14 Mistakes You Might Be Making With Your Pot Roast

A classic comfort food, pot roast dinners are a delicious and hearty recipe ideal for cozy family nights and easy meal planning. Typically, this slow-cooked dinner features a thick, tender cut of beef roasted with a medley of vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, celery, and onions, all seasoned with aromatic herbs and spices. After slowly cooking throughout the day, this dinner becomes a savory delight with melt-in-your-mouth meat, luscious gravy, and flavorful vegetables.

While pot roast dinners can be relatively straightforward to prepare, some common mistakes can send your dish in the wrong direction. Whether it's choosing the wrong cut of meat, overcooking or undercooking the vegetables, lacking the proper seasoning, or forgetting to turn on the slow cooker (yeah, we've been there), some errors can be detrimental to the dish. By avoiding these blunders, you can perfect your slow-cooking skills for a scrumptious Sunday beef pot roast dinner. Here, we've gathered some of the most frequent mistakes made when making a pot roast.

1. Improperly seasoning the dish

Seasoning, even as simple as salt and pepper, takes any meal to the next level. When you're putting all of your ingredients into the slow cooker, it's important to season as you prep but don't go overboard, as some mistakes can't be fixed once they're made. For instance, you can't remove salt once it's there, so while it's imperative to use it, you should take care not to add too much. 

Unfortunately, pot roast isn't a "taste as you go" kind of meal — most of the ingredients are put in raw, and you can't dip a spoon in the dish until the end when everything is thoroughly cooked. There are simple seasoning mistakes you're probably making, like only seasoning everything one time. When seasoning, a good place to start is with salt and pepper; of course, a generous heaping of herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, or oregano, are also great to rub into your meat as you're browning it. Additional seasonings like onion powder, garlic powder, and even a little paprika or cayenne for a touch of spice can help elevate the flavors, too. It doesn't hurt to give it a taste when the timer goes off before you deem it ready. When you're on the final touches, you can absolutely add more seasoning to bring the dish to where you want it to be.

2. Neglecting to deglaze the pan

Some pot roast recipes call for the vegetables to be slightly sauteed before being tossed into the slow cooker. Most recipes will suggest you sear the meat first, as well. But not all of the recipes will remind you to deglaze the pan before transferring the ingredients to the pot. Deglazing the pan after browning meat or sauteing vegetables helps gather all the flavor and goodness that adds to the liquid base of the roast, enhancing the overall taste of the dish. If you're not familiar with how to deglaze, it's a very simple method.

First, it depends on how you're preparing your pot roast. If you're using an Instant Pot, most of the searing can happen directly in the pot before you add liquid and start to pressurize it. The same can be done in a Dutch oven used for slowly braising the dinner. For a slow cooker, you should do all your sauteing in a skillet before transferring everything over. To deglaze your pan, remove your meat and veggies, then take a bit of liquid — it could be beef stock, wine, water, vinegar, or beer — and add it to the same pot. Start scraping up all the brown, crispy bits (a wooden spoon works best without damaging your pan), and all of the liquid and flavorful fond, as it's called, goes right in with the meat, vegetables, and additional liquid used for the recipe.

3. Adding too much liquid

For any pot roast dinner, some sort of cooking liquid is essential; yet too much liquid will have all of your ingredients swimming (or drowning) instead of roasting. When using the pot roast method, you aren't boiling your roast and veggies — you're braising them. As the beef and vegetables cook, they'll release liquid of their own. Most recipes will call for roughly 1/2 to 2 cups of broth or water — it depends on the size of your roast and roasting device. A good rule of thumb to follow is about 1/4 cup of liquid per pound of beef. It might not look like a lot of liquid, but that's normal.

When making a pot roast dinner, the meat is meant to cook above the liquid, not so much in it. You don't want the liquid to come up to the very top. If it does, not only are you risking your vegetables turning to mush, but you could dilute the flavor or produce an off texture with every component. Luckily, if you find you've poured too much liquid, you can always dump some out before you start cooking it. Removing excess liquid after the fact won't do much good — the damage is already done by that point.

4. Skipping the part where you brown the beef

A very common mistake people make when preparing pot roast is to just start the cooker with the raw hunk of meat and walk away. While browning your beef beforehand isn't a necessary step, it's definitely an advantageous one to take. Ultimately, it's up to you. It's been said that doing so can help seal in some of the flavorful juices in the meat, but this has since been debunked. TV personality and chef, Alton Brown, disproved the theory in an episode of "Good Eats." Apparently, no matter what, high heat damages the cells of meat, and when cells are damaged, the moisture is lost. Nevertheless, browning your beef can help enhance the flavor and still be beneficial for your dish.

If you choose do to so, it can help speed up the cooking time, give your meat a beautiful, caramelized flavor, and give more of that pull-apart texture that pot roast is known for. If you skip browning the beef, you're potentially losing a lot of delicious flavor. This is because when you sear the beef on every side before starting the slow cooker, the caramelized juices released from the meat can help intensify the delicious taste.

