How to Cook a Pot Roast the Slow Cooker

Slow Cooker Pot Roast
Photo: Diana Rattray

With or without the optional gravy, this basic recipe makes a tasty and very tender slow-cooked pot roast. The pot roast takes just 15 to 20 minutes of preparation. Put everything in the slow cooker in the morning, set it, and forget it until dinner time!

See the tips and variations for some additional vegetable and flavor ideas along with some possible substitutions.

Equipment

  • large skillet or saute pan
  • slow cooker

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 pounds pot roast (chuck or bottom round)
  • 1/2 cup water or beef broth
  • 2 large onions
  • 4 to 5 medium potatoes (1 1/2 to 2 pounds)
  • 2 to 3 medium carrots
  • 1 dried bay leaf (1 large or two small)
  • For the Optional Gravy:
  • Optional: 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Optional: 1 to 2 tablespoons water

Instructions

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil or olive oil in a skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Pat the pot roast with paper towels to dry; remove any excess visible fat.
  3. Season the pot roast with salt and pepper and then dust on all sides with the flour. 
  4. Brown the pot roast on all sides in the hot oil.
  5. Remove the pot roast to a plate.
  6. Add 1/2 cup of water or beef stock to the skillet; stir and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen browned bits. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
  1. Cut the 2 large onions in half lengthwise. Peel and then cut into 1/4-inch slices. Place the onions in the bottom of a 3 1/2-quart or larger crockpot.
  2. Cut 4 or 5 medium potatoes into 1-inch to 2-inch pieces. Add the potatoes to the pot with the onions.
  3. Cut 2 or 3 carrots into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Add the carrots to the vegetables in the crockpot.
  1. Place the browned pot roast on top of the vegetables. If the pot roast is too large to fit comfortably in the crockery, cut it into two or more pieces.
  2. Pour the juices from the skillet over the pot roast and vegetables.
  3. Season with a little more salt and freshly ground black pepper and add 1 bay leaf.
  4. Cover the pot and cook on the LOW setting for 8 to 10 hours, or on the HIGH setting for about 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours. The vegetables should be tender and the roast almost falling apart. For a shreddable roast, longer is better.
  5. Remove the roast and vegetables to a serving platter; keep it warm until serving time.

Optional Gravy

  1. Skim off the fat or strain the liquids into a fat separator. Pour the defatted liquids into a saucepan. 
  2. Bring the liquids to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking until reduced to about 1 to 1 1/2 cups. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
  3. Combine 1 1/2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour with 1 to 2 tablespoons of cold water; mix until smooth and well blended.
  4. Add the flour mixture to the reduced liquids and continue cooking until thickened.

Tips and Variations

  • The caramelization obtained by browning the beef can greatly enhance the flavor, but it is not absolutely necessary. If you are short on time, omit the olive oil and the 2 tablespoons of flour and put the seasoned beef into the slow cooker without browning.
  • The best cuts for pot roast are often labeled "pot roast." For the most flavorful and succulent beef, use a lean chuck roast, bottom round, or rump roast. A bone-in 7-bone roast is another excellent option but it is quite large, so make sure your slow cooker is large enough. Or you could ask the butcher to cut it in half.
  • You can use parsnips, turnip, rutabaga, or other root vegetables in this dish.
  • For Italian flavor, add a 14.5-ounce can of diced or crushed tomatoes to the roast along with 2 cloves of minced garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of dried basil. 
  • Replace all or part of the water or beef stock with red wine for richer flavor. Use a cabernet, merlot, or another good quality dry red wine.