Sauerbraten (German Pot Roast)

Sauerbraten (“Sour Roast”) is a German pickled roast. Traditionally made with lean horse meat, this dish works well with any lean roast. For my recipe in particular I used eye of round roast. This dish is unique in that the meat is tenderized in a wine or vinegar marinade for several days, probably a carryover from ancient preservation methods.

To counter the sour taste of the meat, Germans today commonly add gingersnap cookies to the roast’s gravy; personally, I used a bit of honey and golden raisins to cut its sourness, a custom found in Rheinischer Sauerbraten (Sauerbraten from the Rhine region in West Germany).

The eye of round roast for this recipe was graciously donated by Friends & Farms, a Maryland-based community that provides high-quality food baskets from local farms and artisans. They build the baskets with certain recipes in mind, and provide the recipes each week; each basket is designed to complement your eating habits, and is enough food for about three meals per week. You can also customize your baskets for a more Paleo-minded lifestyle, which is really cool.

Better yet, they are giving away a free weekly food basket to one of my readers – if you’re in the greater Baltimore area, click here to enter the giveaway via Rafflecopter. The giveaway ends ends midnight (EST) Saturday, Feb 22nd, 2014 and is limited to Maryland-area residents; you’ll need to be able to pick up your winnings at one of their many pickup locations. Good luck!

Sauerbraten (German Pot Roast)

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Print

for the brine:
2-4 lbs eye of round roast
1 tbsp kosher salt
3 cups water
1.5 cups red wine vinegar
1.5 cups apple cider vinegar
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
3 bay leaves
10 cloves
10 juniper berries (1 tsp allspice berries okay)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns

for the roast:
6oz bacon, sliced into thin strips
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2″ piece of whole ginger
1/2 cup golden raisins, divided
2 tbsp raw honey
salt and pepper to taste
small handful of fresh parsley, chopped

1. Rub the kosher salt all over the eye of round roast, and set aside. In a pot, bring the rest of the brine ingredients to boil, then remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. In a non-reactive pot or bowl, place the roast and pour the brine over the roast. Cover and brine for at least 3 days but up to 5 days. If the meat isn’t fully covered turn the meat twice a day (morning and evening).

2. After it has brined, remove the roast from the brine and pat dry. Reserve the brine – veggies, spices, and all. Warm a Dutch/French oven over med/low heat then add the sliced bacon and cook until crispy and most of the fat has rendered out; with a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and set aside (you won’t need it for several hours, so but sure to put it in an air-tight container to keep from getting stale). You should have about 1 tbsp of rendered fat in the dutch oven; if not, add some lard or coconut oil.

3. Increase the heat to medium and allow to come to temperature, about 1 minute, then add the roast and brown it on each side, about 3 minutes per side, for a total of about 12 minutes. Remove the roast and set aside. Reduce the heat to low and add the sliced onion. Sauté until mostly caramelized, about 25 minutes. Caramelizing the onions will help bring out their sweetness and will help cut down on the vinegary brine’s taste.

4. As the onions cook, preheat your oven to 325F. Once the onions have caramelized, return the roast to the pot, along with all of the veggies and spices from the brine (fish them out with a slotted spoon). Pour in enough of the brine liquid to reach halfway up the roast (for me, it was all but 1/2 cup of the brine). Add the piece of ginger and 1/4 cup of the golden raisins. Increase the heat to medium and bring to a simmer, then cover and put in the oven. Roast until tender, about 3-4 hours.

5. Once the roast is tender, set it on a cutting board to rest for 10 minutes before slicing. As it rests, let’s prep your gravy. Strain the braising liquid in a saucepan, discarding the solids. Bring the saucepan to a simmer on med/low, then add the honey. Add salt and pepper to taste, and more honey if it’s too sour; the gravy should be somewhat sour, but not overwhelmingly so. It’ll smell more sour than it tastes.

6. Slice the roast then garnish with the cooked bacon and the remaining 1/4 cup golden raisins, the pour the gravy over the roast. Finally, garnish with fresh parsley and serve with red cabbage and boiled potatoes.

