How to Cook a Pot Roast in the Slow Cooker

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You can truly set it and forget it when you cook a pot roast in the slow cooker. A quick assembly in the morning allows you to enjoy a great dinner at night.

pot roast on platter with tri-color potatoes

You’ve probably heard of the beauty of the slow cooker and what delicious roasts you could cook in one. But maybe it just hasn’t worked out for you.

Maybe your efforts have resulted in utter disaster. Tough meat. Jerky-like, chewy meat. Not even edible meat.

Maybe you gave up on roasts entirely.

That was my experience as a newlywed. I knew that cooking a pot roast in the slow cooker was supposed to work, but I wasn’t sure how.

I asked friends who made delicious roasts. I read recipes. And I figured out some general guidelines for a great tasting roast.

How to Make a Pot Roast in the Slow Cooker

The following are some tips to help you enjoy pot roasts, like we do now, with the ease of the slow cooker. With these steps, you’ll find opportunities to mix and match different flavors, based on the aromatics, spices, and liquids you choose, resulting in innumerable flavor combinations for your pot roasts.

You will need a slow cooker, of course. My favorite is a simple, no bells and whistles 8-qt slow cooker by Crock-pot.

ingredients for pot roast

Use the right cut of meat.

Some cuts of meat are meant for braising, others are for dry roasting. If you use the wrong cut, the texture will be off.

What is braising?

Braising is when food is browned in fat, then cooked, tightly covered, in a small amount of liquid for an extended period of time, exactly like the slow cooker.

What kind of meat do you use for braising?

The best cheap cut of meat for braising is the chuck roast. I like to use boneless chuck roasts so that I’m not paying for the bone. However, using a bone-in cut may be cheaper per pound, and the bone may contribute a bit more flavor.

I prefer the boneless chuck roast because it is generally fairly lean, easy to carve, and fairly economical. I stock up on roasts when they are on sale. I’ve seen them at ALDI for $2.49/pound while the regular grocery store sale price is about $3.99/pound.

browning pot roast in skillet

Brown the meat first.

Browning your roast in a bit of fat prior to placing it in the slow cooker is important as it creates the Maillard reaction, a process that increases the flavor components in the finished dish.

Do you have to brown a roast before putting it in the crockpot?

My experience is that just tossing a hunk of meat into the slow cooker is not going to result in the depth of flavor or tender texture that you will get if you brown the meat first. Yes, it’s an extra step, but it totally pays off in the end.

It is worth the ten minutes and a dirty pan.

(And yes, those dump freezer crockpot recipes that tell you otherwise are nonsense.)

Salt and pepper the roast well and then brown it on all sides in a little hot oil or butter in a skillet. You can use bacon drippings as well.

Remove the roast at that point and place it in the slow cooker. As long as you prep the next ingredients immediately, it’s okay to let the roast sit for a few minutes.

aromatics in skillet

Add flavor and aromatics.

Next you want to add some flavor. Saute some aromatics in the drippings left in the skillet.

Consider these aromatics:

  • chopped or sliced onions
  • crushed or minced garlic
  • chopped or sliced shallots
  • chopped or sliced leeks
  • chopped or sliced carrots
  • chopped turnips
  • chopped or sliced mushrooms
  • other hearty vegetables 

Cook your aromatics on low heat until the onions are clear and the vegetables start to brown lightly. 

adding beer to skillet

Add a braising liquid.

Once the onions are tender and browned, stir in some liquid to deglaze the pan. Your choices include

  • water
  • beef or chicken broth
  • fruit juice
  • tomato sauce
  • wine, beer, or ale

By varying your aromatics, liquids, and spices, you can create a number of different flavor combinations for pot roast in the slow cooker.

Should the roast be covered with liquid in the slow cooker?

You don’t need a lot of liquid to cook a roast in the slow cooker. In fact, I often cook very fatty pork roasts without any liquid at all.

However, the liquid adds flavor and keeps a lean roast from getting dry.

How much water do I put in a crock pot for a roast?

At minimum, you only need about 1/4 cup, though you can add more (up to 12 ounces) if you are relying on the drippings to create a gravy later.

As you add the liquid, stir it well with the aromatics and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. You can also add tomato paste, fresh herbs, and spices at this point.

step by step photos of crockpot pot roast

Cook the pot roast in the slow cooker.

Finally, add this vegetable/liquid mixture to the roast in the slow cooker. Cover. Turn the heat on low and walk away for 6 to 8 hours.

The meat should be meltingly tender at the end of the cooking time. Remove it from the cooker and while it rests, you can create a gravy or a pan sauce with the remaining liquid.

