by: Max M Rasmussen

Slow cooking of red meat - Slow roasting

If you have learned to cook meat from traditional cookbooks, or from your mother's recipes, then all you know to about it is wrong! You are using too high a temperature and too short a time. Most recipes for cooking meat dates back to when there was wooden stoves with only one setting. "Hot". Our modern stoves have made those recipes dated. The best way to roast meat and make it really good, is with a long roast, at a low temperature.

These technique are for tender rare cuts.


The problem of roasting meat well is probably most well known from making the classic roast beef recipe: We roast it in a pot "10 minutes on each side." (Here I am already suspicious when a recipe tells me to roast a round piece of meat on the sides) Typically, roast beef has 3 colors afterwards. Brown on the surface, gray well into it and pink in the middle. The brown and pink we like. The gray ... not so much.

Fortunately, we can easily avoid the gray layer and achieve red meat throughout.

The secret of roasting red beef and veal is very simple

Cooking time does not affect the color of the meat. It is only the temperature that counts. This in combination with the fact that the longer it roasts the more tender it will become. So you should roast at as low a temperature as you have the time for, and make sure that the internal temperature of the meat never gets above 60°C (140°F). Then it will be perfect every time.

This means that you can actually get the best red meat by cooking it at a little below 60°C (140°F) for many hours. Even up to 48 hours. Unfortunately, it will become gray if it reaches just 62 degrees. So it is probably a risky tactic to cook it right at the edge of the temperature :-s There are not many home  ovens that are accurate enough.

The portions of a roast beef that becomes gray, are the ones that has been heated to over 62°C (143.5°F) degrees. Luckily there is an easy way to avoid that.

Use room temperature meat

You have to imagine a piece of meat in the oven. It typically comes directly from the inside of a refrigerator and has a temperature of 5°C (41°F). The oven itself is typically 180°C (355°F) hot. As the meat roasts it becomes warmer and warmer closer to the  center, until the middle reaches the desired 60°C (140°F). The larger the initial temperature difference between the center and the outside, the greater the temperature difference between the center and the outside will be in the end too.

So the first advice is to take the meat out of the cooler well ahead of time, so that it has time to reach room temperature when it is put in the oven. Preferably 2-4 hours before.

Roasting at a very low temperature

If you envision a different way to roast, where the oven is only 60°C (140°F) warm. Then the meat will at no time be hotter than the oven at 60°C (140°F). The center of the meat will slowly heat up to 60°C (140°F) without any of it turning gray.

So the closer you get to 60°C (140°F) when you roast, the closer to the meat's surface, the "gray ring" be.

Roasting at a low to medium temperature

The next best practice is to roast between 80°C (176°F) and 120°C (250°F) for an appropriate amount of time. This is the method I typically use when I roast red meat. You can also vary the temperature according to when the meat should be done.

I usually start with the oven at 80°C (176°F) and then see how it goes. If it seems like it will not be finished in time, I turn up the temperature to 100°C (212°F). I can also be found to, once in a while, to turn it all the way up to 120°C (248°F). But never any more than that. I will rather let the guest wait for the meat to finish then ;-)

If you want the meat to reach 60°C (140°F), and you start with the meat at room temperature, 20°C (68°F), and you want it to take 4 hours, then you can figure out that the meats temperature should rise by 1°C (2°F) every 5-6 minute, Or 10°C (18°F) per hour. Then you can simply check the temperature after the first hour and see if the temperature has to be turned up or down.

Smaller pieces, up to 2 kg (4 lbs)

However, with a small piece of meat it is probably more realistic to expect about 2 hours roasting time, when starting out with the oven at 80°C (175°F) degrees. With a 1°C (2°F) increase per 2-3 minutes.

Larger pieces, over 2 kg (4 lbs)

For a large piece of fillet or a prime rib, 3-4 hours is a more realistic time horizon.

If you  want to make absolutely sure, you can begin five hours before you have to serve the meat, instead of 4, and then you can stop when the center reaches 55°C (131°F). Then turn the oven down to 60°C (140°F) and leave it until it is to be served. I have never seen this go wrong. An internal temperature between 55°C (131°F) and 60°C (140°F) is good. I always aim to hit 57°C (135°F) degrees to leave some room for error.

If you need to use the oven for something else, then you can also safely take out the meat and wrap it in silver foil, or baking paper, and towels. That can keep it hot for about an hour without any loss in quality.


The downside of roasting at such low temperatures, is that the meat is first browned at 130°C (266°F). There is not much point in having meat that is delicious and red in the interior and gray on the surface. That's exactly what you get when roasting between 80°C (176°F) and 120°C (248°F). Not only does it not look nice, but the browned fried surface is an important part of the flavor of the meat. Just try and boil a steak and see how that tastes!

Browning is an important process, but luckily it can be done separately.

We still wont the inside to remain red, so it is important to get the surface browned quickly without the meat underneath turning gray.

