So, there’s this thing called a “Mississippi Pot Roast.” I’ve seen it pop up on my social media over the last several years and I have seen other people comment on it and offer their thoughts online after preparing and eating it.
Mississippi Pot Roast became a viral internet sensation after a woman in North Mississippi, Robin Chapman, tweaked a roast recipe her grandmother used to make by adding dry Ranch dressing mix, dry au jus mix, and— of all things— some pepperoncinis. It was published in a church league cookbook and then on a blog, and then on another blog. After that it took on a life of its own on the World Wide Web and has grown into a thing of legend.
Some of the Internet research I did referred to the recipe as “Mississippi Roast” others called it “Mississippi Pot Roast.” They were the same recipe, but I am proudly from Mississippi, and I dearly love my home state. I not only wanted to learn more about this phenomenon (granted a decade too late), but I also wanted to use the correct name. I Googled “Mississippi Roast” and received 91,200 hits in 0.65 seconds. Popular. A quick search for “Mississippi Pot Roast” yielded 167,000 hits in 0.58 seconds. Very popular. So, for the purposes of this column, I will refer to the recipe as Mississippi Pot Roast, even though Chapman, the creator of the recipe appears to have just called it “roast.”
Everyone from the New York Times to the folks at Garden & Gun has opined on the recipe. Mississippi Pot Roast has an enthusiastic and loyal legion of fans.
I was skeptical at first. The recipe included store-bought dry Ranch dressing mix, dry au jus mix, and pepperoncinis. Not necessarily legit to some folks. I make a damn good pot roast, myself. I, too, am from Mississippi. I thought it might be time to make this Mississippi Pot Roast and compare it to my pot roast recipe— certainly what would be considered a Mississippi pot roast recipe, also. So, I purchased two roasts and the comparison process was underway.
My recipe calls for a shoulder roast and the Mississippi Pot Roast recipe calls for a chuck roast. This created a dilemma right off the bat. When comparing recipes, one always wants to compare apples to apples to gain the most accurate result. A shoulder roast is leaner and lends itself to slicing. A chuck roast has more fat and is better for shredding. I went with the shoulder roast on both.
The thing about the Mississippi Pot Roast recipe is that it is simple. Seriously simple— five ingredients dumped into a crockpot. It doesn’t get any easier. Put the roast in the crockpot, sprinkle the two dry mixes over the top, add butter and pepperoncini, close the lid and come back in eight hours.
My pot roast— heretofore for the purposes of this column will be referred to brazenly in the third person as RSJ’s Mississippi Pot Roast— is a much more complicated process. It is seasoned and seared on all sides in a skillet before being placed in a roasting pan. Then a peanut butter-colored roux is made in the same skillet to which onions and thyme are added. After a few minutes hot beef broth, Worcestershire, salt, and pepper are added to the roux mixture which is then poured over the roast in the pan, covered, and baked for two hours.
While the original Mississippi Pot Roast is cooking in the crockpot, undisturbed, the RSJ Mississippi Pot Roast gets onions and carrots added at the two-hour mark, and potatoes at the three-hour mark. It is done after four hours (though I went a little longer because the roast was a little larger).
I brought together a panel of expert taste testers to compare the two dishes, side-by-side— my wife, my mother-in-law, and my Italian goddaughter from Tuscany who is taking a gap year after high school and staying with us over here for a few months (she also helped make the mashed potatoes).
Here are the results:
Ease of Preparation: The Mississippi Pot Roast wins this category hands down. As stated earlier, it was five ingredients thrown into a crock pot and left alone for eight hours. It doesn’t get any easier than that.
The RSJ Mississippi Pot Roast took a little prep work and there is a roux preparation involved (nothing hard, just flour and fat cooked low and slow, but some are intimidated by rouxs). There are also two additions at certain points of the cooking process— the addition of carrots and onions and then the addition of potatoes.
The mashed potatoes we made were not needed as they had the typical accompanying vegetables and was a true one-pot dish. Winner: Mississippi Pot Roast
Degree of Innovation: There is not much innovation involved in the RSJ Mississippi Pot Roast. It’s a fairly straight take on a classic recipe. However, Mrs. Chapman’s Mississippi Pot Roast is something I have never heard of, or even thought of— ranch dressing, butter, and pepperoncinis. Winner: Mississippi Pot Roast
Legitimacy: Most of my chef friends would scoff at any recipe that would use a powdered dressing mix in the preparation of a roast. I understand that Mrs. Chapman’s grandmother made a roast with Italian dressing (which I have heard of) and she wanted to tweak that recipe. Who am I to argue with 10 years of internet viral sharing? Nevertheless… Winner: RSJ Mississippi Pot Roast
Eye Appeal: There was a tie among the judges here. The Mississippi Pot Roast was darker and had a nice crust on it, and my wife and mother-in-law thought it looked best (traitors). I probably left the foil tent on too long on the RSJ Mississippi Pot Roast and it had a lighter finish. Tie
Tenderness: The RSJ Mississippi Pot Roast was easier to slice since I used a shoulder roast. Had I used a chuck roast on the Mississippi Pot Roast, it probably wouldn’t have been so dry. Though it was easier to shred. Winner: RSJ Mississippi Pot Roast
Positives of Each: It’s hard to beat five ingredients thrown in a crock pot before work, allowing one to come home to a finished dish. But I think the favorite part of my RSJ Mississippi Pot Roast is the gravy it makes. Seriously, once the roast is finished, all one must do is remove the roast and vegetables and then strain the pan juices through a colander and the resulting gravy needs nothing. It’s perfect in its taste, color, and viscosity. I love gravy. That’s a big positive in my book. Also, the carrots and potatoes are perfectly cooked and seasoned well. The RSJ Mississippi Pot Roast is a full meal. Winner: RSJ Mississippi Pot Roast
Negatives of Each: The RSJ Mississippi Pot Roast is slightly time consuming. And, whereas, the procedures aren’t complicated, it is certainly more involved than the other Mississippi Pot Roast, and you will get a couple of more pans dirty.
I thought the pepperoncini addition added a slight off-flavor to the pan juices, and it didn’t hold up in comparison to the gravy. The juices also came off a little salty tasting. Tie
Taste: When it comes down to it, this is the main criteria for any dish for me. And with all due respect to Robin Chapman and the hundreds of thousands who have prepared her viral phenomenon, I favor my RSJ Mississippi Pot Roast. Though the other three judges were very non-committal. I couldn’t tell if they were trying to spare my feelings or if they seriously couldn’t decide which one tasted better. Tie
For the record, a Google search for “RSJ Pot Roast” yielded only five results in 0.42 seconds. I’ve got some work to do if I am going to spread the word about my version.