Pot roast is probably one of your family’s favorites. It’s inexpensive and easy on the cook since there’s very little active cooking time. Nathaniel Lee of Beginner Food shares with us a recipe for a slow cooker pot roast that’s different from many recipes. Lee’s mission is to create ways to intensify the flavors of any dish, and braising is one of his favorite methods.
"Braises exemplify a huge spectrum of skills and techniques to maximize flavors and texture," he told us. Lee’s pot roast recipe is mostly "set it and forget it," but he adds a couple of preliminary steps that take pot roast to a new level of deliciousness. You do have to plan ahead a couple of days, but you’re not actually doing anything but letting the roast absorb salt in the refrigerator. Lee builds layers of flavor by searing the beef and caramelizing the vegetables first.
After those simple first steps, all you need to do is enjoy the aromas wafting from your slow cooker and a few hours later, dig in to a fall-apart pot roast with a luscious gravy. Gather together the ingredients, and let’s get started!
Gather together the ingredients for the slow cooker pot roast
The beauty of Lee’s recipe is that only a few ingredients add tremendous flavor to the beef. Two cuts of beef are usually used for pot roast: round roast (top or bottom) and chuck roast. Round roast is leaner, and it can be carved into even slices. Chuck roast is well-marbled with fat and gelatin and falls apart into chunks when it’s braised. Lee prefers the chuck because of its robust beefy flavor, so look for a roast that’s about three pounds in weight.
When the chuck roast cooks, the fat and gelatin melt, so your finished pot roast will shrink somewhat, but you’ll still have plenty of meat for eight servings. You will probably have the other ingredients in your pantry, and as Lee told us "you could take the raw ingredients, and throw them into the slow cooker and still end up with a pretty good pot roast." But he highly recommends dry-brining the beef first. "This little extra step gives you so much more flavor in the final dish."
Dry brine, and sear the beef for the slow cooker pot roast
First, you’ll dry-brine the chuck roast for one to three days in the refrigerator. It sounds complicated, but all you do is sprinkle kosher salt over the roast, lay it in a baking dish or drying rack, and put it in the fridge. Lee recommends dry-brining any large cut of meat, and as he explained to us: "Dry-brining relaxes the fibers in the muscle tissue (which normally contract when not dry-brined) and prevents moisture from being squeezed out of the meat during high-heat cooking." So, basically, dry-brining keeps the meat juicy, concentrates its flavor, and maximizes the roast’s tenderness.
Once it’s been dry-brined, the next step is searing the beef. It’s not an essential step, but it will heighten the roast’s flavor. There are natural sugars and proteins in beef, and when you sear the roast, the Maillard reaction breaks down the proteins and creates a savory brown crust that adds complexity to the slow-cooked beef and gravy. Before searing the roast (on a grill, cast iron skillet, or under the broiler), coat it with vegetable oil and black pepper. Next, sear the beef on all sides — if necessary, using tongs to hold the roast up — for two to three minutes per side. When you’re done searing, transfer the roast to your slow cooker.
Chop the veggies for the slow cooker pot roast
There really isn’t much prep for this slow cooker pot roast, but Lee does add a couple of easy cheffy touches to getting the veggies ready. The first one is peeling the carrots with a vegetable peeler. It’s not absolutely necessary, but peeled carrots will make a prettier presentation when you’re serving the pot roast. But peeling the carrots isn’t just about making them good-looking. When cooked, a carrot’s skin shrivels and toughens, and can leave a bitter after-taste.
Once you’ve peeled the carrots, slice them into 1/2-inch coins. Move on to the onion: Simply peel it and give it a rough chop. Don’t add the carrots and onion to the pot yet; you’re going to caramelize them first. Lee only uses fresh rosemary as the herb for his pot roast. The other chef trick is to strip the rosemary leaves off the branch, and then finely chop them. Avoid taking a shortcut and chopping the rosemary off the branch, unless you want to be pulling out bits of stem later.
