Cholent is such a personal matter for many, but I thought I'd share my favorite formula.
1 small to medium onion, sliced
2-4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
½ lb (approx flanken or chuck meat)
½ cup barley
3-4 smallish potatoes, peeled and cubed
0 onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, salt, pepper
0 oil for frying
Boil water and pour over barley in a separate container. Put up a separate pot or kettle of water to boil while following the remaining directions.
(It is best to begin this part about an hour and a half before Shabbos) Sautee the onion and garlic in a small amount of oil.
Raise the flame and add meat in chunks.
Generously shake garlic powder, paprika, and onion powder over the meat. Sprinkle a dash of pepper and salt (less generously!) Turn to sear on all sides until brown. Shake spices over the other side as well.
When meat is browned all over, add barley and potato chunks. Sprinkle an additional 1-2 tsp salt (to taste) over the barley and potatoes. Pour boiling water over it to cover everything, but not much higher.
Cover pot and bring to boil. Lower flame to a low boil and let it bubble until it's almost Shabbos. Add more boiling water if the top of the barley/potatoes starts to stick out.
Transfer to blech or slow-cooker base at a low heat. The first few times you do this, leave extra time before Shabbos so you can adjust the heat until you are familiar with the right settings/placement. You want to see tiny bubbles rise every few seconds, but it should not be bubbling in a full boil
Let it continue to cook until Shabbos lunch time. If you follow the directions carefully for the low heat, it will retain enough liquid without being soupy.