Dutch ovens have been around for hundreds of years, and the sturdy covered cooking pots were a favorite with early American settlers. Because of their versatility, Dutch ovens are still a must-have in most home kitchens. Used to fry, braise, stew and bake, Dutch ovens are just right for roasting succulent, juicy chuck roasts for family dinners.
Select a Dutch Oven
Most modern Dutch ovens are made of aluminum or cast iron. Many home cooks prefer cast iron as the cookware heats evenly, then retains the heat for an extended time. Once a cast iron oven is properly seasoned, upkeep is relatively easy. Cast iron ovens may also be enameled, which makes clean-up easier. Aluminum Dutch ovens are rustproof and lightweight, but they are also easily damaged by overheating. Dutch ovens are available in a variety of sizes ranging from a 2-quart oven, which serves one to three people, to a 3.5 gallon oven, which has the capacity to serve more than 15 people. Because large Dutch ovens are heavy and difficult to store, mid-size Dutch ovens in the 5- to 8-pound range are best for most families.
The "chuck" area of the cow encompasses a fairly large area that includes the first five ribs and the shoulder. Because the area is muscular, chuck roasts tend to have a considerable amount of connective tissue. However, some chuck roasts are more tender than others. For example, the chuck-eye roast, which comes from the rib area, is relatively tender. Shoulder roasts and other chuck roasts from the shoulder area are more fibrous and tough and benefit from moist, slow-cooking methods. Tougher cuts are less expensive and are good for cooking on a budget.
Cooking a Tender Roast
For a tender chuck roast, begin by searing the meat in a small amount of hot oil. Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper, then cook the roast quickly in the hot oil until it is brown on both sides. If you like, add seasonings such as crushed garlic, sprigs of thyme, dried bay leaves or oregano leaves, or a salad dressing mix. Once the meat is brown, add about a cup of liquid -- or approximately enough to reach halfway to the top of the meat. Use water, broth, beer, apple cider, tomato juice, whiskey, wine, or a combination of liquids. This is also the best time to add a chopped onion, if you like. Finish cooking the roast on the stovetop or transfer the pot to an oven preheated to about 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Either way, cover the pan securely.
Slow cooking in liquid ensures that the tough connective tissues of the chuck roast are broken down, resulting in tender, moist meat. Don't set the oven temperature lower than about 325 degrees Fahrenheit, as cooking the meat too slowly may allow bacteria to develop. The liquid should be hot enough to remain at a gentle simmer. Depending on the size of the roast, cooking takes at least two to three hours. Cook the roast until the meat is tender enough to shred with a fork. Use a meat thermometer to ensure the center of the meat registers at least 145 degrees.
To turn chuck roast into a one-pot meal, add your choice of vegetables about 30 minutes before the chuck roast is removed from the oven. Use vegetables such as small potatoes, or chunks of carrots or turnips. Serve the roast with a generous green salad and a light ranch dressing.