Roast beef refers to the cooking method and not the specific cut. Beef from any part of the cow can be roasted, however, roast beef most often comes from the sirloin, ribs, rump, and hind legs parts of the cow where the meat is more tender and suitable for roasting.
In this article, we’ll look at different cuts of beef that are commonly roasted and explore the advantages and disadvantages of each, find out what types of cow make the best roasts, and look at some unusual roasting methods found around the world.
Where Does Roast Beef Come From on a Cow?
Roast beef can come from anywhere on a cow. There are multiple cuts of beef that are commonly roasted, including sirloin, rump, brisket, and silverside.
Cuts destined for roasting are sometimes rolled tightly and tied with string or left on the bone to increase the flavor of the final product.
Let’s look at some popular cuts of roast beef and see where they come from on the cow:
1: Sirloin Roast
Although sirloin is usually used for steaks, its flavorful meat makes it perfect for roasting too.
A sirloin roast comes from the loin area of the cow, between the spine and the hips. Sirloin cuts fall between the short loin area and the rump area.
Sirloin is often used for steak since the meat is one of the most expensive cuts of beef and it can be uneconomical to sell it for roasting.
2: Chuck Roast
Another popular cut of roast beef is the chuck roast.
Chuck roast is also sometimes known as shoulder steak and is cut from the front section of the cow around the neck and shoulders.
A cow’s shoulder region is extremely muscular since they use these muscles to control their necks and backs.
Due to the muscles in the chuck region running in all different directions, chuck meat is difficult to cut and is too tough to be used for steak.
Beef shoulder is often slowly roasted since the roasting process breaks down some of the collagen in the muscles making it more tender.
3: Silverside and Topside
Silverside and topside are cuts of meat from the cow’s thigh. They are both well-used muscles and the meat is tender, however, it contains minimal amounts of fat.
Because silverside and topside cuts are so lean, they are often sold with additional fat wrapped around the roast and attached with string. This process is called barding and prevents the meat from drying out during the roasting process.
Silverside and topside are usually used for roasting since the leg bones make it difficult to cut steaks, and the lack of fat would make a poor-quality steak with no marbling.
Read More: How Marbling Affects Beef Quality
4: Rib Roast
Beef ribs are often used for steaks (You’ve probably heard of rib-eye steak, a popular steak cut), although they are sometimes used for roasting too.
As you might imagine, rib roasts come from the fatty meat around the ribcage of the cow, and the rib bones are often left in the meat to aid with flavor and to prevent the meat from shrinking during roasting.
Rib meat is fatty on both the outside and the inside, which makes it great for both steaks and roasting whole.
Read More: Why Are Cows SO FAT?
5: Fillet Roast
A roast beef fillet comes from the loin of a cow, specifically the psoas major muscle which connects the cow’s pelvis to their spine and effectively controls the rear half of the cow.
Since the fillet (also known as the tenderloin) is so highly sought after, it’s rarely roasted and is used for steaks instead. It’s from the tenderloin that a filet mignon (the most expensive cut of meat on a cow) is taken, so you can imagine a roast fillet is quite expensive compared to other, more common cuts.
What Type of Cow Does Roast Beef Come From?
Roast Beef can come from any breed of cow, but the most prized beef comes from beef breeds like Angus, Hereford, and Limousin cattle whose fatty meat is more tasty and plentiful than lean meat from a dairy breed.
Traditionally, British breeds were considered to be the best beef breeds in the world, however, there are some breeds that are even more valuable for beef, including the rare Japanese Wagyu breeds, whose internal fat structure (caused by a rare genetic mutation) gives them a unique marbling effect and taste.
Read More: What is Wagyu and Why is it So Expensive?
Can You Roast A Cow Whole?
We cook many animals whole, including many species of fish, birds, and even pigs, but what about a whole cow?
Cooking a cow whole is rare. There are practical difficulties involved in cooking an animal that weighs over a thousand pounds that make it almost impossible.
Although uncommon, whole-cow roasting is most prevalent in South America, where traditional feasts called asados often feature entire barbecued cows, pigs, and lambs.
Read More: Can You Eat Cow Hearts, Tongues, and Brains?
In spite of the logistical and practical difficulties, there are some cultures and companies that do roast entire cows. Barbecue expert Dante Fererro hit the headlines last year when VICE wrote a story on his barbecue business that made its name by roasting entire 1000lb cows at once.
To sum up, roast beef can come from any part of a cow, and it doesn’t matter what breed the cow is.
Traditionally, the less expensive cuts like the silverside were used for roasting and the more expensive cuts like sirloin and tenderloin were saved for making steak, although nowadays there are many expensive roasting cuts such as roast fillet.
Roasting is especially useful for more muscular areas like beef shoulders (chuck roast), where the roasting process breaks down the muscle and tenderizes the meat.