There’s no easier, more satisfying way to feed a family than a classic pot roast. It’s inexpensive, relatively easy to make, and follows a “set it and forget it” method.
Pot roast has long been the main feature of many Sunday family dinners. It’s easy to see why — pot roast uses tougher, and therefore more affordable cuts of meat. You could purchase a four-to-five pound roast, feed a family and still have leftovers for the week without cutting into your budget.
What is pot roast?
Pot roast isn’t a cut of meat itself. It’s a savory, braised beef dish made by browning the meat before cooking it “low and slow” in a covered casserole dish or Dutch oven. In most recipes, you will brown the roast on the stovetop first, then transfer it to the oven or a slow cooker.
To prevent the roast from drying out, you will add liquid (such as beef stock, broth, or water) to the bottom of the dish holding the roast. To make it a complete meal, many people add chopped-up potatoes or vegetables to the dish, cooking it along with the roast.
Selecting the best pot roast
Here’s something you probably weren’t expecting: The tougher the cut, the better the pot roast.
You may be accustomed to selecting tender, juicy steaks from the meat counter. With pot roast, the exact opposite rules apply. Tougher cuts of meat have lots of tough connective tissue. When you cook the roast at a low temperature for a long period of time, the tissues soften.
Cooking a good pot roast requires a great deal of patience. You can’t rush the process — cooking at a slightly higher temperature for a shorter period of time will result in a tough, dried-out dinner. Allowing the meat to simmer for hours results in the tender, melt-in-your-mouth roast you’ve been craving.
The best cut of meat for pot roast
To select your roast, choose a tough cut with abundant marbling. Here are our top picks:
A boneless chuck roast is our first pick for pot roast. It has outstanding marbling, making the roast tender and juicy when braised. Cut from the shoulder just above the short rib, it is a tougher, albeit more affordable cut than those from the front part of the animal, like the sirloin or short loin.
Other cuts that are either the same (under a different name) or come from the same area are the chuck eye, blade roast, shoulder roast, shoulder steak, arm steak, arm roast, cross-rib roast, or seven-bone roast. Some butchers also sell the chuck generically labeled as “pot roast.”
While brisket is most known for barbecue recipes and typically cooked in a smoker, it makes an outstanding pot roast. Cut from the chest, or the lower, front portion of the animal, brisket has abundant fat that works well in a roast. If you are feeding a family, keep in mind that compared to the chuck, brisket comes with a premium price tag.
Other similar cuts include the flat cut, beef brisket flat half, and beef brisket point half.
The bottom round roast is typically used for roast beef but can make an excellent pot roast. This roast comes from the round primal or the rear part of the cow. It is leaner than either the brisket or chuck, so you may need to add some additional fat to prevent your pot roast from drying out.
The cut can also be called bottom round, rump roast, or London broil — when it is cut into steaks.
How to cook a pot roast
The best way to cook a pot roast is through a technique called braising. Here, we explain how to braise in depth.
Brown the edges
First, light a large skillet on the stovetop over medium heat. Drizzle a little olive oil or fat in the saucepan. Once the pan is hot, place your roast in the skillet for 1-2 minutes, or until the bottom starts to brown. Flip your roast and continue the process until all sides are brown.
Cook low and slow
Transfer your roast to a large casserole dish or Dutch oven. Add enough beef broth or water (or combination of the two) to cover half the roast. Place the lid on your dish, and place inside a preheated oven (your oven should be set to 250-300 F, depending upon the recipe).
Make it a complete meal
Halfway through your cooking time (typically two hours, at minimum) add chopped vegetables to dish for a complete meal. We like adding potatoes, celery, onions, parsley, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, and freshly ground black pepper to ours. Once added, place the lid back over your dish and return to the oven.
Other ways to prepare a pot roast
If you lead a busy schedule, a Crock-Pot or slow cooker works just as well as an oven. Simply assemble your dinner as you would in a Dutch oven, layering in the roast, broth, and vegetables. Cook on low for 6-8 hours (some recipes will call for 10 hours — ideal for those who work long days).
Forgot to prep your pot roast this morning? If you own an instant pot, you can make an entire pot roast in just one hour. We’ve included such a recipe at the bottom of this post (see “Instant pot beef pot roast” below).
You can change up your recipe by swapping in different vegetables or adding a dry red wine to the sauce. Or, pair with mashed potatoes and use the excess liquid at the bottom of the dish to make homemade gravy.
Our favorite pot roast recipes
There are plenty of recipes available online for making pot roast. Below, we included a few of our favorites:
Choose whichever recipe works best for your family, budget, and schedule. Let us know which one is your favorite.