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.
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)
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
- beef stock
- onions, carrots, leeks
- fresh thyme and rosemary
- juniper berries
- whole cloves
- bay leaves
- golden raisins
- gingersnaps (!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Potato gratin
- Green bean casserole
- Braised red cabbage
- Buttered rutabagas
- Cheesy Zucchini Casserole
- Rainbow Carrots with Browned Butter and Sage
- Rosemary Roasted Rainbow Potatoes
- Creamed Brussels Sprouts
German Sauerbraten (Pot Roast)
- large roasting or stock pot with lid
- 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
- 3-4 lb chuck roast
- olive oil or other vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup finely crushed gingersnaps
- Put all the marinade ingredients into a large non-reactive pot such as enameled cast iron (make sure it's big enough to hold the marinade and meat.) Bring to a boil, then let cool to room temperature.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- When the meat is fork tender, carefully remove it to a cutting board and let rest for 15 minutes 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.
- 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.
- Slice the meat and serve on a platter topped with gravy. Serve extra gravy on the side.
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.