We get it — fast food is quick and easy and convenient. There are plenty of times in life when the drive-thru is the only option for squeezing in meals with a busy schedule, or staving off hunger on a long road trip. But sometimes you want to chow down on something a little more original than a burger and fries, or yet another spicy chicken sandwich. That’s where Arby’s comes in. The home of the Classic Beef ‘N Cheddar built its reputation on offering an out-of-the-box fast food menu celebrating all things meat, giving customers an alternative to the hamburger in the form of roast beef.
Today, Arby’s has grown into the second biggest sandwich restaurant brand in the world. What started as a single sandwich shop in Boardman, Ohio in 1964 has grown to span nine countries, with more than 3,500 restaurants selling 130 million pounds of meat to carnivorous customers every year (via Drovers). While a lot has evolved for Arby’s over the years, what hasn’t changed is the company’s signature roast beef sandwich, which has been made from the same recipe for the last 40 years (via Business Insider).
Clearly, Arby’s is doing something right with their roast beef. So what is it about their signature staple that made the chain a household name? Mashed took a deep dive to figure out why we can’t get enough of Arby’s roast beef and understand what it is that makes this classic so delicious.
Arby’s roast beef is 100% real, despite the rumors you may have heard
Fast food meat doesn’t always get the best rap, and that’s for good reason sometimes. From McDonald’s to Wendy’s to Taco Bell, no one is immune to scrutiny, and that includes Arby’s. But despite the rumors that have swirled around, Arby’s roast beef is made with 100% real beef, and that’s obviously the primary reason that it’s so good. No filler, no fake protein, and certainly no liquid meat.
Snopes laid out documented research to bust that myth, after speaking with a representative from Arby’s along with a number of workers. All of them confirmed that "Arby’s Roast Beef consists entirely of beef." The report suggested that the way the beef is packaged when it arrives at the restaurants may have lent to some of the confusion, and other sources online have also come to Arby’s defense and assured fans of the chain that the roast beef they know and love is, in fact, roast beef.
Arby’s roast beef is slow roasted in-house
Real meat is a great place to start, but that alone does not make for great beef. That’s why Arby’s prepares their roast beef in the restaurant every day (via Business Insider), making sure it’s always fresh and done right. In the words of one franchise owner in New York (via The Post-Journal), Arby’s is serving up "slow-roasted, lean roast beef, that we cook in-house all day long," to ensure that, "every time that someone comes in to get a roast beef sandwich… they are getting a quality fresh product." Snopes, in its efforts to debunk the liquid meat myth, also confirmed that Arby’s workers back in the kitchen have the routine job of placing all the roasts sent to the restaurant each day onto cooking sheets to roast for about three hours. The roasts have to cool for a bit afterward, and then they’re ready to slice and serve on some sandwiches.
Arby’s roast beef is marinated in a bag to keep it super juicy
Let’s revisit the Arby’s liquid meat myth one last time. A big part of what led to the confusion is actually all part of Arby’s method for ensuring your roast beef sandwich is nice and juicy every time you bite into it. All the roasts that will eventually be sliced up and piled between two buns are delivered to Arby’s restaurants in sealed plastic bags before they are cooked. An Arby’s rep told Snopes that those bags, which fed rumors of a gelatinous blob, are actually full of a "self-basting solution, which contains just enough water to keep the product juicy throughout our restaurants’ 3-hour roasting process and during slicing."
A peek inside an Arby’s kitchen, via Business Insider, confirms that all the beef is roasted inside the bags. This process allows the roasts to cook through faster and more evenly, marinating in beefy juices the whole time (via Livestrong).
Arby’s roast beef is sliced to order
It would certainly ruin a perfectly juicy, marinated, and slow-roasted beef sandwich if all that meat was sliced up too soon and left to dry out, becoming stale and losing flavor. So Arby’s knows that a key to its legendary roast beef sandwiches is freshly slicing its meat in store, every day, something it’s been doing since it opened its doors in 1964.
The company has said, and employees confirm, that all of Arby’s roast beef is weighed and sliced to order, hopefully ensuring that every sandwich contains maximum meat, and maximum flavor and texture. It may mean a little extra work to make each sandwich, but it makes a big difference in quality. At least one former employee boasted about just how much this set Arby’s apart, writing on Reddit that "all of the roast beef is cooked daily and sliced to order just moments before it gets on the sandwich and into your hands. I know this sounds like Arby’s propaganda, but it’s the absolute truth and one of the reasons why I was proud to work there compared to other fast-food."
Arby’s roast beef is made with flavorful spices
A roast beef sandwich from Arby’s has a distinct flavor that you can’t get anywhere else, and it’s not just because of the onion roll or the added cheese sauce. Arby’s uses its own blend of seasonings to give its roast beef a unique taste that goes right down to the slice. And you can bet the chain that stakes its whole reputation on having "the meats" knows exactly how to season it the right way.
According to Arby’s, their beef is coated with pepper, garlic, onion powder, and other spices. All those seasonings work their way deep into the tissue of the meat, infusing flavor through the hours-long roasting process. It’s nothing fancy or complicated, but for some reason, it just works. Sometimes it’s the simplest ingredients that make the tastiest things. Especially when those ingredients are pepper, onion, and garlic.
Arby’s is committed to sustainable beef
Arby’s has made it clear that it is committed to supporting and providing sustainable beef, and it’s hoping you can taste the difference in each roast beef sandwich. The company is a member of the U.S.Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, which puts forward initiatives to improve beef sustainability across the board — that means everything from "water resources, land resources, animal health and well-being, employee safety and well-being, efficiency and yield and air and greenhouse gas emissions," according to the industry-wide framework put forward in 2019.
