it slowly breaks down the meat and creates very tender bites. If you add some oil to a pan, crank the heat, and sear the outside of your meat first, you create a caramelized outside layer that will permeate the meat as it cooks and give it an awesome crust.
Invest in a timer and a meat thermometerWhile slow-roasting meats is one of the less risky undertakings, if disaster is going to happen, it’s going to happen by over-cooking and drying out the entree or not cooking it enough at lower temperatures. A timer and a thermometer are the two devices that will save you from both outcomes. There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to determining time and temperature. Everything must be accounted for, from the weight and thickness of the meat to the type of cut (bone-in or not). You can be on the hook for six to ten hours of roasting. At lower temperatures, use that thermometer to make sure your meat is done. The higher the temp, the earlier you'll want to check back in on your dish to make sure it's not drying out.
Herbs and spice make everything niceLos Angeles chef Ben Amar of Black Tie Catering and Capers by BTC, gave us this tip. “There's something about fresh thyme, not dried, that enhances the taste of meat,” he said. “And that's from someone who hates thyme.” Amar recommends that during the searing process, add a sprig of fresh thyme to the oil to give it a subtle flavor boost. You can then take that sprig of thyme and add it to the pan, letting it cook with the meat and continue adding a little something special to the dish.
Think about your drinkYou’re taking this much time to perfect your meal, don’t rush yourself in the beer aisle. Richer meals require a more robust drink, the same way a lighter main course matches better with a softer-tasting brew. For instance, if you’re slow-roasting pork, you have two options: amber ales will cut through the fat, while a citrusy beer will add a fruity element in the same vein a side of applesauce complements pork chops so well. On the other side of the spectrum, a rack of ribs goes best with stouts and porters, as their richness will work off the robust flavors of the meat.
Serve with vegetablesRoasting meat creates a lot of flavorful juice. If you’re roasting in the oven on a roasting rack, place a pan of thick-cut vegetables underneath, letting the liquids from the roast drip down. If you’re roasting in a pan, you can also add the vegetables to the pan itself. The meat and vegetables will take in some flavors of one another. As chef Wewer said, “I promise you that's going to be the best carrot you've ever had in your life.”
So that's it. Follow these tips and you will quickly learn the very important difference between a slow-roasted main course and everything else. It's the kind of quality meal you can only enjoy when it's prepared properly. So whether you're doing it all yourself or trusting someone else with crafting the perfect piece of succulent meat, make sure it's done right before you dig in.