Many cuts of beef found in grocery stores and butcher shops are called roasts, but not all of them are suitable for roasting. Roasting is a method of cooking that uses only dry heat, with no liquid added to the meat. Since meat is muscle tissue, it stands to reason that the muscles that are more heavily exercised will be tougher, whereas those that are less used will produce a more tender roast. Understanding the qualities and characteristics of each cut of beef can help you choose the best roast for your money.
There are two distinct cuts of rib roast, distinguished by the part of the ribcage from which they come. The small end, also referred to as the loin end or the prime rib, comes from the back end, toward the animal's loins. The large end is cut from the section closer to the steer's head and contains more fat than the small end, but both cuts are well marbled with fat. Rib roasts are usually roasted on the bone, and are tender and flavorful when exposed to dry heat. They are among the most expensive cuts of beef.
The short loin is often cut up into steaks, but the most common roast from this area is known as the tenderloin or the whole fillet. As it is one of the least exercised portions of the animal, it is extremely tender and juicy and is also quite expensive. It has a milder, less beefy flavor than other cuts and is quite a lean piece of meat. Tenderloin often comes with a layer of fat and silver skin attached that needs to be removed before roasting.
The sirloin section of beef is typically pre-boned and cut into two separate roasts. The top sirloin, also known as a top butt or center cut roast, is moderately priced and has a bold flavor, but it also contains a vein of gristle that runs throughout the cut. The sirloin tri-tip roast is triangular in shape and is milder in flavor. It is often cut into smaller pieces and sold as sirloin tips or steak tips.
Cuts from the round, which include the butt and leg of the animal, are among the more affordable cuts of beef. Some of the cuts are quite tough and are better cooked with some added liquid, but two are tender enough for roasting. The top round roast is juicy and has good flavor, and is a common choice in supermarket meat counters. The bottom round is less flavorful and tender but is a good choice for the money. Both roasts are better served in very thin slices, as they can be chewy and tough if sliced thickly.