Sauerbraten after roasting, but before straining the braising liquid

29 thoughts on “Sauerbraten (German Pot Roast)

  1. Do you think I could leave out the raisins, or would it then be “missing something”? My son is not a fan of mixing savory and sweet, and I’m afraid he’d not like it… but I also don’t want to ruin the recipe. All of yours I usually follow to a “T”! By the way, Japchae was so good last night that I ate my leftovers for breakfast!


  2. very interesting. I enjoyed reading about the horse history intro. To me this is like the better of a travel show and a cooking show. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us, this is educational for me. I’ll be telling the Mrs about your recipe tonight.


  3. This sounds delicious. Even though I am German, I have never made this. It always seemed to lengthy,, but with this recipe, I just looks to amazing not to give it a go. Thanks for making it.


  4. I have a silly question, I’ve read (Cooks Illustrated) that leaving mean in acidic marinade for too long causes the meat to become soggy. I was wondering what is happening in this preparation that doesn’t make the meat soggy?


    1. Hi Deidra, you’re right that soaking in acids for too long can denature meat and make it mushy. I think there are a couple things at work in this recipe – placing the whole roast in the marinade likely prevents this (as opposed to chunks of meat) and the concentration of the vinegar-to-water isn’t particularly strong. When developing the recipe, I used a combination of recipes I found in cookbooks and online, plus my nose – I wanted something that was sour smelling but not so pungent that I had to turn my head away. I think I hit a sweet spot! :)


  5. Glueckwunsch zum gelungenen Sauerbraten!!! Very German!! Congrats!

    It’s true the traditional way is to make it with horse meat.. but since there are people who are not very fond of eating horse meat usually chefs switch to veal b/c the texture of the meat is similar.

    To answer the question how to compensate the acidity and to balance maceration German chefs usually use sweet ingredients such as honey or juniper. (Another example when used is Sauerkraut))

    @Domestic Man… I hope I did not mix in too much on your post. (I lived for 23 year in Germany and some chefs have shared their knowledge with me)


  6. I have never made Sauerbraten before and have the question: at the end of Step 1, after you put the meat in the brine and then leave it for 3-5 days – at what temperature is it left at? Should it be refrigerated or because of the mixture of the brine – is it left out at room temperature? Thank you! I look forward to trying it!!


      1. My grandmother usually made it in fall and winter. She lived Reno at the time, though she’d grown up in Northern Europe. She had the meat and vinegar in a bucket and the bucket went into the garage.


  7. The substitution of raisins and honey for the ground ginger snaps is strictly verboten. Placed in a large ziplock bag and crushed by using a rolling pin ( or better, in a small food processor), the ginger snaps add the wonderful flavor of ginger as well as thicken the sauce slightly. Served with spatzle and sweet and sour red cabbage with apples, it shouts Deutschland! I’ve made this dinner as a fall harvest/Oktoberfest celebration, and it is EXTREMELY popular. I use the recipe from a book from the 50s that published the recipes of dishes served at the famous Luchow’s restaurant on 14th Street in New York.

    A local chef, who opened a German restaurant in Lake Arrowhead, CA, where I lived for 20 years and raised my kids, was the son of a chef who worked at Luchow’s, and his sauerbraten was true to the Luchow’s way. A few years later I returned to the restaurant, but they had substituted cornstarch and powdered ginger instead of using ginger snaps, a blasphemy I couldn’t forgive.

    I’m happy to share the recipe, if anyone out there is interested . . . .


    1. BTW, marinating meat any longer than 12-24 hours has been shown to be sufficient. Leaving it in too long, as someone earlier posted, would turn many meats mushy. For using an eye of the round roast (possibly superior to the London broil I use), I recommend injecting the marinade into the roast several times during the marinating period.


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  9. I do stress also that not using the ginger snaps to thicken the gravy is optional, but a mistake, they really make this authentic!


  10. Worked in a German Restaurant during high school in the sixties, real German food from swizzle to Sourbrayen…..
    After closing the help had late supper……I always had this dish with potato dumplings or potato pancakes, the real potato pancake.
    The closest I have got to German food sence those days has been polish sausage….
    Need to make this right away….


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