5 Mistakes to Avoid When Cooking Pot Roast

published Mar 29, 2017
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(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

I did not grow up eating pot roast, a fact much lamented by my husband who puts pot roast on his long list of favorite foods from his childhood. In the early years of our relationship, I tried regularly to impress him with a luscious, fork-tender recipe like the one he grew up eating. Many mistake=riddled dishes of mushy vegetables and stringy meat followed before I finally learned a proper technique for this beloved dish.

I tell you this only to disprove the folks who swear that pot roast is something you can’t screw up and to share the mistakes I made over many years so you never have to make them yourself.

1. Using the wrong roast.

Tough, inexpensive cuts of beef are best for pot roast, which means you can use almost any cut of beef, right? Unfortunately the cuts of beef without sufficient connective tissue will either be too tough or turn to mush in a long, slow oven braise.

Buy these roasts instead: Look for a chuck, brisket, or round roast for pot roast. They each contain enough connective tissues that will slowly break down into rich collagen, tenderizing the beef and flavoring the gravy as they cook.

2. Not browning the roast.

Browning a relatively large roast feels like an arduous task, and since many argue that searing does nothing to make a roast juicer, it is tempting to skip the step all together.

Do it for the browned bits: Browning, not searing, is a pure flavor enhancer that costs you nothing more than a few extra minutes at the stovetop. Plus the browned bits are the culinary equivalent to gold — just a little bit goes a long way to make the overall dish even better. Brown the roast in the same pot you’ll braise the beef in after deglazing.

3. Deglazing with just broth.

Deglazing releases all those lovely browned bits created while browning the roast, but while a pot roast built entirely on beef broth will be beefy, it will also taste a bit flat and one-note after braising.

Use broth plus this instead: Use red wine (or even red wine vinegar) for the first phase of deglazing. Add beef broth, a bit of tomato paste, and fresh herbs before covering the pot roast and cooking the beef.

4. Cooking the vegetables too long.

I long thought of pot roast as a one-pot wonder in which I could throw all my ingredients into a pot and the right amount of time would magically make my pot roast and its vegetables fork-tender at the same time. Many mushy vegetables later I learned that the beef should swim solo for a while in the braising liquid before the vegetables go in to cook.

Timing is everything: Cook the beef roast for 1 1/2 to 2 hours before the carrots and potatoes (or parsnip, turnips, or other hearty vegetables) go into the pot.

5. Not thickening the gravy.

Gravy, I think, is one of the great distinctions between beef stew and pot roast. The liquid from pot roast should be thick and velvety — not just slightly thickened like stew. The challenge is finding a method for thickening the gravy post-braise that won’t cause lumps or dirty another pan.

Try this instead: Make a paste of softened butter and flour and whisk it into the braising liquid after braising. This paste is similar to roux — the butter coating the flour prevents lumps — but goes by the name beurre manié.

Do you have any other tips for making the best pot roast? Let us know in the comments!