5. Using the incorrect cut of meat

Pot roast itself is pretty broad — it's essentially just referring to the method of roasting meat in a pot. The type of meat you should use isn't always specified. We're here to help clarify so you don't make a mistake and end up with something other than desired. Classic barbeque brisket, for instance, is not a pot roast dinner, however, you can slow-cook a cut of beef brisket in liquid with vegetables for a pot roast recipe. See how it could get confusing?

When you're making a pot roast, you want to choose a cut with less fat, unless you're going to properly trim the fat off before searing it and starting the roast. Tough meats are the way to go, meaning lean cuts of beef that don't have much fat and have plenty of connective tissue that'll hold the meat together while it cooks. These work best because the tougher the cut, the more collagen there is, and as it dissolves while it's braising, the collagen melts into gelatin, which does two important things: tenderizes the meat and helps it get that melt-in-your-mouth texture. It also creates a juicy, thick liquid that is later made into gravy for the dish. At the grocery store or butcher, look for cuts like chuck roast, rump roast, bottom roast, short ribs, brisket, or shoulder for best results.

6. Choosing the wrong cooking device

The process for a pot roast dinner consists of slowly cooking the components at a low temperature for several hours until the meat is tender enough to pull apart with little effort and the vegetables are soft and cooked through. It isn't a quick method, so the stovetop simply won't work well. A typical mistake with pot roast comes down to the cooking device used. 

Traditionally, recipes suggest using a crockpot that is purposely designed for slowly braising food. Crockpots are an easy choice because they usually only have a few settings: warm, low, and high. Another option is to use a deep roasting pan with a lid or a Dutch oven. Tried and true, these work because they are able to withstand the oven temperature for hours, which is exactly what's needed to make pot roast. Nowadays, there are ways to speed up the timely process by using devices like pressure cookers, which are known for creating easy Instant Pot dinners. This locks the food under pressure and cooks it faster than usual while still yielding similar results.

7. Being off with your cook time

Cook time is very important when slow-roasting beef. For starters, even after you sear it, much of it remains raw, so if you don't roast it for long enough, there's a big chance it won't be fully cooked through and then it's potentially unsafe to eat. Furthermore, the tough cut of meat won't break down enough and it won't be pull-apart tender. Inversely, the outcome of slow-roasting for too long is two-fold — you'll likely end up with incredibly soft, tender meat but everything else (potatoes, carrots, etc.) is likely to be soggy and mushy in texture. For example, if your recipe says to cook it for 8 hours on high in a crockpot, you're likely to end up with soggy ingredients if you slow-cook it on high for 10 or more hours. Here's a tip: If your meat is still tough, it hasn't been cooking long enough; and if your veggies are extremely soft, well, you went a little too long.

In a crockpot, most recipes call for a solid 6 to 8 hours (6 hours on the high setting; 8 hours on the low setting) to properly cook. Dutch ovens can take upwards of 4 hours; still, you'll want to make sure you check the texture before serving it. Instant Pot directions vary, but using such a device can decrease the cooking time significantly. A general rule of thumb for using a pressure cooker is to account for about 20 minutes of cooking per every pound of beef, so if you're preparing a 4-pound roast, you're looking at a little over an hour.

8. Cooking at the incorrect temperature

Just as cooking time is imperative, so is the temperature. At too low of a temperature, such as one below 200 degrees Fahrenheit, you're risking raw, tough meat and undercooked vegetables. There's only one real advantage to preparing it at a lower temperature and that's if you're needing to make the dish slowly over the course of 12 hours instead of the typical 8 hours. Even so, if you don't cook it at least 200 degrees Fahrenheit, you're taking the risk that the fibers of the meat won't break down and soften like they're meant to. If you are decreasing the temperature because you are starting in the morning and want it done by dinner, then make sure to allow yourself plenty of time to keep cooking in case it didn't properly roast.

If you set your pot roast at too high of a temperature, you're essentially defeating the method of "slow and low" and you likely won't get the desired texture. It could dry out or burn entirely. With a crockpot, there's no need to set a temperature so it can eliminate a lot of room for error. Using an oven, however, the method for "low and slow" requires a temperature around 210 degrees Fahrenheit if you're roasting all day long (like the aforementioned 12-hour cook time) and upwards of 250 degrees Fahrenheit if you want to be eating within 4 to 6 hours. You'll also need to set a temperature with an Instant Pot or use one of the applicable settings, such as the Meat/Stew button.

9. Incorrectly cooking the vegetables

Cooking the beef for the right amount of time at the right temperature is an important step. But the vegetables can also be touchy, and it's not always easy to roast them. In most crockpot recipes, the vegetables, liquid, and beef are all added at the same time and roasted together. Just as when boiling potatoes, it'll help immensely if you cut them roughly the same size, that way they cook evenly throughout. Vegetables like onions can afford to soften because the flavor will still be there; yet if you roast them too long, they could disintegrate. Carrots and celery can also be tedious — you want a crunch but you don't want them raw.