Caramelize the onion and carrot for the slow cooker pot roast
A lot of other recipes for pot roast instruct you to just toss the carrots and onions in the slow cooker. But if you’re taking time to bump up the beef’s flavor, why not do the same with the veggies? "Every bit of complexity we get in the meat, we want the exact same from the onion and carrots," Lee told us. Many vegetables are loaded with natural sugars, and when they’re heated, the sugars are released and brown, as if you were making caramel, which is why the process is called caramelization. Caramelization makes vegetables taste sweeter with a toasted nuttiness that adds depth of flavor to a stew or braise like this recipe.
After you’ve prepped the aromatics, heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and onion to the skillet, and cook them for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they’re a deep golden brown. It’s okay if they’ve caramelized too much (meaning, a little burnt around the edges); this will add even more flavor to the pot roast. When you’ve finished caramelizing the carrots and onions, transfer them to the slow cooker, scattering them around the beef.
Add the wine and other ingredients for the slow cooker pot roast
At this point your prep work is done. Pour in the wine, Worcestershire sauce, beef stock, and stir in the can of tomatoes. Set aside 1 teaspoon of the chopped rosemary, which you’ll use later as garnish, and add the remaining rosemary to the pot. Don’t add any salt or pepper just yet because the dry brine of the beef will season the braise. Make sure that you have enough liquid in your slow cooker to cover the beef, and add more beef stock so you just see the top of the meat as if it were bobbing. If you’re using a traditional slow cooker, cover it, and set on high. Lee uses Instant Pot‘s slow cooker function, also set on high. Plan on two hours of cook time per pound of meat, so depending on the size of your roast, let the braise cook for five to eight hours.
Reduce the sauce, and serve the slow cooker pot roast
Once the beef is fork tender, you could serve the pot roast as is. But Lee recommends further intensifying its umami-ness by reducing the sauce. "This concentrates the flavor," he told us, "and creates a more luxurious mouth feel as the fat-to-water ratio increases."
Boosting flavor couldn’t be easier. Simply take the cover off the slow cooker for the last hour of cooking. (If you’re using the Instant Pot, switch over to the sauté function.) Let the sauce reduce by half, then taste it, and add more salt and pepper if needed. Use two spoons to transfer portions to wide-brimmed bowls, and ladle the sauce and vegetables over the top. Finish the dish with a sprinkle of the reserved chopped rosemary. If you feel inclined, you could serve the pot roast with mashed potatoes, which will soak up the delicious gravy. Perfect for fall or winter, Lee’s recipe is sure to be the pot roast that your family will beg you to cook.
- 3-pound beef chuck roast
- 3 tablespoons Kosher salt
- vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large carrot
- 1 yellow onion
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup hearty red wine
- 2 cups beef stock
- Spread the Kosher salt evenly over the beef chuck roast. Transfer the roast to a baking dish and refrigerate for 1 to 3 days (optional but recommended).
- Remove the roast from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking, coat it with vegetable oil, and spread the pepper evenly over the roast. Sear all sides of the roast for 2 to 3 minutes per side on a preheated grill, cast iron skillet, or broiler on high. Transfer the seared roast to the slow cooker.
- Wash and peel the carrots with a vegetable peeler. Slice the carrot into ¼-inch rounds. Peel and roughly chop the onion.
- Strip the rosemary leaves off the stem and finely chop. Set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet on medium-high, then add the sliced carrot and chopped onion. Sauté for 10 minutes until browned and caramelized around the edges. Transfer the carrot and onion to the slow cooker.
- Add the canned tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, red wine, beef stock, and chopped rosemary (save 1 teaspoon for the garnish) to the slow cooker. The liquid should come up to the top of the roast. Add more beef stock if needed.
- Cook on low for 5 to 8 hours until the beef is fork tender (approximately 2 hours per pound).
- Uncover the slow cooker for the last 1 hour, and reduce the cooking liquid and juices by half. Serve the pot roast from the slow cooker, and if desired, garnish with the reserved chopped rosemary.