Sauerbraten (German pot roast)




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pouring gravy on sliced sauerbraten pot roast

This authentic German Sauerbraten recipe comes straight from my grandfather’s kitchen ~ you can do this braised chuck roast on the stove, in the oven, in the crock pot, or the Instant Pot for the most comforting meal ever! Perfect for family dinners, Octoberfest celebrations, and holiday gatherings.

Pouring gravy on German Sauerbraten

Sauerbraten is a classic German pot roast with fork tender meat in a rich sweet and sour gravy.

Once you’ve tried it I know it will become a part of your recipe repertoire forever, it’s that uniquely delicious. The smell coming out of the kitchen while this cooks is that classic rich meaty aroma we all miss from childhood, it makes you feel safe and cozy…and insanely hungry.

This is inspired by my grandfather’s sauerbraten. He got it from his mother, Alma Schultz, who immigrated from Germany to New Jersey at the end of the 19th century. She brought her treasured recipe for sauerbraten with her and my grandpa reinvented it for us. This recipe is as close to his as I can get, it’s delicious!

Sauerbraten means sour or pickled (sauer) roast meat (braten)

traditional marinade for German sauerbraten pot roast

What makes sauerbraten so different from English pot roast?

Two things make sauerbraten so unique…for one thing the meat is traditionally marinated for up to 3 days before braising. And secondly, the flavors in that marinade, which eventually becomes the gravy, are rich and multilayered. English or American pot roast is typically flavored with onions and carrots in a fairly plain brown gravy. This sauerbraten, on the other hand, contains:

  • red wine
  • vinegar
  • beef stock
  • onions, carrots, leeks
  • garlic
  • fresh thyme and rosemary
  • juniper berries
  • peppercorns
  • whole cloves
  • bay leaves
  • golden raisins
  • gingersnaps (!)

chuck roast for Sauerbraten pot roast

What cut of meat is best for sauerbraten?

You can make sauerbraten with some of the same types of meat you use for American pot roast, look for a piece about 3-4 pounds:

  • chuck roast ~ this is what I used today. It’s cut from the shoulder of the cow, and is also used to make ground beef. When slow braised it cooks up to fork tender consistency.
  • rump roast ~ cut from the hindquarters of the cow, it’s slightly more tender than chuck.
  • bottom or top round ~ these are cut from the rear legs of the animal, and the top round is more tender.

Thickening Sauerbraten gravy with crushed gingersnaps

What are gingersnaps doing in pot roast??

Crushed gingersnap cookies are traditionally used to thicken the sauerbraten gravy. I was skeptical at first, but it works beautifully! It basically acts like a spiced flour to thicken the gravy. The spices work well with the flavors in the sauerbraten, and the little extra sweetness helps to balance the sour element. Lovely!

Tip: there are many kinds of gingersnaps and while all will work, I very much prefer the classics imported from Sweden: Nyackers are super thin and crisp, with an authentic spicy flavor. You can buy them online, or at stores like Cost Plus/World Market. I always stock up in fall because I use them for crumb crusts in holiday desserts like my Cranberry Gingersnap Pie.

cookie crumbs for a gingersnap crumb pie crust

A 2-3 day marinade is traditional for sauerbraten

The multi-day marinade is traditional for sauerbraten, and the theory is that the longer you leave the meat in the acidic marinade, the more tender it gets.  This is the way it’s been done for generations in Germany. It’s not difficult at all, and once you’ve assembled your marinade you can stash it in the fridge and forget it for a few days. I like to marinate it right in my enameled cast iron pot, but you can also use a large heavy duty zip lock bag. Just be sure the meat is fully immersed in the liquid, or plan to turn the meat every day so there’s no spoilage.

But wait…is marinating sauerbraten really necessary?

Studies have indicated that marinating meat is not particularly useful at all, that the flavoring doesn’t really penetrate into the meat, even after a long period of time. And what’s more, acidic marinades can actually work to make meat a little bit…mushy. So feel free to skip the lengthy marinade if that works better for you. You can read more about this here.

Tip: Marinate meat in glass, plastic, stoneware, or enameled cast iron, but avoid a metal pan or container. Metal can react with the marinade and give the food a metallic flavor, yuck.

marinating meat for German pot roast

Regional variations for sauerbraten

Feel free to experiment, all these variations are authentic!

Venison, lamb, pork, or even turkey can be used instead of beef.

