what cut of beef is used for deli roast beef

What Cut of Beef is Used for Deli Roast Beef?

Roast beef is a classic deli meat that’s loved by many for sandwiches, lunch meats, appetizers and more. But with so many different cuts of beef out there, what exactly is used for deli roast beef? I did some digging into the common cuts used for roast beef sold pre-sliced at the deli counter and here’s what I found out.

Top Round and Bottom Round

Two of the most popular cuts used for deli roast beef are the top round and bottom round. These are economical cuts from the rear legs of the cow.

The top round comes from the inside of the hind leg while the bottom round comes from the outside of the hind leg Both are lean, budget-friendly cuts that work well when roasted low and slow to break down the tough connective tissues

When cooked properly, top round and bottom round transform into tender and tasty roast beef perfect for slicing thin at the deli counter. They don’t have as much marbling and fat as pricier cuts like ribeye, but still deliver decent flavor, especially when seasoned well

Eye of Round

Another common choice for deli roast beef is eye of round. This cylindrical cut comes from the rear leg of the cow. It’s one of the leanest cuts of beef, with very little fat marbling.

While eye of round can be tough if not cooked correctly, it shines when roasted slowly to medium or medium rare doneness. The low fat content means it can slice nice and thin for sandwiches and lunch meats.

I like to use eye of round when I make roast beef at home to slice for sandwiches. Seasoned well and roasted properly, it delivers decent flavor and makes great affordable homemade roast beef.

Top Sirloin

Top sirloin is a large cut that comes from the hip/rear of the cow. Only the center part of the top sirloin is used for deli roast beef, known as the top sirloin butt or rump roast.

This roast has good marbling which gives it more flavor than leaner cuts like eye of round. Top sirloin delivers beefy flavor and decent tenderness when roasted slowly. The moderate fat keeps it moist and tasty when sliced thin for deli roast beef.


Tri-tip is a small triangular cut from the bottom sirloin primal cut. It’s a very popular choice in Santa Maria style barbecue, but also works great roasted for deli-style roast beef.

Tri-tip has nice marbling which gives it good flavor and juiciness. The moderate fat content means it slices well. When seasoned and roasted properly, tri-tip makes delicious roast beef for sandwiches and lunch meats.

Chuck Roast

Chuck roast comes from the shoulder/neck region of the cow. It’s often braised for pulled beef or pot roasts, but the boneless chuck eye roast works excellently when roasted for deli-style roast beef.

This cut has great marbling and fat content, which means loads of beefy flavor. The connective tissue breaks down into gelatin and keeps it nice and moist when cooked low and slow. Chuck eye roast makes incredibly juicy and tasty roast beef perfect for slicing thin and piling high on sandwiches.


Brisket is another great choice for deli-style roast beef, though it’s less common. Coming from the lower chest region of the cow, brisket is naturally tough with lots of connective tissue. But when cooked low and slow, it becomes incredibly tender and juicy.

The fat content gives sliced brisket a lot of flavor. It makes especially delicious roast beef, though can be pricier than other cuts. Going with a flat half brisket provides nice even slices perfect for sandwiches.

How is Deli Roast Beef Cooked?

To transform these affordable cuts into tender and tasty deli roast beef, they are seasoned and cooked using moist heat low and slow:

  • Seasoning – Salt, pepper and spices like garlic, rosemary, thyme. Dry brining can help season and tenderize.
  • Low temperature (250F-325F) – Cooks the meat gently to break down connective tissues.
  • Slow cooking (4-8 hours) – Achieves tender, fall-apart meat.
  • Moist heat – Cooking methods like braising, roasting and slow cooking keep the meat juicy.

This results in incredibly flavorful, tender and juicy roast beef that can be sliced thin and piled high for sandwiches and platters.

Buying Quality Deli Roast Beef

When purchasing pre-sliced roast beef at the deli counter, here are some signs of quality to look for:

  • Color – Should be a pink to deep red. Pale meat is overcooked.
  • Marbling – Some fat streaking is good. Adds moisture and flavor.
  • Moisture – Should look moist. Dry, cracked meat is over-roasted.
  • Aroma – Should smell beefy and seasoned. No off odors.
  • Texture – Should slice thinly and feel tender, not tough.
  • Packaging – Should be wrapped tightly to prevent drying out.

For optimal freshness and food safety, use deli roast beef within 3-5 days of purchase. Refrigeration is key to maintaining quality and preventing bacterial growth.

Popular Ways to Enjoy Deli Roast Beef

From sandwiches to salads and appetizers, the possibilities are endless when it comes to enjoying deli roast beef! Here are some popular ways to put pre-sliced roast beef from the deli counter to delicious use:

  • Roast beef sandwiches – Pile high on crusty bread, rolls or toasted baguette. Add cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard, horseradish sauce.

  • Roast beef wraps – Spread mayo, mustard or hummus in a tortilla or flatbread. Top with roast beef and veggies for a quick meal.

  • Roast beef platters – Artfully arrange slices of roast beef with crackers, bread and condiments for an appetizer.

  • Roast beef salads – Toss roast beef into fresh green salads, pasta salads or potato salads.

  • Roast beef appetizers – Roll up with cream cheese and green onions. Fold into mini phyllo cups. Stack on crostini.

  • Roast beef panini – Grill roast beef and melted provolone or Swiss between slices of crusty bread.

How To Make Perfect Deli-Style Roast Beef At Home


What cut does deli roast beef come from?

Most delis roast lean cuts of meat, usually bottom, top or eye round from the cow’s rump, an economical choice. I tested all three, roasting them low and slow so they stayed juicy and rare. All made very fine sandwiches.

What is the best cut of meat for sliced roast beef?

A hot roast demands plenty of marbling so that the rich fat can melt and baste the meat with its goodness. Roast beef sandwiches work better made from a leaner cut, preferably one with a mineral, earthy taste and a nice chew. A top loin roast is ideal.

What cut of meat is boar’s head roast beef?

This tender cut is roasted to soft, buttery perfection for a time honored flavor. Boar’s Head Filet of Roast Beef is expertly seasoned to accent the rich, beef taste in every slice.

Why does deli roast beef taste different?

That’s because the best cut for a cold roast beef sandwich is not the beef served hot from the oven. A hot slab of beef wants to be marbled with fat, so that fat can melt and baste the meat with all its richness and good flavor. Think of a rib roast: fatty, juicy and sublime.

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