I have a love/hate relationship with slow cookers. When I was growing up, my stepmother kept slow cooker recipes on a consistent weekly rotation. Sundays were for pot roast, and there was some other part of the week where she slow cooked a chicken. Every time he pushed a knife into the meat, it slid off at the mere touch of the blade, forcing my dad loved to proclaim, “It’s falling off the bone!” which was supposed to be a good thing, I gathered.
But it was not. Even my pre-teen palate could sense that.
Someone later gifted me with a slow cooker when I moved into my first apartment. “They’re wonderful!” this person promised. “You just throw everything in that morning and when you come home after work or class, tada!”
I was suspicious, but shruggingly tried it out. Meat + root vegetables + 8 hours on low heat = disgusting slop. It was even worse than the food of my childhood. The slow cooker was sold at my next garage sale.
In the years since, I’ve become a fine cook. I have no qualms about tackling Julia Child. I know how to make panang curry from scratch. I keep vegetables and herbs stocked in my kitchen that my husmanboyfriend can’t pronounce. He grew up in a meat and potatoes kitchen on a cattle farm. His mother regularly burned pot roasts, which they drowned in gravy and ate every Sunday.
I can do better, I figured.
But where to begin?!
I tried this incredibly popular recipe, Perfect Pot Roast, by The Pioneer Woman. Is it a sin to say it was just ‘okay’? For one thing, it wasn’t as tender as I wanted it to be, which meant I wasn’t cooking it long and low enough, but no matter how much I fiddled with my oven, I couldn’t get that falling-apart quality I was shooting for.
Furthermore, I didn’t have any great pot roast of my childhood to reference. I didn’t even really know what they were supposed to taste like.
And then I found this recipe on The Kitchn.
This is what pot roast is supposed to taste like. I served this to a tough-to-please, rough, tough helicopter pilot dinner guest a few weeks ago and he said that this was literally the best pot roast he’s ever had in his life. He wants me to send this to him for Christmas dinner. We just need to figure out a way to ship it to Alabama.
The biggest surprise? The recipe required a humble return to the slow cooker. We’ve reunited, and we’re in love.
Savory Maple Dijon Pot Roast (adapted from The Kitchn)
2 potatoes (I have four potatoes here, but that’s way too many for just Jon and me. Use what you need. Cook what you’ll eat.)
1 bag baby carrots
2.5 – 3 lb chuck roast
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 Teaspoon paprika
2 cups chicken stock (even better if you make your own! freeze in ice cube trays for easy access)
- Fry the bacon over medium heat. I think the original recipe calls for 4-5 slices, but who are we kidding? Can you ever go wrong with more bacon? No. No, no, no, no, no. I cook, at minimum, 5 slices. If I have a lot of time on hand, I do around 10. Yep. Meanwhile…
- While the bacon’s a-sizzling, pat dry your roast. Salt and pepper generously. For the longest time, I was a complete idiot who seasoned both sides before searing and it always made a mess. Life gets easier if you season one side and sear that side first. Season the exposed, naked side in the pan. See? Isn’t that easier? Yes.
- Once the bacon is cooked, set aside. In the same pan, turn the heat on high. I like to let it smoke. Now sear the beef in the bacon grease for at least 6 minutes per side. If I have time, I’ll go as long as 10 minutes. This puts a beautiful crust on the final product, which is the key textural plus that was always missing from the pot roasts of my childhood. It prevents that mushy sensation that gives slow-cooked meat a bad rep.
- The beef searing takes as long as 20 minutes, which is a lot of down time. What to do, what to do? Eat some bacon! This is why I told you to fry ten pieces instead of just four or five. See? Aren’t you glad you fried ten pieces?
- Now, seriously, you need to prep your sauce. This is the hot tub spa treatment that the chuck roast gets to relax in for hours on end. It’s very luxurious. Whisk together the chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, Dijon, paprika, and maple syrup. Set aside.
- Once the beef has properly seared, set it at the bottom of your crock pot and crumble the bacon on its head. Now get back to that hot skillet and drop your halved onions into the grease. Sear one minute. Add to crockpot.
- Dump some of that good bacon grease and put the pan back on the stove. Time for the sauce! Pour in that pre-mixed seasoning, bring to a rapid boil, and let it blow off some steam for one minute. Now pour over everything in the crockpot. And don’t forget your potatoes!
- Now you have the day to yourself. Isn’t that amazing? You can cook this on high for four hours or low for eight. I’ve done it both ways and think that low is the way to go. The seasoning just permeates the meat better and your house has the whole day to smell like meat. Who doesn’t love that? We do!
Isn’t it beautiful? This is actually Jon’s favorite meal. Can you tell? He even eats the carrots, which is a damn near impossible feat for a cattleman. But as he puts it, “You’re the only person in the world whose carrots I’ll eat.” If that ain’t love, then what is? As the old adage goes, the best way into a man’s heart is through his stomach.