Perfect Pot Roast

There’s just something about Sunday dinner (also known as Sunday lunch to those of you who don’t live in rural America) in my house. We’ve just survived not only the rush of getting ready for church (and all the frantic shoe-searching and hair-combing that entails), but also making the journey to and from town for church itself. By the time we get home, we’re starving—absolutely starving. If I started from scratch and prepared a feast when we got home, it’d be late afternoon before we got to eat. So for Sunday dinner, I try to have something special all ready to go when we walk through the door.

But I still want it to be special. Sure, we could pick up fried chicken at the grocery store in town, but it’s much nicer to return home to the aroma of a delicious pot roast in the oven. . .or the promise of a savory chicken casserole that’s all ready to bake. And I’m not afraid to break out my nicer china for Sunday dinner. It makes the kids sit up a little straighter.

Sunday around the ranch is exactly what it should be: a time to recharge. No other day during the week would permit a busy ranching family to forsake all fence fixing and cattle working in favor of a leisurely, warm meal with family. . .and a ridiculously long nap on the couch. Before I married a rancher and moved to the country, I always took for granted the importance of Sunday as a time for rest and renewal. Now I’m convinced it’s as vital to our survival as anything else.

Perfect Pot Roast

Okay, so that’s an unofficial designation, but people—I want you to embrace the pot roast. I had to, after all. I moved to the country after having had seven glorious years of sushi, Thai food, Gelson’s, and every grocery item I could ever hope for. Then I married a beautiful, strong, brave cowboy whom I love more than life itself but who doesn’t eat anything fun. And then I had four children who don’t eat diddly, either. So I’ve had to learn. I’ve had to learn to embrace the pot roast. And if I can do it. . .you can, too.

I had to kiss a lot of frogs before I found my prince. And I had to make a lot of really bad pot roasts to finally figure the whole dadgum thing out. . .and figure it out I did, thank the Lord above. And the verdict? Pot roast, when made according to a few fundamental rules, can be a savory, delicious addition to your repertoire. There are lots of different but equally delicious ways to make pot roast.

The meat you use is important. My favorite is the chuck roast; it has wonderful marbling throughout the meat, and when given an ample amount of time to cook, chuck roast winds up being tender and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. To understand the importance of adequate cooking time, you must understand that these tougher pieces of meat have lots of connective tissue that will only soften when cooked at a lower temperature for a long period of time. You can’t rush a pot roast; you’ll be disappointed with the result if you try. But if you reach deep down into your soul and find your patience—at least, the patience that was given to you by your Maker regarding the beef-related circumstances in your life—you won’t be disappointed.

Makes 6 servings

  • 2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • One 3- to 5-pound chuck roast
  • 2 onions
  • 6 to 8 carrots
  • Pepper
  • 2 to 2½ cups beef stock
  • 3 or 4 fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 2 or 3 fresh thyme sprigs

1. Preheat the oven to 275ºF.

2. Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and let it get really hot. While it heats, prepare the other ingredients.

3. Generously salt the chuck roast on both sides. I like kosher salt because it adheres more readily to the meat.

4. Cut a couple of onions in half from root to tip. . .

5. Then cut off the tops and bottoms and peel off the papery skin.

6. When the pot is very hot, place the onions in the oil and brown on both sides, about a minute per side. Remove the onions to a plate.

7. Next, thoroughly wash—but don’t peel—the carrots. Cut them roughly into 2-inch slices.

8. Throw the carrots into the same (very hot) pot. Toss them around until slightly brown, about a minute or so. The point here is to get a nice color started on the outside of the vegetables, not to cook them.

9. Remove the carrots from the pot and allow the pot to get really hot again. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan.

10. Pepper the meat to taste, then place the meat in the pot and sear it, about a minute per side. Remove to a plate.

11. Now, with the burner on high, deglaze the pot by adding 1 cup of the beef stock, whisking constantly. The point of deglazing is to loosen all the burned, flavorful bits from the bottom of the pot.

12. When most of the bits are loosened, place the meat back in the pot. . .

13. Followed by the carrots and onions. Pour enough beef stock into the pot to cover the meat halfway.

14. Next, put in the fresh rosemary and thyme sprigs. The fresh herbs absolutely make this dish. Tuck them into the juice to ensure that the flavors are distributed throughout the pot.

15. Now, just cover the pot and roast for 3 to 5 hours, depending on the size of your roast.

For a 3-pound roast, allow for 3 to 3½ hours. For a 5-pound roast, allow for a 4- to 5-hour cooking time. Don’t disrupt the roast during the cooking process.

When the cooking time is over, check the roast for doneness; a fork should go in easily and the meat should be very tender. Remove the meat to a cutting board and slice against the grain.

Place on a plate with vegetables and PW’s Creamy Mashed Potatoes (Supper). And of course, spoon plenty of pan juices over the top. If you looked up “rib-sticking meal” in the dictionary, you’d see this photo. You’ll love it!

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl