There is a lot of helpful information down there, but if you’re pressed for time, here’s a summary of the most important parts:
- Slow roasting typically utilizes large, less tender, less expensive, more active, higher-fat muscles that contain a large amount of collagen, like pork butts.
- If you are looking for the product to be sliceable, then pull the meat from the oven when it reaches 185°F. If you are looking for a product that will be “pulled” or chopped, then cook it to an internal temperature of 192°F.
- A general rule of thumb to determine cooking time would be to calculate up to 1 1/2 hours for each pound of meat. An 8-pound pork butt, for example, can take 10 to 12 hours to cook. If you are under a meal deadline, it is advisable to start the roast 2 hours earlier than the estimated cooking time to give you a cushion.
- If your meat seems to suddenly stop cooking around 160°F, don’t panic. This is an expected plateau (sometimes referred to in the barbecue community as “the stall”), and your meat will continue cooking, but it may take quite a while—maybe even more than an hour—for the thermometer to budge.
Like roasting, slow roasting employs the indirect heat of an oven to cook the food. The heat is conducted to the meat by the hot surrounding air. It browns and crisps the exterior and penetrates into the meat, warms the juices, and turns them into steam, which cooks the interior.
The resulting juices that are forced out of the meat are called fond, or pan drippings. They are collected in the roasting pan and used to prepare the sauce to accompany the roast.
Slow roasting may require an extended period of time to cook, but it generally does not require a lot of attention while cooking. As a reward for your patience, your house will be filled with an incredible aroma that stimulates your appetite. The meat will be very flavorful, tender, and juicy, with a crispy exterior, and the accompanying sauce will add even more texture and flavor to the dish.
Less tender, and typically less expensive, cuts of meat are usually used. The finished meat and sauce hold well and are sometimes even better the next day, and leftovers are very versatile, meaning that you will often get several different meals from one product.
Slow roasting utilizes large, less tender, less expensive, more active, higher-fat muscles that contain a large amount of connective tissue called “collagen.” These cuts contain two types of fat: intramuscular fat, which refers to the strips of fat streaked within the muscle, also known as marbling; and chunks of fat within the cut or found externally on the meat. For example, a pork butt contains as much as 33 percent fat, which makes it perfect for this cooking technique.
As the meat cooks, the collagen dissolves into gelatin, which makes the meat tender and juicy, and the fat melts and bastes the meat, adding flavor and moisture. The finished meat will have a smooth texture and mouthfeel and a succulent quality. Another advantage of using more active and less tender types of meat is that they produce finished dishes with deep, full flavor and rich texture.
You can, however, also slow roast tender cuts of meat. Cuts like sirloin roast or prime rib roast benefit from slow roasting because they experience less shrinkage, which equates to a higher yield and a moister final product. Slow-roasted meat will also be more evenly cooked. These items are pulled from the oven at a much lower internal temperature than less tender cuts of meat, usually 125° to 130°F for medium rare.
Preparing the Meat
Trim the meat of most of its external fat before slow roasting. If the item has a thick layer of fat on top, such as a pork butt, trim it down to a 1/4- or 1/2-inch-thick layer. Then season the meat. Seasoning can vary from simply using salt and pepper to slathering the meat with prepared mustard to using a twelve-ingredient dry rub. The item can be cooked right away or refrigerated for hours or overnight to allow the seasonings to penetrate the meat.
The meat should be removed from the refrigerator 30 minutes before roasting and allowed to sit at room temperature while the oven is preheating. This allows the meat to warm slightly so it will cook more evenly and not lower the oven temperature as much when you place it in the oven.
A general rule of thumb to determine cooking time would be to calculate up to 1 1/2 hours for each pound of meat. An 8-pound pork butt, for example, can take 10 to 12 hours to cook. If you are under a meal deadline, it is advisable to start the roast 2 hours earlier than the estimated cooking time to give you a cushion. Slow-roasted meat holds well and can be reheated, if necessary, so it is better to finish cooking it earlier than to be caught waiting for it to finish cooking because it could be a long wait.
If your meat seems to suddenly stop cooking around 160°F, don’t panic. This is an expected plateau (sometimes referred to in the barbecue community as “the stall”), and your meat will continue cooking, but it may take quite a while—maybe even more than an hour—for the thermometer to budge.
Even with a low-and-slow cooking method, the meat can be overcooked, so it’s important to catch the meat at the correct time. When the meat is cooked too long, it will render too much of its juices, gelatin, and fat, which will make the meat dry, tough, and stringy. There are several ways to determine doneness.
You can pull at the meat; if it separates easily and is tender and juicy, it is done. It can be stabbed with a long wooden skewer or fork; if the fork removes easily and the meat does not hang onto it, the meat is cooked. However, the best and most accurate way is to use a thermometer.
An instant-read probe thermometer can be inserted into the meat periodically to check the temperature for doneness. An even better way is to use a probe that is connected by a thin wire to a digital thermometer outside the oven that continually monitors the process of roasting the meat. Many ovens today have these built in.
If you are looking for the product to be sliceable, then pull the meat from the oven when it reaches 185°F. If you are looking for a product that will be “pulled” or chopped, then cook it to an internal temperature of 192°F. Allow the meat to rest for about 20 minutes to let the juices inside redistribute before being cut or pulled, otherwise those hard-earned juices will flow out of the meat onto the cutting board and the meat will be dry.
Preparing the Sauce
While the meat is resting, a sauce can be prepared from the collection of intensely flavorful meat drippings that form at the bottom of the roasting pan. (The roast and the rack need to be removed from the roasting pan before the sauce can be made.)
There are several ways to prepare a sauce from the pan drippings. The simplest is to prepare a jus. Drain the excess fat from the pan and place the pan over low to medium heat. Add water or stock to the pan, scrape up the drippings with a wooden spoon, and allow them to dissolve into the liquid. At this point the liquid should be tasted and seasoned and then strained to remove any solids. This thin juice, or jus, is intensely flavored and served with the meat as is. A jus lié is prepared by thickening the jus lightly with some arrowroot or cornstarch.
Another common and popular way to prepare a sauce from the drippings is to make a pan gravy. If any juices, aside from fat, remain in the pan, place the pan over medium-high heat and bring the juices to a simmer. Before the drippings start to burn, drain most of the fat and discard it. Leave enough fat in the pan to absorb the flour later in the process. Vegetables can be added to the pan and browned to provide more flavor and color.
Whisk some flour into the fat and cook for several minutes. At this point, add some cold stock to the pan, whisk it into the flour mixture, and bring it to a simmer. It must be simmered for at least 25 minutes to cook out the starchy flour taste. While simmering, add more stock if the sauce gets too thick, or continue to simmer to reduce the sauce if it is too thin. Once it reaches the desired consistency, the pan gravy can be seasoned, strained, and served with the meat.