Use Riesling (white) wine instead of red wine, or even a dark German beer.

Use apple cider vinegar instead of red wine vinegar.

I used wine, vinegar, and beef stock as the base for the gravy, but you can use all wine, or even all vinegar plus water.

Other spices that are sometimes used include: mustard seed, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, mace, dill seed, allspice

Sometimes the gravy is thickened with sour cream, heavy cream, or even pumpernickel bread instead of the gingersnaps.

a platter of sliced sauerbraten with gravy

This pot roast is totally holiday worthy!

While it looks a lot like regular pot roast, I can assure you the flavor is fabulously unique and will provide a delicious and memorable experience for family and friends. Serve the sliced meat on a big platter and pour gravy over it, then serve extra gravy on the side.

What to serve with sauerbraten

You don’t have to serve specifically German sides with sauerbraten, it pairs well with all sorts of choices:

pouring gravy on sliced sauerbraten pot roast
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4.7 from 10 votes

German Sauerbraten (Pot Roast)

This authentic German Sauerbraten recipe comes straight from my grandfather's kitchen ~ you can do this braised chuck roast on the stove or in the oven for the most comforting meal ever!
Course Main Course
Cuisine German
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
marinating 2 days
Yield 6 servings

Equipment

  • large roasting or stock pot with lid

Ingredients

  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 1 leek trimmed and sliced (rinse well to remove grit)
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • several sprigs fresh rosemary
  • several sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 cups red wine (any type you would drink)
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 tsp juniper berries
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp coarse salt
  • a handful of golden raisins

Pot roast

  • 3-4 lb chuck roast
  • olive oil or other vegetable oil

Gravy

  • 1/4 cup finely crushed gingersnaps

Instructions

  • Put all the marinade ingredients into a large non-reactive pot such as cast iron (make sure it's big enough to hold the marinade and meat.) Bring to a boil, then let cool to room temperature.
    marinade for sauerbraten
  • Submerge the chuck roast into the marinade, and cover tightly. Refrigerate for up to 3 days. If your meat is not fully covered in liquid, plan to give it a turn every day so it marinates evenly. You can also do this in a very large heavy duty zip lock bag.
    marinating meat for German pot roast
  • Remove the meat from the marinade (it will be beautifully pink from the wine) and pat it dry, removing any stray bits of veggie as well. Remove the marinade to a bowl and wipe out the pot. Lightly coat the bottom of the pot with oil and heat until quite hot but not smoking. Brown the meat on all sides.
    Browning beef chuck in a cast iron pan
  • Add the marinade back into the pot with the meat and bring to a boil. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom as you heat. Now you have a choice: either turn the heat down, cover, and let gently simmer on the stove for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or you can cover and put the pot into a 325F oven for the same amount of time. Note: whichever method you choose, you want the pot to be a gentle simmer, not a rolling boil, so adjust heat accordingly. I check it a few times during cooking to make sure.
    Sauerbraten cooking in a white cast iron pot
  • When the meat is fork tender, carefully remove it to a cutting board and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing.
    beef chuck resting before slicing
  • Strain the contents of the pot and discard the solids. I like to put the liquid into a large saucepan at this point.
    straining sauerbraten gravy
  • Bring it back to a bubble and sprinkle in the crushed gingersnaps, whisking as you add them, so they don't clump. Simmer until the gravy thickens slightly. Note: if you do get any lumps, just strain the gravy through a mesh sieve before serving.
    making sauerbraten gravy
  • Slice the meat and serve on a platter topped with gravy. Serve extra gravy on the side.
    pouring gravy on sliced sauerbraten pot roast

Notes

 

How to adjust for the slow cooker:

  • Make the recipe as written above through step 3.
  • In step 4 place the meat and marinade in your crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours.  
  • Proceed with step 5 in the recipe.

 

How to adjust for the Instant Pot

  • Make the recipe as written up through step 3.
  • In step 4 place the meat and marinade in your Instant Pot and cook on high pressure for 55 minutes. After the machine beeps let it sit for 10 minutes without doing anything, then release the pressure valve.
  • Proceed with step 5 in the recipe.
 

