Pot roast was a standard growing up, and still continues to be in my parents' household. It requires slow cooking over low heat to ensure tender, flavorful meat.
What Makes the Best Pot Roast?
Pot roasts typically use the tougher cuts of beef—a chuck roast or shoulder roast—which have the most flavor. Slow cooking at low heat is what melts the tough connective tissue between the muscle fibers, leaving you with tender meat that pulls apart with your fork.
For pot roasts, and other slow cooked tough meats, fat is your friend! Not only does fat deliver flavor, it helps keep the meat from drying out in the long slow cooking. So look for cuts that are well marbled with fat.
Another tip? Let the roast sit (wrapped) for one to two hours outside of the refrigerator so that it comes closer to room temperature (between 65 and 70°F) before cooking. Otherwise, it will take a lot longer to cook at the low heat called for in this recipe.
How Much Liquid Do You Need?
This is my mother's tried and true recipe for pot roast and she only adds a half cup of liquid to the pot! Why does this work?
Beef is about 60 to 70% water (the rest is protein and fat). So if you keep the heat very low and the pot tightly covered, the beef will release water as it cooks, and it will cook in its own juices.
The result? A deeper beef flavor for your pot roast. The key is keeping the temperature low and making sure the lid is tight fitting. Otherwise, too much vapor will escape from the pot and you'll have a dry pot roast.
This recipe calls for 1/2 cup of red wine for the liquid. Use whatever red wine you like to drink. The wine will add a richer flavor to the roast, but if you don't have wine on hand or would prefer to cook without it, you can substitute the wine with water or broth.
Can I Make This Pot Roast Other Ways?
My mother cooks her pot roast on the stovetop, but you can make it in the oven, a slow cooker, or a pressure cooker.
- If you're cooking in the oven, brown the meat and onions, and bring to a simmer first on the stovetop. Then put in the oven, start the temp at 350°F for 15 minutes, then drop it to 250°F for the next hour, and then to 225°F after that.
- If you're using a slow cooker, brown the meat and the onions, and transfer to the slow cooker. Follow the recipe as written, cooking on high for 4 to 5 hours or on low for 8 to 9 hours.
- If you're using a pressure cooker, brown the meat and onions (if using an Instant Pot you can do that right in the cooker itself), then cook at high pressure for 65 minutes, then allow a natural release for 15 minutes. Check the instructions in our Instant Pot Pot Roast with Balsamic and Rosemary recipe.
Note! If you have a gas range, you may find difficulty getting the flame low enough. A tip I read in Cook's Illustrated suggests tightly rolling up some aluminum foil, shaping it into a donut, and putting that on top of the burner to create a little more distance between the range and the pan. If you use a high-BTU range, even this may not be enough, in which case I recommend starting the roast on the stovetop and moving it to the oven to cook.
Can I Add Potatoes to This Pot Roast?
The issue with the potatoes is that they may fall apart with the long, slow cooking of the pot roast. If I wanted to add potatoes, I would use firmer new potatoes instead of Russets (they'll hold their shape better). Cut them in half over 1 1/2 inches in diameter, and into quarters if larger.
I would heat the potatoes first (so they don’t lower the temperature inside the pot when you add them) in the microwave or in the oven on a roasting sheet, and then add them to the pot roast the last hour of cooking.
Who Doesn't Love a Good Pot Roast?
- Moroccan Pot Roast
- Beef Brisket Pot Roast
- Pressure Cooker Pot Roast with Balsamic and Rosemary
- Italian Pot Roast
- 3 1/2 pound of beef shoulder or boneless chuck roast (look for a piece that is well marbled with fat for best results)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning to taste
- 2 large yellow onions, thickly sliced, lengthwise (root to tip), about 4 cups sliced onion
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 bay leaf
- Several carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch segments
Brown the roast on all sides:
Use a thick-bottomed covered pot (ovenproof if you intend to cook in oven), such as a Dutch oven, just large enough to hold roast and vegetables. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil on medium high heat (hot enough to sear the meat).
Pat the roast dry with paper towels. Sprinkle and rub salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning all over the meat. Brown roast in pot, all over, several minutes on each side. Don't move the roast while a side is browning, or it won't brown well.
Brown the onions, add garlic, carrots:
When roast is browned, remove from pan and set on a plate. Add the onions to the pan and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes, until they begin to brown. Add the garlic and carrots to sit on top of the onions.
Add roast and simmer:
Set the roast on top of the onions, garlic and carrots. Add 1/2 cup of red wine. Add the bay leaf and cover.
Bring to simmer and then adjust the heat down to the lowest heat possible to maintain a bare simmer when covered (we cook our roast on the warm setting of our electric range).
Tip: If you use a gas range, you may find difficulty getting the flame low enough to maintain a bare simmer. In this case, roll up some aluminum foil tightly, shape it into a donut, and put it on top of the burner to create a little more distance between the range and the pan. If you use a high-BTU range, you may want to cook the roast in the oven instead.
(If cooking in the oven, bring to a simmer first on the stovetop, then put in the oven, start the temp at 350°F for 15 minutes, then drop it to 250°F for the next hour, and then to 225°F after that.)
Cook several hours until fork tender and serve:
Cook for 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours, or longer, until meat is tender.
After 3 1/2 hours, the meat will release a lot of liquid, which comes from slow cooking at a very low temperature. If your pot roast is too dry, make sure the pan you are using has a tight fitting lid and that you are cooking at the lowest possible heat to maintain the low simmer.
Serve with green beans and potatoes.