Celebrate Oktoberfest at home with sauerbraten, a comforting and tangy German pot roast.
I’m seeing a beefy hunk and it’s positively delicious. I visit “Chuck” every day (sometimes twice daily). We’re building a saucy relationship.
Making an authentic German sauerbraten is not dissimilar to dating a man (in my mind, anyway). Patience will yield desired results. Men and chuck roasts need tenderizing. Putting both to the fire deepens character. But beef won’t argue with you.
All kidding aside, sauerbraten, while a simple recipe, requires commitment and attention. From the German words sauer (sour or pickled) and braten (roast meat), a beef roast marinates for four to seven days submerged in a liquid that usually contains vinegar, peppercorns, and onions. Variations in sauerbraten recipes often are regionally driven. For example, southern Germans often use crushed gingersnap cookies or lebkuchen to flavor and thicken the roast’s gravy. Northern Germans prefer a greater tang in their beef and thicken the cooking juices with corn starch.
Some sources say sauerbraten, Germany’s national dish, originated in the ninth century with Charlemagne, while others say Saint Albertus Magnus of Cologne popularized this way to tenderize leftover meat in the 13th century.
Beef is usually used in making sauerbraten, although venison, pork, mutton—even horse—has been found in some recipes.
Because it’s a classic example of German cooking, Dad sometimes requested sauerbraten for his birthday in October, and Grandma, his mother, happily obliged. I remember when she made sauerbraten for Dad, it was an act of love, a gift of food that celebrated our German heritage.
I’m using Grandma’s recipe here, which is included in my family cookbook, with one addition. I perused the internet for sauerbraten recipes in comparison. Some called for juniper berries, but that’s not an ingredient I have on hand. However, I do keep gin on hand, which is made with juniper berries and other botanicals, so how could a ¼ cup of gin hurt Grandma's recipe? She would have approved. It made me think of the time Grandma, when making her baked beef stew, didn’t have any cooking sherry, so she used a cup of Dad’s 12-year-old Scotch. Best damn stew you ever tasted.
To make my gran’s German sauerbraten which yields four to six servings (depending on the weight of your roast), you’ll need these ingredients:
2- or 3-pound chuck roast
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 garlic cloves, sliced (or 1 teaspoon granulated garlic)
2 cups red wine vinegar
2 cups water
¼ cup gin
1 small onion, whole, stuck with 3 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon peppercorns
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ cup sliced onions
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
Directions to make authentic German sauerbraten
Rub the beef roast with salt and pepper. If you’re using granulated garlic, sprinkle the beef now.
Place beef in a deep crock or glass bowl. (I used a plastic zip-top bag and placed that in a bowl.)
Heat (don’t boil) the vinegar, water, gin, and sugar until dissolved. Remove from heat and add the bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic, caraway seeds and whole onion with cloves. Pour warm mixture over beef. More than half the roast should be covered.
Cover (or close plastic bag) and refrigerate for two to seven days. The longer it marinates, the deeper the sour notes will be. Turn the meat in marinade daily.
And used 1 cup water and 1 cup coffee for a richer gravy. I think Grandma would have liked that idea, too. It’s a great way to use up brewed coffee from the morning.
After the meat marinates your desired time, remove the beef and pat dry. Don’t discard marinade. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil to a large skillet and brown chuck roast on each side.
Strain the marinade and place in a small saucepan. Bring up to a boil and set aside.
Transfer to a roasting pan and add sliced onions, carrots, and celery. Cover and bake for 3 to 4 hours at 325 degrees F until meat is fork tender. Cooking the browned roast and vegetables in a slow cooker for 8 hours on the low setting would also work.
Thicken the cooking juices with a corn starch slurry.
Sauerbraten traditionally is served with spaetzle, but egg noodles or mashed potatoes would be acceptable sides to this tangy, tender roast. And if you really want to be authentic, add a side of braised red cabbage.
Dad also made certain to have rye bread on hand to sop up that delicious, rich brown gravy. It's the best gravy you'll have!
What can I do with leftovers?
Use the leftover chuck roast for barbecued beef sandwiches. Slice the cold roast about ½ inch thick. Reheat the beef in your favorite barbecue sauce and serve on a soft sandwich bun. The beef’s tang balances well with sweet barbecue sauce for a completely new meal.
I don’t have red wine vinegar. Can I substitute red wine?
I wouldn’t recommend this. You want that distinctive tang for sauerbraten, but you could swap another vinegar. For instance, apple cider vinegar would work here.
I hope you’ll give my family’s sauerbraten a try. It’s a nice twist on a traditional American pot roast and makes something special from a cheaper cut of beef. That’s good old German know-how for you!
Try these other recipes from my family cookbook to celebrate Oktoberfest! Pork schnitzel with creamy dill sauce and sauerkraut is a satisfying supper for this month. Gashtel soup pairs a rich beef broth with tiny homemade dumplings for a bowl of old world comfort.
About the blog
Three Women in the Kitchen is an award-winning food blog offering today’s home cooks comforting, hearty recipes with a personal touch. The website also pays tribute to Deborah’s mother, Katie Reinhardt, and paternal grandmother, Dorothy Reinhardt (the “three women” in the kitchen). Whether you’re an experienced or a novice cook, you’ll find inspiration here to feed your families and warm your heart. Subscribe today so you won’t miss a single delicious detail.