Frequently asked questions

Can I leave out the wine?
Yes, just use apple cider with apple cider vinegar.  You can also use more beef stock, or even water.
I don't have gingersnaps, but want that flavor, what can I add?
You might thicken the gravy with a flour and water slurry and then add some dark brown sugar or a little molasses.
Doesn't the meat spoil when you leave it that long in the marinade?
No, the wine and vinegar in the marinade keep the meat from spoiling.
Do I have to marinate the meat that long?
No, I mention in the post that there is evidence that marinating is not very useful after all, so feel free to marinate for a shorter time, or even skip that step. 
I don't have juniper berries, what can I substitute?
Just leave them out, there are plenty of other flavors in this dish.
The gravy is too sour for me, what can I do?
The gingersnaps help to balance the sour element, so don't leave them out, and you can add some extra sugar or brown sugar to help as well.
My gravy never got really thick.
Sauerbraten gravy is not meant to be very thick, it should be silky and have some body to it.
My gravy isn't dark and rich as it is in the pictures.
Depending on your wine and other ingredients your gravy could be a slightly different color.  I love to use a few drops of gravy browning like Kitchen Bouquet to darken pale gravies. 

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13 Comments

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  • Reply
    Melissa
    October 19, 2020 at 9:48 am

    I’m going to be making this for my own Oktober fest sine my local one was canceled, but I don’t want to use the wine so I’ll be using the apple cider. You say to use apple cider vinegar when replacing the wine. Is that in place of the red wine vinegar or in addition to? If so how much apple cider vinegar do you recommend. Thanks so much!

  • Reply
    Donna B
    September 22, 2020 at 7:29 pm

    My son ordered this at a restaurant and has since asked me to make it several times — now I have a recipe that sounds delicious. Can’t wait to try it. Thanks!

    • Reply
      Sue
      September 23, 2020 at 5:30 am

      It’s really special Donna, hope you love it!

  • Reply
    JessieK
    September 21, 2020 at 12:54 pm

    5 stars
    I had sauerbraten in Germany many years ago and never had it since, but I made yours and wow Sue! It’s just like I remember it and now I can make it often, thank you!

  • Reply
    Kyle
    September 17, 2020 at 6:48 pm

    5 stars
    This was absolutely delicious! I skipped the marination process but put the ingredients in with the chuck roast and cooked for 3 hours in the oven. I was skeptical about the Gingersnaps addition, but it really made the gravy. Thank you – great recipe, Sue.

    • Reply
      Sue
      September 17, 2020 at 7:29 pm

      I’m so glad you’re reporting back on the process without the marinating Kyle, thanks and glad you loved it!

  • Reply
    Randy
    September 17, 2020 at 10:21 am

    In that case, wouldn’t marinating for a shorter time give one some of the benefits at least, without the “mushiness”, maybe?

    • Reply
      Sue
      September 17, 2020 at 11:07 am

      Would be worth trying, for sure. I’m undecided on the issue, but tend toward believing that marinating isn’t worth the bother. In this case, the gravy is so full of flavor that it sort of dominates anyway.

  • Reply
    Paul
    September 16, 2020 at 6:36 pm

    4 stars
    I think spaetzle or mashed potatoes are good side dishes. I also make red cabbage. And if there’s bread it’s usually a brown sourdough. Good stuff! Not good if you are on a diet.

  • Reply
    Mary S
    September 16, 2020 at 8:05 am

    What are the best side dishes to serve with this? In the past, I’ve made spaetzle, applesauce and green beans. Any other suggestions?? Since we’re not big turkey fans, this might be our Thanksgiving dinner this year. Thank you.

    • Reply
      Sue
      September 16, 2020 at 8:18 am

      If you look right above the recipe in the post I do list some suggestions Mary. I’d suggest a potato dish and a green vegetable, to start. You might try a potato gratin, scalloped potatoes, or even simple mashed or boiled potatoes. I think brussels sprouts would be great alongside that. The traditional Thanksgivings fixings like biscuits or rolls, and cranberry sauce would work well, too.

      • Reply
        Amy
        September 16, 2020 at 6:12 pm

        3 stars
        I’m very confused about marinating. You give instructions for marinating and then a link that says acid and lengthy marinating can ruin it!
        I’ll skip altogether then.

        • Reply
          Sue
          September 16, 2020 at 6:32 pm

          I’m sharing both sides of the story Amy ~ the traditional recipe calls for the lengthy marinade, but modern science is telling us that marinating doesn’t do all that much and isn’t worth it…it’s your decision which to do. I marinated this meat and it was lovely, but next time I’ll skip it.