How to Make Truly Tender Pot Roast
Take winter's coziest dish and make it a superstar. Our Test Kitchen experts show you how to make pot roast that's fabulously fork-tender.
Photo: Taste of Home
There’s nothing quite as comforting as a pot roast on a cold winter’s day. It’s hard to say exactly what makes it so perfect—is it how that tough meat becomes so juicy and tender as it roasts? Is it the sweetness of the root vegetables? Is it the savory gravy created from the cooking liquid? For me, it’s the culmination of all of the ingredients in this simple one-pot dish, caramelizing together to create a melt-in-your-mouth experience.
It may be hard to believe that a tough chuck roast can break down to be so tender, but we have a fool-proof cooking method that transforms this cut into a fork-friendly meal. Follow along as our Test Kitchen experts share the pro tips and secrets to make a juicy, tender pot roast every time.
How to Make Pot Roast
1 boneless beef chuck-eye or other chuck roast (3 to 4 pounds)
Test Kitchen tip: There are many varieties of beef roast, but we think the chuck-eye cut is best for this dish. It’s tender, flavorful and ideal for a long braise. Can’t find chuck-eye? A standard chuck roast will do just fine.
2 teaspoons pepper
2 teaspoons salt, divided
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 medium onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 celery ribs, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
2 bay leaves
1 cup dry red wine or reduced-sodium beef broth
2 cups reduced-sodium beef broth
1 pound small red potatoes, quartered
4 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
6 medium carrots, cut into 2-in. pieces
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Large Dutch oven
Step 1: Preheat the oven and prep the roast
This roast gets its tender texture from low-and-slow braising. Preheat the oven to 325º, which is a low enough temperature to allow the roast’s tough muscle fibers to relax and become tender as they cook.
To prepare the roast, remove it from the package and pat it dry with a paper towel. This extra step helps you get the best browning when searing, which also adds a layer of flavor to the dish.
Step 2: Truss it up
Photo: Taste of Home
Trussing a roast is an important step because it gives the meat a uniform shape, helping it cook more evenly. If you’ve never trussed meat before, this is a great place to start. A roast is the easiest cut of meat to tie.
Truss the roast by cutting 12 inches or so of kitchen twine. Wrap the string around the roast, about two inches in from the end. Tie a knot at the top and cut the string. Continue to truss at two-inch intervals until the entire roast is tied. Next, season the roast with the pepper and one teaspoon of the salt.
Need more practice? Here’s how to truss a chicken without tying yourself into knots.
Step 3. Give it a nice sear
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While it is rumored that searing meat seals in the juices, this is actually a common kitchen myth. The real reason to sear the meat is to build a layer of caramelization. That’s the stuff that adds a deep depth of flavor for the roast and also creates a fond (the French word for “base”). These roasty bits found at the bottom of your pan are the beginning of any great gravy. (Psst! Our from-scratch gravy recipe is an instant hit.)
In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, brown the roast on all sides. Remove the roast from the pan and add the onions, celery and remaining salt. Cook, stirring to free up all those browned bits, until the onions have softened, 8-10 minutes.
Once the onions are lightly browned, add the garlic, tomato paste, thyme, and bay leaves. Cook for 1 minute, then take a whiff. Is the pot mouthwateringly fragrant? Good. That’s when you’ll know it’s ready.
Step 4. Deglaze the pan
Deglazing the pan is the best way to create a rich, complex, flavorful sauce. When the cold liquid hits the hot pan, it releases any built-up fond from the bottom.
Add the wine, stirring to loosen any remaining browned bits from the pan. Once the wine has reduced by half and the smell of alcohol has dissipated, add the broth.
Test Kitchen tip: If you don’t like cooking with wine, you can use broth for both steps.
Step 5. Cook until tender
At this point, you should have a rich and flavorful sauce, which will act as a sauna for your roast. Cooked low and slow, the muscle fibers in the tough chuck roast will relax and become tender.
Return the roast to the pan and arrange the potatoes, parsnips and carrots around the meat. Bring the mixture to a boil on the stovetop before transferring it to the oven. Bake, covered, for 2 to 2-1/2 hours, until the meat is fork-tender.
Test Kitchen tip: You can use an instant-read thermometer on the roast if you like, but the best way to know if it’s done is to pierce it with a fork. If the fork goes in easily and twists without resistance, you’re good to go!
Step 6. Finish the sauce
While the roast cooks, its rich, beefy flavor will seep into the cooking liquid. Who needs to create an extra sauce when reducing the cooking liquid makes the perfect gravy?
Remove the roast to a cutting board with a well and remove the potatoes, carrots and parsnips to an ovenproof platter. Place the platter in a 200º oven to keep the vegetables warm.
Discard the bay leaves and skim any excess fat from the cooking liquid. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until the liquid has reduced by half. Stir in the vinegar and parsley and place the sauce in a serving dish such as a gravy boat.
Test Kitchen tip: Adding a splash of red wine vinegar gives a beautiful brightness to the sauce. This little bit of acidity really perks things up, so don’t skip this step!
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Step 7. Slice and serve!
It’s important to let the roast rest for at least 15 minutes—this is the key to keeping the juices inside the meat instead of letting them spill out onto the cutting board. Don’t worry about the roast cooling down, there’s plenty of residual heat to keep it warm enough.
Once the roast is rested, remove the string with a paring knife or kitchen shears. Slice the meat across the grain into 1/2-inch pieces. Place the sliced beef in the middle of a platter and surround it with the roasted vegetables. Dress the roast with the gravy or serve it on the side.
If there’s such a thing as leftover roast (this almost never exists in my house), it makes some pretty amazing next-day meals. The leftovers are incredible diced and used as a substitute for corned beef in a breakfast hash. Or, shred it and stuff it into beef enchiladas for dinner. Get creative—and let us know how you use this tender and flavorful pot roast in your favorite beef dishes.