For browning you must use very high temperatures for a very short time. A scorchingly hot cast iron pan, the electric grill in you oven, or a charcoal grill with the meat very close to very hot charcoal. These are the ideal heating sources. And you should only fry until the surface is brown, and you should turn it over as quickly as possible. It must be done without any kind of lid. A creme brulee (gas) torch can also be used.

When I can get away with it, one of my favorite methods is to throw a handful of rosemary on my charcoals in my grill and brown it that way. I also think the grill is the most powerful heat source I have.

Browning before or after roasting

Among long-term frying enthusiasts there is some debate whether to brown before or after roasting. I am slightly in favor of "before". You have the most time in the start of the cooking process. If we only start browning when the guests have arrived, then it is not relaxing at all. You won't have time to enjoy a glass with the guests, but will be standing in your party clothes roasting meat and getting covered in grease.

Also it you start out with meat that is 58°C (136°F) to begin with, that you then grill. There is a risk that a large portion of it will rise above the infamous  60°C (140°F). This wont happen either if you brown it first.

My procedure with red meat is: Browning, spicing and slowly roasting.

Slowly roasted meat can rest after it's done, but it does not have the same need as meat that has roasted at a high temperature.

The reason that the flesh must rest, is that the heated water inside the meat is under pressure. It expands and produces steam. The pressure forces the liquid out of the meat when you cut it. That pressure disappears when the water is cooled down. The water in slow cooked meat is not so hot. Therefore, there is not as much pressure and the liquid stays inside.

by: Anonymous

Max, the results were fantastic! You are absolutely right. Roast beef must be pink except a thin exterior coat (see photo)

Now, I have a question. I am in the USA, in Boca Raton, Florida, where a cold cut in the summer is desirable. My question is about temperatures. Here we don't have natural gas. Ovens are electric. My big oven offers 170°F (80°C) as a minimum; and my table top convection oven offers 170°F (80°C) or 100°F (38°C) but nothing in between.  I looked up for a table top convection oven that gives you such granularity in temperature choice, to achieve 140°F (60°C), but could not find one. Can you recommend a brand and model?

By the way I tried 100°F (38°C) and switched back and forth with 170°F (80°C) and after 6 hours or so the result was very good. Next time I'll try 170°F (80°C) and see what happens. But, I'd rather use an oven that offers the right temperature.

Many thanks


by: Anonymous

My slow cooker/crockpot has a "keep warm" setting which, according to my thermometer, keeps the heat for as long as you like at about 65 degrees Celsius (about 150 degrees Fahrenheit), which is ideal for beef or lamb. And slow cookers are cheap, because they are simple and ubiquitous, unlike specialised equipment with fine temperature controls.

I sear the meat in a very hot frying pan to get the Maillard Reaction going, before taking it off the heat and applying a coating (last time, I used English mustard, thyme, salt & pepper), then putting it on a rack in the slow cooker.

I use the "high" setting to get things going quicker for an hour or so. Then, if you switch to "keep warm", the internal temperature of the meat should never exceed the optimum, according to your probe thermometer. If your own slow cooker's "warm" setting is too high, adjust your methods; maybe by having the lid only half on. On a roasting rack, the meat won't be directly contacting hot surfaces, so this could work.

With slow-roasting on the "keep warm" setting (which was never intended for cooking), the next day's cold-cuts in a sandwich or salad are great!

by: Anonymous

100F is WAY too low to cook, it would be like putting it outside on a hot summer day. You are just asking for pathogens to grow! I think the reason ovens don't go below 170F is for safety. And 170F is plenty low enough for slow cooking.

by: Anonymous

170 F (80 C) is not low enough for best slow cooking results.

You obviously did not read this article!.

But your point about food safety is valid. As too many mainstream consumers are too clueless and reckless... it could lead to reckless behaviours where can get bacteria outbreaks.

But for ppl who know about meat and have quality standards.... you rather want slowcooked at 60 C (180 F), then .....

And when you go to a proper resturant you would rather want proper medium rare to rare. Not "well done" etc.

"Well done" is like .......

Ordering "well done" meat is either your taste buds are way off, or you have 0 confident in the sanitary in the resturant, or .....

Meat rare or medium-rare can also be dangerous for the health if not done properly etc.

So when i travel to poor countries, or places i am sceptical of having high enough sanitary standards... (and having to eat there), then i will never order rare or medium rare meat.

And chicken products is very dangerous. So there have to be very carefull.

by: Anonymous

What if I wanted to slow roast over night 12 + hours at 170 degrees? Can you slow roast a beef roast on as low as your oven goes for longer than 12 hours 

by: Anonymous

Max, the results are incredible.

I cannot believe I am 50 years old and for the last 30 years I've been cooking my Sunday roast all wrong! Yes, it takes 4-5 hours and yes you need a meat thermometer and yes you need to brown it first but none of this matters when you experience the results. As for brown after or brown before... no question... before... for a start there is a lot of smoke and browning a piece of hot beef is much more tricky then doing it cold.  Top Post Max.