Remember that you can incorporate the leftovers into any number of dishes, allowing you to cook once and eat three times.

pot roast dinner

If you prepare this recipe, be sure to take a picture and hashtag it #GOODCHEAPEATS. I can't wait to see what you cook up!
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pot roast on platter with tri-color potatoes
Basic Pot Roast in the Slow Cooker
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
4 hrs
 
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Pot roast, Slow Cooker Pot Roast
Servings: 8
Calories: 371 kcal
Author: Jessica Fisher
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 pound chuck roast
  • fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 8 ounces mushrooms sliced
  • 1 shallot sliced
  • 12 ounces ale can also use beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
Instructions
  1. In a large skillet heat the oil until shimmering. Season the chuck roast to taste with the salt and pepper. Sear the meat in the hot oil, turning it to brown all sides. Transfer the roast to the crock of a slow cooker.
  2. Add the onion, mushrooms, and shallot to the drippings. Cook, stirring until the onions are clear and the mushrooms are lightly browned. Add the ale and the tomato paste to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer this mixture to the slow cooker.
  3. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours or on high for 4 to 6 hours. The meat should be fall-apart tender.
  4. Serve the roast with the drippings.
Recipe Notes

Note: this recipe is a basic template that you can vary however you like, based on what you have on hand. See recipe post for more details.

Promptly store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days.

Nutritional values are approximate and based on 1/8 the roast.

Nutrition Facts
Basic Pot Roast in the Slow Cooker
Amount Per Serving
Calories 371 Calories from Fat 207
% Daily Value*
Fat 23g35%
Saturated Fat 9g56%
Cholesterol 117mg39%
Sodium 158mg7%
Potassium 717mg20%
Carbohydrates 5g2%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 2g2%
Protein 34g68%
Vitamin A 53IU1%
Vitamin C 2mg2%
Calcium 34mg3%
Iron 4mg22%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

How to Make a Pot Roast

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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Comments

  1. Ellen says

    Just in time! I’m cooking a roast this weekend, and I was looking for new ideas….
    Thanks!

  2. Jenni says

    My roast ALWAYS falls to pieces in the crockpot. I’d love to have a pretty roast like the one pictured:) I’ll have to try your method.

  3. I just began my love affair with the slow cooker this year. It has literally changed my life. I love this recipe and will put it on the menu for next week. Try one of mine – this is my fave: http://www.myjudythefoodie.com/2011/11/slow-cooking-beef-tips/

    Thanks so much for sharing. looks great

  4. Misty says

    This is going to be Sunday dinner this week. Thanks for the tips!

  5. LarissaA says

    so… you don’t submerge the meat in water??? (sorry for the seemingly silly/dumb question but mom never used slow cooker in her so it’s still a mystery to me)

    • Jessica says

      No, it’s very little liquid.

  6. Angela says

    Your recipe sounds delicious! I thought I’d add my own method to the mix. My roast falls to pieces too, but I like it like that! I put the roast directly into the slow cooker. Then I combine brown gravy mix with 1-2 cups of water and pour it over the meat. If I want veggies, then I cut up carrots, potatos and onions and put that in before the gravy. (I have also used dry onion soup mix but I prefer that with pork and the brown gravy with beef).

  7. Thank you for posting this! I was just commenting to my husband on how I needed to start doing more meats in the crock pot, but I wasn’t sure how to do it.

  8. Ellen says

    Have you had good luck with any other kind of roast besides chuck? The chuck roasts around here are often very fatty. That’s living in the South…. =)

  9. This was amazing! So tender & juicy! I buy beef in bulk, a quarter at a time from a local farmer, so I had to use a bone-in chuck roast but still it worked great.

  10. Brooke Kingston says

    This recipe is worth it’s weight in gold…we ate the best pot roast I’ve ever made last night after following your recipe. We used beer like you do in the photos, and the aromatics and nearly caramelized onions made all the difference. The gravy for this roast was to-die-for, and the meat was so flavorful and tender. I have been searching for seven years to find the right slow cooker pot roast recipe, and yours just nailed it! Thank you so much…this is divine dinner!!

    • Jessica says

      @Brooke Kingston, fun! And the beauty is that it’s a non-recipe. You adjust the flavors to match what you have. You can make unlimited combinations with success. So glad that it worked well for you!

  11. Rachel Anne says

    Awesome! The method of browning first made an alarmingly huge difference in the flavor. Great tip!

    • Yep. I am a big opponent to those crock pot meals that just dump. It’s just not going to taste as good if you don’t brown it first.

      Stepping off my soap box….

  12. Debbi says

    I’m new to this and this recipe sounds wonderful! I would love to print it, but I don’t see a printer friendly recipe. Help!

    • There isn’t a “recipe”; it’s a method that you can follow on your own. It is really forgiving. As long as you get the right kind of meat, you can’t mess it up.

  13. Jennifer says

    I really struggle with roasts – for something that seems like it would be super easy, for me, it never has been. Could you please give me a little direction on maybe some sample spices that you might recommend – such as combinations and amounts? I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I need the truly basic info.. Thanks so much!

    • I usually do a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, and then maybe a teaspoon of basil, oregano, or thyme. I think adding the other aromatics like garlic, onions, and mushrooms is important. Does that help?

  14. Jennifer says

    Oh.My.Goodness. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this!! I made it last week and it was HEAVEN. I am so excited that I finally made a yummy roast!! lol This will be a keeper for our family.

    • Yay! I was just thinking about this the other day and wondering how it went. Glad you enjoyed it!

  15. I tried a couple roasts in a crock pot and then gave up. I know March is going to be a busy month for us so was figuring roasts were going to be only on Sunday when I can check on them during cooking… I will be trying this for sure.

    • I find that the cut is really important. As long as it’s a braise-friendly cut, it should be good!

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