Dueling Roasts

Pot roast – arguably the epitome of a humble beginning becoming a glorious end – a paean to low and slow. Yet there’s more than one way to get there, and naturally we’d like to know if one is better than another.

In our kitchen, I prefer a slow cooker and M leans toward oven. When discussing which route to go recently, we naturally arrived at, why not both? Now, we ain’t Kenji Alt Lopez, but hey, it sounded like fun – and when she guaranteed me I’d lose the bet, it was on. We took two lovely local, grass fed pot roasts out and got busy.

‘Pot roast’ may be any one of a number of different cuts
‘Pot roast’ may be any one of a number of different cuts

Certain proteins just need to be cooked low and slow. Sure, a wagyu steak is going to be super tender and a chuck roast not so much, but it doesn’t need to be that way. Thousands of years of cooking has proven that almost anything can be made tasty, and frankly should. We don’t have to go all Fergus Henderson on this, but waste isn’t cool, and buying expensive isn’t necessary.

Flesh is flesh – It’s all the connective tissues that are the toughies – tendons, ligaments, and fasciae. Most of these are collagens, the primary structural proteins. That stuff should never be looked upon as waste though. If you’ve checked out any of our posts on making stock, you’ll recall that rendering collagens is what gives meat stocks great body and flavor. If you cook collagen-rich cuts low and slow, you’ll be rewarded with the same benefits – tender meat, and a more balanced budget.

Cuts like pot roast, pork shoulder, and lamb shanks are all glorious when cooked low and slow, and they’re generally pretty inexpensive. I’ll go out on a limb a bit and say the cheaper the better when it comes to something cooked that way – you’ll get a bunch of great meals therefrom. I’d add short ribs and pork belly to this list, except that they’re still considered sexy, and as such, are nowhere close to cheap.

While our butcher cuts and marks stuff as pot roast, that’s not super common in the grocery. In any event, there are several cuts that will make a great one. Most cuts called Chuck will do great – you may also find variations called shoulder or seven bone roasts. Round will also do well – bottom round and rump roasts are probably what you’ll find most often.

Mire Poix and the Thumb Slayer

On to the cook off. I prepped equal amounts of our basic roasting aromatic blend, onion, carrot, celery and garlic, and we deployed our homemade beef stock as well.

My slow cooker roast went fully submarine

For my slow cooker version, I did not sear the roast, and I fully submersed that bad boy in stock, as you can see. M, for her oven version, seared, and used an appropriate amount of stock for a classic braise – maybe an inch and change, but not even close to drowning.

M’s roast seared in a braiser

Both went low and slow – M in a 275° oven, and mine on low in the slow cooker.

M’s oven roast set up for a classic braise

Both cooked until they hit 145° F, and were then given a fifteen minute rest, at which point they temp’d out at right about 155° F. For the record, M’s oven version did have a decent amount of liquid left when it was done cooking. In the image below, M’s roast is top and mine is bottom.

Oven roasted on top, slow cooker below

All three of us agreed, unanimously, that my version was far more tender and juicy. Granted, this wasn’t a full out scientific test with multiple runs and all conditions fully controlled, but it bears out what I believe about cooking such cuts – full submersion gives more moisture to the protein, you get a steadier temperature throughout the cooking process, and that leads to a tender, juicy roast.

Slow cooker pot roast with a cherry gastrique

The image below shows what that slow cooker version looked like the next day after being defatted – you can clearly see how much that stock was able to do.

Slow cooker pot roast did a job on all those tough collagens

And yes, for the record, it tasted great, and I am still gloating – just a little, and quietly.

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