Friday, January 15, 2016

How to Make Deli Style Cajun Roast Beef Lunch Meat at Home

I like to make lunch meat at home. 

Why?  I don't like getting processed lunch meat - "chicken breast" for example - that comes in a perfectly half round shape that resembles nothing like a chicken's breast.  When it's an unnatural shape like that you can just about guarantee that it's meat pieces and "meat glue" (transglutaminase) pressed into some kind of mold.  Granted, there are some good producers out there but here is what I do to make mine at home.

roast beef sandwich, homemade roast beef, sous vide roast beef
Homemade deli syle Cajun roast beef sandwich with bacon Swiss soup.

Go Lean
I try to pick lean meats for making lunch meat.  For beef, I like top sirloin petite roast and eye of round.  For roast pork, the pork loin does good and for poultry I'll use a boneless turkey breast.  The reason for lean meat is to minimize fat which will be the first thing to go bad.  
The most important chemical damage suffered by meats is the breakdown of their fats by both oxygen and light into small, odorous fragments that define the smell of rancidity.  Rancid fat won't necessarily make us sick, but it's unpleasant.  (McGee 145)
Nobody likes rancid meat right? So pick low fat meats (saturated fats are more stable than unsaturated fats) and protect them from light and oxygen.

Dry Brine
I use a dry brine for seasoning the meat.  The way it works is the salty seasoning initially draws moisture out of the meat, causing an imbalance.  Then that moisture mixes with the seasoning and it gets pulled back into the meat, seasoning it. I do this in a vacuum sealed bag which protects it from oxygen and some people say it helps the seasoning get into the meat better (I have doubts and have seen nothing scientific backing that second part).  Honestly, I do it mainly to save space in the fridge.  I can stick a vac sealed package anywhere in the refrigerator but a big pot filled with brine takes up a lot of space.

Sous Vide
People either love or hate sous vide.  As a griller, a reverse seared steak is similar in texture/doneness to a sous vide steak but tastes much better because of the smokiness.  But with lunch meat I like to use sous vide for 2 reasons - both have to do with how long the meat is held at certain temps.
  1. Tenderness - Two enzymes that break meat down in to tender, flavorful bits are most active at warmer temperatures up to 105°f (calpains) and 120°f (cathepsins) per McGee (144).   The sous vide warm water cooking will hold the meat in that high enzyme activity window for much longer than the less than 1 hour that the reverse sear would.
  2. Pasteurization - By holding meat at lower, steady temps for longer periods of time, sous vide effectively pasteurizes the meat.  Holding the meat at temp for those extended hours gives me a level of personal comfort, knowing that the food is safe and how it was handled.  That's especially important since I want this lunch meat to last for several days and microbes bring spoilage.  Read more.
For the Cajun Roast Beef, I used a 4.45 pound Angus eye of round.    I tied it to give it a uniform shape.  

Cajun style roast beef, homemade lunch meat

Mixed up a batch of my NMT Cajun Rub.

I seasoned the roast heavily, about 2-3 tablespoons. 

tied seasoned roast beef, roast beef in Grill Dome

I vacuum sealed this and let it dry brine in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

sous vide roast beef, Grill Dome roast beef

Then I put it in the sous vide set up.  I am using the Sous Vide Supreme which is a counter top appliance type unit.  There are wand style units now that take up less storage space because you supply the container.  There are also guides online for how to make your own.

I ran the sous vide at 125°f for the first 12 hours and then 18 hours at 137°f.  

sous vide roast beef

Then I fired up my Grill Dome kamado grill to 550°f.  I removed the roast from the packaging and seared it 1 minute per side.  The meat is already cooked, I am just building flavor and color.

After searing, I put the meat on a raised rack and let it cool off.  Then I wrapped it up and put it in the fridge until the next night.  Being cold makes it much easier to slice whether you are doing this by hand or powered slicer.  I prefer the knife just because I haven't found a consumer grade meat slicer that I like.  They all seem undersized and under powered.  I don't think I'll be happy until I get a commercial slicer like Hobart.

We made roast beef sandwiches with El Diablo mustard and horseradish that couldn't be beat.  

I didn't write down the bacon Swiss soup recipe but it was stock based.  Here's the short version if you want to make something like it.  Mirepoix sauteed in butter, seasoned with salt and pepper, and flour added for a roux.  Whisked in 3 cups of chicken stock and then simmered for 30 minutes.  Smoothed it out an immersion blender.  Then I added dried thyme leaves, some spicy mustard, and tasted for seasoning, adding a little salt and pepper.  Then I added about a cup of quality Swiss cheese, stirring until blended.  We serve it with a dollop of sour cream and crumbled bacon. 

Competition BBQ Update
There have been some updates regarding the Knoxville area competition BBQ scene recently.  
  1. The Rotary Club has announced that they will not be putting on the Rocky Top BBQ contest that Knoxville has hosted for the past 3 years.
  2. Bloomin' BBQ and Bluegrass in Sevierville will NOT be on the same weekend as Memphis In May this year which is awesome because I have hating choosing one or the other in the past. 
  3. BarBCure, a KCBS event that raises funds for The Butterfly Fund, will be held again in Knoxville on the beautiful grounds of the The Pavillion Event Center at Hunter Valley Farms.
  4. The Big BBQ Bash in Maryville TN, a personal favorite of mine, will be held the weekend of June 24-25. 
Of course, as always, you can just check the KCBS site for the latest information for BBQ events in your area.


  1. Hi Chris,

    Good post on making lunch meat. I am looking to try this in a couple of weeks but I was wondering how long would the lunch meat be good for (~1 week? more?) Also, the eye of round you show looked very light in color I would have expected it to be a darker red. Is that just because of the angle of the picture or is it supposed to be that way.

    Love your site and find all of your posts to be very informative and helpful!



    1. Hi Rick. That is a combination of things. First, yes, the eye of round is paler than a lot of other beef cuts. If you look at the second picture, you can see how pale it is, even when raw. Second, since I was doing this for lunch meat, I took it to an internal temp of 137°f which takes away some of the color too. It would be a lot more red at 125°f which is where I could cook it if eating right away. Third, it's also partially lighting in the sliced picture. I had to lighten up some shadows in that picture.

      Great question but I don't have an exact #of days. Remember that the enemy making meat go bad is pathogens, oxygen, and light. We keep out about 1.5 pounds that we will eat in a week. Everything else, we vacuum seal in bags which makes it last longer or you can freeze it.

  2. a Sous vide machine is in my future! The wand option is most likely what I'll get. Love this recipe and welcome more like it as I too am trying to avoid deli lunch meats and the dreaded "meat glue!" Nice work here, Chris!

  3. Great post Chris and your beef looks perfect

  4. First thing I thought when I read the title of this recipe was, Yes, please! The beef looks perfectly cooked and I am loving the NMT Cajun Rub. YUM!

  5. That's amazing! I'll have one with cheese and mustard!