Sauerbraten for Dinner

I suppose everyone has their special German dish to devour. There is so much to choose from on the menu from sweet to sour. But if I go to a German restaurant the first thing I look for on the menu is Sauerbraten. The savory goodness of meat marinated in a wine broth for hours before cooking makes my mouth water just to think about it.


We were newly married when my husband and my father went hunting together and killed a brown bear. To entertain my husband’s family during that first year of our marriage, I chose a bear roast to make a Sauerbraten meal for them. His parents and an out-of-town uncle were invited to this dinner in our single-wide trailer where we started our wedded life together. Crowded as we were, the meal was a great hit and I hoped it laid the groundwork for the new daughter-in-law of the year accolades. That did not turn out to be the case of course but it had nothing to do with the meal. That would be another story more than 30 years in the making. Since my father’s death, the bear hide has been hanging on the wall of our stairway.

brown bear on the wall

Sauerbraten means; sauer = sour and braten = roast meat. Pretty straight forward. Most any meat can be used (like our bear) but some places originally used horse and some restaurants still serve it.  Although the common meat used today is beef, sometimes it can be found with venison or lamb.

The term sauerbraten itself was not found in print until 1889 but some have ascribed the dish to Julius Caesar who is documented as having sent beef marinated in wine all the way from Rome to the new Roman colony of Cologne. St. Albert of Cologne was later credited with popularizing the recipe in the 13th century. Also known as Albertus Magnus or Albert the Great (circa 1200-1280), he was a doctor and philosopher whose most famous student was Thomas Aquinas. St. Albert is the patron saint of natural scientists and a proponent of the coexistence of faith and science.

Now sauerbraten is considered one of Germany’s national dishes. My mom is not where my German heritage lies so I did not grow up with Sauerbraten as a typical dish in our home but when we had special meals with women from my dad’s family, this dish became a special treat. 

The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League created a cookbook when Virginia Von Seggern was national president (2003-2007). In it Pam Spilker from the LWML office submitted her recipe for Sauerbraten and I will share that with you here.


1 4 lb. pot roast (2” thick)

2 tsp. Sugar

6 peppercorns

1 ½ c. water

½ lemon, sliced thin

20 ginger snaps

1 tsp. Salt

6 bay leaves

1 ½ c. wine vinegar (or red wine)

2 medium onions, sliced

¼ lb. butter

Place meat in a crock or glass container large enough to allow meat to be covered by liquid. Combine remaining ingredients, except butter and ginger snaps, and pour over meat. Cover and let stand for 3 days in the refrigerator. Turn meat every day. On the third day, remove and drain, saving liquid. Brown meat in butter over low heat. Gradually, add reserved liquid to meat and bake slowly at 300 degrees for 3 hours. I use a crock pot for this. While the roast is cooking, crush ginger snaps. When meat is cooked, remove to a platter. Strain juice into a small saucepan, skim off grease, heat to boiling and add crushed ginger snaps to make gravy. – Pam Spilker

I think that sauerbraten goes best with red cabbage or German potatoes but it can be served with any vegetable and be savory. Don’t skimp of the marinating time. That is what makes it so delicious through and through. And during the summer months, a roast simmering in the crock pot is nice without heating up the kitchen. Enjoy.

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