Cooking meat in a slow cooker is particularly satisfying since slow cooking transforms even tough inexpensive cuts of meat into delicious, delicate morsels.
Choice of Meat
Tougher cuts of meat work best in slow cookers, as the long cooking time at low heat results in tender, delectable meat. More tender cuts of meat, on the other hand, tend to lose their texture when prepared in a slow cooker. The best cuts of meat to prepare with a slow cooker are:
- Beef: Brisket or chuck
- Lamb: Shank or shoulder
- Pork: Shoulder, blade roast, or spare ribs
Ham, fully cooked sausage, ground meat, and precooked bacon are also good meat choices for slow cooking.
It’s a good idea to brown meat before slow cooking it, as it improves the taste. To brown meat, cook it for a minute or two on each side in a well-oiled skillet over medium-high heat. Ground meat in particular should always be browned, unless it’s being used in a meatloaf.
You can add further flavor by deglazing the skillet after browning the meat. To deglaze, add a few tablespoons of liquid (water, broth, or wine) to the skillet after you’ve removed the browned meat. Bring it to a boil and swirl it while scraping the tiny cooked bits off the bottom of the pan. Pour this juice over the meat in the slow cooker.
Meat and Fat
To ensure that the slow cooked meals you make with meat aren’t too fatty or greasy, follow these guidelines:
- Trim: Cut away all visible fat from the meat before cooking it.
- Draining: If you have browned ground meat, always drain it in a colander (strainer) before slow cooking it so that the excess fat drips off.
- Defat: Suck up the fat from the cooking juices in a slow cooker by using a turkey baster or degreaser cup.
Sample Slow Cooker Meat Recipes
Beef Pot Roast with Gravy (serves 6)
- 1 chuck roast, about 2 pounds
- 1 Tbsp olive oil (if you choose to brown the meat)
- 3 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 8 carrots, chopped
- 3 small onions, peeled and cut into wedges
- 3/4 cup beef broth or water
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp dried basil, crushed
- 1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
- 1/4 cup cornstarch or flour (for gravy)
- 1/4 cup cold water (for gravy)
For pot roast: Trim the fat from the roast. If you choose to brown the meat, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Brown the chuck roast in the skillet, one or two minutes a side, then remove it to a plate. Layer the potatoes, carrots, and onions on the bottom of the ceramic crock. Place the meat on top of the vegetables. In a small bowl, combine the broth, Worcestershire sauce, and basil. Pour the mixture over the meat and vegetables in the crock. Cover and cook on high for one hour, then on low for 9–11 hours. (Or, continue to cook on high for 5–6 hours.) Add the cauliflower florets during the last half hour.
For gravy: Remove the meat and vegetables from the crock and keep them warm. Turn the slow cooker to high and let the cooking juices come to a boil. Prepare a smooth paste of cornstarch and water. Pour the paste into the hot cooking juices and stir well. Cook for 15–30 minutes, until the gravy has thickened.
Meatloaf and Vegetables (serves 4)
Use the cooking rack that comes with the slow cooker to make sure the meatloaf doesn’t break when you remove it after cooking. If you don’t have a cooking rack for your slow cooker, you can make a cradle around the meatloaf with strips of foil.
- 6 potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
- 4 carrots
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup crushed crackers or bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup tomato paste or chili sauce
- 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper
Layer the potatoes and carrots at the bottom of the crock. Mix the ground beef, egg, crackers, tomato paste, onion, salt, and pepper, then form it into a round or rectangular loaf, depending on the shape of your slow cooker. Place the loaf on the cooking rack and lower it into the crock on top of the vegetables. The meatloaf should not touch the sides of the crock. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour, then on low for 7–8 hours.
Barbecued Ribs (serves 6)
- 4 pounds spareribs or baby back ribs
- 2 cups barbecue sauce
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 onion, sliced
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
Place the ribs in the bottom of the crock. In a bowl, combine the barbecue sauce, Worcestershire sauce, sliced onion, and brown sugar. Pour the sauce over the ribs in the crock. Cover and cook on low for 8–9 hours, until the meat starts to separate from the bone.
Lamb Paprikash (serves 6)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 pounds lamb, cubed
- 16 oz chopped tomatoes (1 can)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika
- 1/2 cup cold water
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/2 cup sour cream
In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil. Add the cubed lamb and brown for 1–2 minutes on a side. Remove the lamb and onions and drain off the fat.
Combine the lamb mixture with the tomatoes, salt, and paprika in the slow cooker crock. Cover and cook on low for 8–10 hours. Blend the water slowly into the flour and then stir this paste into the still-cooking crock. Turn the slow cooker to high and continue to cook until the mixture is thick and bubbly, about a half hour. Mix 1/2 cup of the hot liquid from the slow cooker into the sour cream, then stir the sour cream mixture into the meat in the cooker and let it heat through.