Beyond all the benefits to people and the environment that come from more sustainable beef production, there’s also another important incentive. Sustainable beef is produced from cows that are ethically and humanely farmed — usually fed organically and pasture-raised. And there’s scientific data to suggest that sustainably farmed cows, which tend to live happier, healthier lives than industrially raised cattle, produce better tasting, higher quality meat (via The Independent).
You can get Arby’s roast beef all done up with cheese sauce
If there’s one thing better than an Arby’s roast beef sandwich — one thing that may be even more beloved by fans of the meat — it’s an Arby’s Classic Beef ‘N Cheddar sandwich. As the chain describes it, "we took our famous roast beef, topped it with Cheddar cheese sauce and zesty Red Ranch and served it on a toasted onion roll." While there are several ways you can get your roast beef at Arby’s, we’d argue the cheesier the better. The sauce is rich and creamy and slightly tangy, and it’s the perfect complement to the hearty, umami flavor of the roast beef. Then the Red Ranch sauce, made with tomato, paprika, and tons of vinegar, cuts through all that cheese and meat, balancing out every bite. Throw in a side of those signature curly fries, and it’s everything you want in a flavorful, fast-food meal.
You can also dress up Arby’s roast beef with signature sauces
Maybe you’re not a cheese person, and that’s okay. There are other ways you can take a roast beef sandwich from Arby’s over the edge. The chain makes several sauces designed to do just that. You can’t go wrong with Arby’s Sauce — the chain’s original signature sauce. It’s zesty, tangy and a little bit sweet, made with tomato, garlic, spices and vinegar. There’s definitely a barbecue vibe to it, but it’s still unique in its own Arby’s style. And when you’re having a sandwich stuffed full of salty roast beef, the slightly sugary and acidic notes make it the ultimate flavor pairing.
Of course, if you like things a little bolder, Arby’s has its own take on the classic roast beef and horseradish pairing. Arby’s Horsey Sauce is creamy and tangy with a kick, made with eggs, mustard, spices, and horseradish. And you can always throw all caution to the wind and jazz up your roast beef sandwich with both sauces.
Fat, salt, and sugar make everything taste better
If you’re wondering why it’s so hard to resist a trip through the drive-thru for some chicken nuggets, a burger, or a load of hot, fresh french fries, it’s not just due to a lack of discipline. There’s some serious science behind why our fast food favorites are so crave-inducing, including those heaping piles of Arby’s roast beef. Fat, sugar, and salt are all problematic in high amounts, yet they are also a big factor in what makes food so delicious. Salt enhances the natural flavors of food and keeps meat juicy (via Fine Cooking). Data shows that sugar plays a big role in balancing all the different tastes that go into any one food. And fat, well it just makes things better all around. And not just in your head — there’s new science showing that we can, in fact, taste fat.
So it’s worth noting that the ingredients list confirms Arby’s roast beef itself is made with added sugar and salt. And a quick peek at the nutritional makeup of Arby’s roast beef provides some major insight on why it’s so delicious. A single, small roast beef sandwich contains 360 calories, 14 grams of fat (including 5 grams of saturated fat), 970 milligrams of sodium, and 5 grams of sugar. Upgrade your sandwich to a Beef ‘N Cheddar, and you’re looking at 450 calories, 20 grams of fat, 1280 milligrams of sodium, and 9 grams of sugar.
You can get a lot of roast beef in every bite
If you’re in the mood for a roast beef sandwich, chances are you’re pretty hungry. And when your appetite gears up for something that hearty, the last thing you want is a skimpy sandwich. A few measly slices of thin meat just isn’t going to cut it. And Arby’s knows that. "In the end what built the Arby’s brand were big, meaty sandwiches," Arby’s Chief Marketing Officer told Drovers. To that end, he says the company has always been focused not just on "the quality of the food," but also "the abundance of meat in the sandwich."
That’s why each and every Arby’s roast beef sandwich gets measured as the beef is sliced, ensuring you’re getting maximum meat in every bite. And Arby’s also knows that some people need more meat than others to fill them up. So they offer their classic roast beef sandwich, as well as their Beef ‘N Cheddar sandwich, in a regular size-sandwich, a larger sandwich that’s double the size of the regular, as well as a mega-sandwich with a whopping half-pound of roast beef on it.
Arby’s has been and always will be dedicated to meat
Perhaps above all else, Arby’s roast beef is so delicious because the company cares so much that it is. Arby’s has been looking to do what others weren’t from the very beginning and has built a legacy of doing things their own way that goes right back to the founders. Since it first opened, Arby’s has cemented its place in the crowded fast food market as the destination for meat lovers, and it is committed to leaning into that distinction, even as the winds of change blow. "Our brand has always been about big meat, high-protein sandwiches," Arby’s president Rob Lynch told USA Today, adding that "some of our competitors have struggled the last few years. They’re trying to be everything to everyone…we’re sticking with our strategy."
To that end, Arby’s is one of the only chains out there that has definitely stepped away from the growing trend of plant-based meat alternatives. In fact, when addressing a rumor that Arby’s was in talks with Impossible Foods back in 2019, the company boldly stated that "the chances we will bring plant-based menu items to our restaurants, now or in the future, are absolutely impossible." Instead, Arby’s will stay focused on the meats — specifically the beef. According to Arby’s CMO (via Angus Media), "the American consumer’s appetite for beef has never been bigger… we will continue to push the envelope on ways America can enjoy beef."