100 Techniques

Technique #33: Slow-Roast Tough Cuts of Meat to Fork-Tenderness

Take this gentler approach to fattier cuts and enjoy the melt-in-your-mouth results.

Published Sept. 29, 2023.

This is Technique #33 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

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High-and-fast or low-and-slow are the two classic methods for roasting meat. The high-and-fast approach, which calls for quickly searing meat on the stovetop to develop a crust and then transferring it to a very hot oven to finish cooking, works great with upscale cuts that are tender to begin with.

Tougher cuts, however, need a gentler approach to coax them to tenderness.

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Maintain a 160-180 Degree Temperature

Tougher, typically fattier cuts of meat (which are usually economical to purchase as well) make fantastic roasts when treated properly; that is, with a long, slow, low-temperature roasting treatment. The reason their meat is tougher and chewier is that it contains more connective tissue surrounding the muscle fibers. 

The predominant protein in this connective tissue is collagen, which begins to unwind and break down into unctuous, moisture-filled gelatin only after the meat reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees. So keeping the temperature of the meat in a range slightly above that (ideally 160 to 180 degrees) for an extended period gives the collagen all the time it needs to break down without danger of overcooking the meat. 

Plus, the lower oven heat reduces the temperature difference between the exterior and interior of the meat, so you end up with more uniform cooking.

Best Tough Cuts to Slow-Roast

You can use this technique on very different cuts of meat, from pork shoulder and butt roasts to beef chuck eyes and briskets. Brining or salting the roast and letting it rest for an extended period of time assists in tenderizing the meat (as well as seasoning it).

In fact, because the process of osmosis causes salt to travel from areas of higher to lower concentration, the salt penetrates deep into the meat after a longer time, helping to break down collagen and improving the tender texture of the roast even further.

Tender, leaner cuts like pork and beef tenderloin or rack of lamb, with less collagen, would become dry as a bone using this low-and-slow technique, but tougher cuts benefit tremendously from it, turning out meltingly tender, juicy, and succulent.

295 Roasting Recipes

How To Roast Everything

The first cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen devoted to the art and science of roasting, pulling together decades of test kitchen experience and knowledge to help you roast everything from meat and fish to vegetables and fruit.

Step by Step: How to Slow-Roast Tough Cuts

If you follow these simple steps, whether you're slow-roasting a pork shoulder or beefy short ribs, you'll finish with juicy, fork-tender meat every time.

Step 1: Cut Slits into Meat

If meat has skin, cut slits through skin at intervals all over, being careful not to cut into meat.

Step 2: Brine

Brine or salt meat; refrigerate (covered if brining or uncovered if salting) to jump-start seasoning and tenderizing process.

Step 3: Pat Dry and Season

Pat dry with paper towels. If using seasoning paste, rub it all over meat.

Step 4: Transfer to Wire Rack and Slow-Roast

Line rimmed baking sheet with foil and wire rack. Arrange meat on wire rack and slow-roast in low oven.

Step 5: Flip Halfway

Flip meat halfway through roasting time for even cooking.

Step 6: Let Rest, Slice, and Serve

Let meat rest, then slice and serve with flavorful sauce.

Watch Cook’s Illustrated’s Dan Souza demonstrate how to slow-roast crispy pork belly.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Want to put your newfound knowledge of slow-roasting to use? Try it with these recipes.


Cuban-Style Oven-Roasted Pork

Garlicky, citrus-infused pork is a natural for the backyard grill, and it's just as delicious when made in the oven. We cooked 200 pounds of pork to get it right.
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Slow-Roasted Chuck Roast

We wanted to turn a tough braising cut into a tender roast—and plan a second supper that was totally different but equally satisfying.
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Spice-Crusted Slow-Roasted Medium-Rare Beef Short Ribs

An innovative method for cooking short ribs results in ribs that eat like luxuriously rich steaks.
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Crispy Slow-Roasted Pork Belly

Cure and smoke pork belly and you’ve got bacon. Roast the belly instead and you’ve got the ultimate pork entrée—provided the meat is tender and the skin stunningly crisp.
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Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder with Peach Sauce

Most modern-day cooks know "roast pork" as the lean, bland loin. To bring back rich, old-fashioned flavor, we took a closer look at the choices in the butcher case.
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