Some recipes, like pressure cooker recipes, tell you to wait to add vegetables like carrots and potatoes. This is because the cooking method is quicker, so you could risk turning your veggies into mush if you put them in too early. Instead, you should put them in near the end so they cook under pressure but not for the full length of time. If you're using a crockpot, you can add everything and cook it slow and low all together. For a Dutch oven or roasting pan, it's smart to hold off until at least the halfway mark to avoid overcooking the vegetables.

10. Forgetting to thicken the broth

Some people separate the beef and vegetables from the liquid when it's finished roasting, but don't to throw that liquid out, because it holds an abundance of delicious flavor. Instead of dumping it, thicken it to create gravy. By thickening the broth at the end, you're creating a flavorful and aromatic gravy that is a perfect base, or topping, for your beef and vegetables. If you leave it too thin, you may see bubbles of fat or get more of a stew than a pot roast meal.

There are a handful of different methods to condense the liquid, both before and after slow cooking. Beforehand, you can dust the meat with a little flour before searing it off, which will help thicken the broth as it's roasting. If this method doesn't give you the thickness you prefer at the end, you can also fix the density of the broth when it's finished cooking. It helps to remove the meat, if possible, before thickening so you can stir it without bumping into large bits of food. 

One common way to get your broth more gravy-like is to whisk in cornstarch that's been mixed with water, or make a roux out of flour and butter, and thoroughly mix that into the liquid. With these methods, you can also stir them into the pot when there's about an hour or so left on the timer and then you don't have to bother with removing anything.

11. Not switching up the recipe

Switching up the recipe for a pot roast dinner can revivify a classic and comforting meal. Making the same thing every time can become a bore, so instead of using your go-to herbs and spices, experiment with bold flavors. Opting for a different cut of meat can also transform your regular recipe — each cut will bring forward varying textures and tastes. In particular, brisket is threaded with connective tissue and marbled with fat, which will create more of a velvety, succulent roast, while rump roast is more lean, meaning it'll take more time, and possibly a little more liquid, to become tender but it's still a preferred cut to use for a roast.

Additionally, changing out your normal carrots and potatoes with colorful root vegetables like parsnips or sweet potatoes can give your dinner a unique vibrancy as well as nutritional benefits. You can even substitute the typical broth or water with red wine for some rich complexity. Whether trying out a new technique, like using a Dutch oven instead of your trusty crockpot or utilizing a pressure cooker for faster results, the possibilities for reinventing a pot roast dinner are endless.

12. Forgoing the meat thermometer

One of the most reliable methods to determine if the meat is properly cooked and at that pull-apart level of tenderness is to use a meat thermometer. Simple and effective, this tool gauges the internal temperature of the beef accurately without any guesswork, working as a guide for how to cook meat perfectly every time. By skipping this step, you run the risk of prematurely cutting into the meat, only to find it still undercooked or far too tough to pull apart.

Like most beef cuts, you can prepare it from rare to well done, though rare won't be ideal for a roast. In general, beef is safe to eat when the internal temperature reads 145 degrees Fahrenheit, as directed by the USDA. Because the method of slowly braising is dependent on the connective tissue and fat breaking down to create the ideal texture, it's good to know that this process doesn't even begin until the meat's internal temperature reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit. As far as when it's juicy and tender, most beef used for pot roasts starts to fall apart around 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

13. Forgetting to turn on the cooking device

One great thing about pot roast dinners is you can easily make them ahead of time; all you have to do is prep the ingredients late at night or early in the morning and set the clock so it's ready by either lunch or dinner. But it helps if you check that your cooking device is turned on before you set the timer and walk away. We may all be guilty of this one — sometimes we're so wrapped up in the preparation that we forget the final, vital part. Verifying that your cooking device, whether it's a slow cooker, oven, or pressure cooker, is indeed turned on and functioning is a small yet critical step that can prevent disappointment.

Picture this scenario: You've diligently readied your pot roast, set the timer with confidence, and excitedly planned for a delicious meal only to realize later that the device was never switched on. It's an all-too-common oversight, but it can lead to an uncooked or delayed dinner, not to mention a considerable amount of frustration.

14. Neglecting to freeze leftovers

Pot roast dinners are great leftovers. Like most stews or roasts, the flavors intensify overnight because the seasonings have more time to soak in and blend together. But these meals are also capable of being frozen, so make sure to tuck some away, that way, if you don't want to enjoy it again the next day, you'll still have a chance to eat the leftovers at a different time.

Before storing a pot roast, make sure to let it completely cool. In the fridge, it's still good to consume after a solid 2 to 3 days but in the freezer, it can keep for up to three months. Like most frozen leftovers, you might want to let it thaw before reheating it. With pot roast, there's a chance that the fat will rise to the top and a congealed layer will be resting on everything. You can remove this if you don't want the excess fat or you can let it reheat with the meat to give it that fatty flavor. If the beef seems to be dry or you've lost some of the rich gravy or broth, add some beef stock or water to restore some of that juicy goodness before popping it in the oven or microwave. Giving back that moisture is just one of many secrets that will bring your leftovers back to life.