Nothing compares to the flavor of a slow cooked chuck roast. The tender beefy taste of a well prepared chunk of beef is something that meat-lovers dreams are made of. Most likely because we have all been served many more dry, tough slices of pot roast than moist, mouth-watering ones. I will confess that I too have placed more than one pot roast on the dinner table which earned me incredible reviews such as “you will have to give me the recipe for these carrots”, and “this gravy is the best I have ever had”. As the host, all I could do was try to swallow my pride (along with the shoe leather on my plate), and keep the wine glasses full.
To properly prepare a roast there are a few things that will help to understand. First is navigating your way through the confusion of the meat case. There are many different cuts of meat with significant differences in quality. There are actually eight USDA grades. Prime, commercial, choice, utility, select, cutter, standard, and canner. Stores tend to focus the majority of their selections around choice and select, mainly due to pricing. Higher-end retailers will offer prime cuts, most often found in a glass case and for about the same price as diamonds. Adding to the confusion are the marketing geniuses behind the major grocery chains that have branded their own grades for meat. (What the heck is Ranchers Reserve, and where does it fall in the USDA grading chart?)
My best advice is to do what I do. Ask. I know many of the stores have staff that know less about the subject than you do, so if you get a “deer in the headlights” look from the polite person stocking the hot dogs, ask to speak to the butcher. The staff member usually is not insulted, rather relieved.
The next thing is to choose the right meat for the job. If you are not sure, tell the butcher what you are wanting to make and let them guide you. Remember that cuts of meat have different names regionally, so if you’re not finding the one a recipe calls for just ask, and the butcher can usually translate. Once you have picked out a roast, the hard part is behind you.
There are really only two methods I would suggest to prepare a beef roast, either traditional open roasting, or braising.
Roasting is a method of oven cooking food in an uncovered pan at a high temperature, for a relatively short period of time. This technique usually produces a well-browned exterior and an ideal moist interior. Roasting does however require a tender cut of meat to begin with, such as a tender loin, and should only be used in that instance. (Oven roasting a piece of meat such as a shoulder or chuck roast will result in a tough, dried out roast, with a grey colored interior).
Braising is the preferred method for most roasts. The meat is browned on all sides in fat or oil, then cooked, tightly covered, with a small amount of liquid at a low heat for a very long time. The long slow cooking develops flavor and tenderizes the meat by gently breaking down the tough fibers. Braising can be done on top of the stove, in the oven, or in a crock pot. (A tight-fitting lid is very important).
To prepare the perfect Chuck Roast in the Crock Pot:
Cooks Note: This is the method I use for most roasts, and find it works extremely well. I would never suggest this method for an expensive cut like a tenderloin. I tend to use only salt and pepper for seasoning which allows me the most versatility for left-overs. Cooking times will vary with the size of your cut.
Start by massaging all sides of the roast with olive oil, and dust with sea salt and ground black pepper. Place the roast in a hot pan or directly on the grill to brown all sides.
Rough chop 2 large onions and place them in the bottom of the crock pot.
Place the browned roast directly on top of the bed of onions, adding no liquid (the water in the onions will provide our liquid for the braising, and will hold the roast off of the bottom of the crock pot).
Place the glass lid on the crock pot, and turn to high for about 1½ - 2 hours (about the time you can start to smell the roast). Reduce heat to low and cook for an additional 4 – 5 hours depending on size of the roast. Do not take the lid off of the crock pot or attempt to turn the roast. Watch for the meat to pull away exposing the bone. You should be able to effortlessly lift the bone out of the roast with tongs, and can be certain the meat is “fall off the bone” tender. The roast should literally fall apart as you remove it from the crock pot.
Let the meat rest for about 10 minutes. When slicing, be sure to cut across the grain, this will ensure that your meat is the most tender piece served, and the compliments you receive will be about your roast, not the salad.