What Is Roast Beef?

I come from a roast beef family. When I was a kid, my grandfather would cook a huge roast dinner for everyone every Sunday. My dad introduced me to the South Philadelphia classic Nick’s Roast Beef. And now, every time I go home to visit, I have a standing date with my aunt to go play the slots in the casino and cap it off with an Arby’s roast beef lunch. Please, allow me to share the wonders of roast beef with you all.

What is roast beef?

Deli roast beef started out as a traditional roast dinner as far back as the Medieval era. One of the leaner cuts of beef from the cow, it is cooked low and slow for multiple hours, resulting in a melt-in-your-mouth texture. The English have perfected the roast to the point where it is now one of their national dishes. 

This kind of roast is served thick-cut and hot, but on those rare occasions when there are leftovers, people began slicing it thin and making cold sandwiches out of it. In America, this trend started becoming popular at the end of the 19th century and, by the 20th century, the cold roast beef sandwich was a standby.

While there are a host of regional varieties of the roast beef sandwich, it is important to remember that they are all valid and delicious. For my money, here is the perfect recipe: roast beef, either cold or hot in gravy, on an Amoroso roll with provolone cheese, and a healthy dollop of horseradish. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

What cut of meat is roast beef?

Imagine a cow: the head, the front and back legs, and the middle. Each of these sections is going to provide a different cut of meat. Right in the middle, you have the ribs and loin cuts (tenderloin, sirloin, etc). These are going to be the tenderest cuts because they have the least muscle in them.

The front legs and shoulders are called the chuck and the back legs and shoulders are called the round. Since cows are carrying around a lot of weight, they are obviously going to have the most muscle and, therefore, be toughest when cooking. This means two things: They’re going to be cheaper than the middle parts, and they’ll need to be slow cooked to soften them up.

Roast beef, in reality, can be made from any part of the cow—except maybe the head or the organs. However, the commercial deli roast beef you get at the grocery store will most likely come from the round.

How is roast beef seasoned?

It’s common to rub a roast with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder before cooking. If you were making it at home, that’s all you would need. However, the commercially available deli roast beef is more often than not processed meat. This means that it’s going to have a longer list of ingredients that includes preservatives.

How long is deli roast beef good for?

The average refrigeration time for deli roast beef is 3-5 days, so gobble it up quickly. If it starts to develop a slime or changes color, it’s best not to eat it.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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