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Culinary Arts

How to Cook a Perfect Pot Roast

Written by MasterClass

Sep 12, 2018 • 6 min read

Written by MasterClass

Sep 12, 2018 • 6 min read

Pot roast is the ultimate way to feed a crowd. A cheap, lean, tough cut of beef stewed for a long time with vegetables and broth becomes succulent and tender, and fills your house with warm, inviting smells. Pot roasts are great weeknight meals. Simply add all the ingredients to a slow cooker or Crock Pot and you’ll have dinner ready when you get home from work.

Best Cuts of Meat for Pot Roast

Lean meats, which are low on fat and high on connective tissue, make the best pot roasts. This is opposite of what you would look for when purchasing a steak, for example, where you would want a piece of meat with a lot of fat. For a pot roast, choose a cut that comes from a muscular part of the animal, like a chuck roast (from the shoulders), shanks (from the legs), or a top and bottom round (from the rear). These parts of the animal become tough with movement, while burning fat and building up collagen and connective tissue. That connective tissue is going to become gelatinous when cooking, which helps tenderize the meat.

For some science: When meat cooks, the muscle fibers tense and release moisture. A steak is cooked quickly because the fat in the cut of meat helps the muscle maintain juiciness through a quick cooking process. If you were to cook a chuck roast as you would a steak, the meat would be tough and stringy because there isn’t enough fat to counteract the water. But, when slowly cooking a lean cut of meat in a moist environment (like when making a crock pot roast), the collagen breaks down into gelatin and tenderizes the meat.

Pot Roast Recipe Seasonings and Ingredients

Once you’ve selected which type of meat you want to use for your pot roast, the spice mixture and liquid base is crucial in determining how your pot roast will turn out. Many different cultures have their own variation on pot roast, from Irish corned beef to the Italian wine-based osso buco, to a peppery five spice Chinese roast. There are regional and cultural varieties even within the United States, like a Jewish roast with tomatoes, a Tennessee roast with barbeque sauce, and a Mississippi roast with ranch dressing and pepperoncini. The combination of spice mixtures and liquid bases is nearly endless, so experiment away once you find flavor profiles you like.

For a classic pot roast, season the roast simply with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. You can use water and bouillon cubes as your liquid base, or use homemade or store bought stock instead (beef or vegetable are equally great). Add an onion, sliced into half moons, some slivered carrots, and a cubed potato, which all add flavor to the roast and make great side dishes when serving.

Wine is something many people add to their pot roast, as it enhances the herbal aromas. The best wine for pot roast is something you would drink at home yourself, preferably a red wine from Bordeaux like a Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, or even a Carménère. Adding wine is totally optional, however, but if you do add wine use a splash—no more than a cup.

The liquid base makes for a great gravy once the roast is cooked. If, after cooking, you find that the liquid is not thick enough for your liking, whisk in some cornstarch or flour and butter to thicken it up.

Ways to Cook Pot Roast

The easiest way to cook a pot roast is in a slow cooker or Crock Pot. Simply add whatever ingredients you need to make your pot roast, set the slow cooker on low for about eight hours and you’ll have a delicious roast filling your stomach and making your home smell inviting. Slow cookers maintain an even temperature throughout the cooking process, resulting in perfectly cooked meat without the risk of burning. The biggest advantage of cooking a roast in a slow cooker is that you don’t need to tend to the cooking—you can keep the slow cooker on while you go about your day.

A roast can also be cooked in the oven or over the stove using a dutch oven—a large, heavy, thick-walled pot with a lid, usually made out of cast iron. Cooking a pot roast on the stove or in the oven saves time, taking about half the time it would in a slow cooker, but you’re bound to the the kitchen during this time to watch over the cooking.

Techniques for Cooking Pot Roast

While making a pot roast is very easy and requires minimal labor and preparation, there are a few tips and techniques that can bring out even more delicious flavor in your meal.

  1. Buy the right kind of meat. As mentioned above, choose lean meat with good amount of connective tissue, like a brisket, round roast, or chuck roast.
  2. The absolute “must-do” thing before cooking any pot roast is to brown the meat before roasting it. There is some debate about whether this actually helps the meat seal in moisture, but what it really does is provide you with charred brown bits of meat, which helps enhance the flavor.
  3. After searing the meat, deglaze the pan or dutch oven (if cooking in the oven or stovetop) using onions and wine. In the same pan used to brown the meat, add some sliced onions and cook them down. Once they are cooked, add a little wine to the pan and stir, cooking off the alcohol. This process will help pull some of the browned bits of meat and any remaining grease off the bottom of the pan. Add the mixture to your slow cooker, or keep in the dutch oven if using to roast.
  4. While you can certainly throw all your vegetables into the pot from the beginning and leave them to cook with the meat, they may get mushy by the end of such a long cooking process. If you are able, and have the time, put the vegetables into the pot about an hour to an hour and a half after you’ve begun cooking the meat. Just be sure to have all the vegetables ready to throw into the pot as soon as you open the lid so you do not lose too much heat and moisture.

Side Dishes for Pot Roast

With meat and vegetables all in one dish, pot roast is very nearly a complete meal in itself. Since those ingredients are all cooked together, however, they will all have similar flavors and consistencies. To mix your meal up, add a fabulous side dish. What you add depends on what kind of pot roast you are making. But for a classic pot roast, the typical side dish is mashed potatoes or buttered egg noodles. For a starch that is a bit different, try making polenta, which has the effect of mashed potatoes (like a starchy vehicle to scoop up your roast with), but also has a slightly grainy texture. For a healthier side dish with pot roast, try serving green beans and slivered almonds.

Recipe: Classic Slow Cooker Pot Roast

Ingredients

  • 1 4-pound roast (chuck, brisket, top or bottom round)
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • ⅓ cup flour, plus additional for coating
  • 3 tbs. olive oil
  • 4 carrots, peeled cut into 2-3 inch pieces (note: do not use baby carrots)
  • 3 celery stalks, cut into 2-3 inch pieces
  • 1 pound potatoes, cut evenly into 3-4 inch pieces (preferably russett, new potatoes, or red potatoes)
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 3 ½ cups beef or vegetable broth
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 large onion, cut into ½ inch half moons

Equipment

  • 1 medium or large pan
  • 1 slow cooker or Crock Pot

Salt and pepper your roast on all sides. Cover the roast in flour, shaking off any excess flour.

Heat a medium to large pan on medium-high heat. Add two tablespoons of olive oil. Cook the roast on all sides until golden brown all around, about 8-10 minutes total.

Transfer the roast to the slow cooker along with carrots, celery, potatoes, garlic, tomato paste, broth, bay, and thyme. Or, add the carrots and potatoes about an hour after the other ingredients and the meat.

Add the remaining oil to the pan. Cook the onions in the pan until barely translucent, about 4 minutes. Add half the wine and stir onions and wine together. Add to slow cooker along with remaining wine.

Cook in slow cooker on low for 8 hours. Remove the meat and vegetables from the slow cooker. Discard the bay leaves and thyme. Transfer sauce to the pan. Over medium-high heat, add the flour to the pan and simmer until it is to your desired thickness for gravy.

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