After a long day working at the office or wrangling kids, it's nice to come home to a homecooked meal that you don't have to spend hours preparing. A slow-cooker can be a home cook's secret weapon when beef is on the menu. Cooking with the "slow and low" method imparts juiciness and layers of flavor into many cuts of beef, such as steak, roast, stew meat and even ribs. A slow-cooker's advantage over the stove, oven and grill is that you can toss in the meat, vegetables and broth in the morning before you leave for work, then come home to a house filled with mouthwatering aromas and a pot filled with a delicious dinner at the ready.
Thawing and Browning
When cooking large cuts of beef, such as roasts or briskets, make sure they are fully defrosted, if originally frozen. Brown the meat in a skillet or Dutch oven before placing it in the cooker. If you won't have enough time for browning before you have to leave in the morning, brown the beef the night before, refrigerate, then place the browned meat in the cooker with additional ingredients the next day. Although browning beef isn't a necessity, it gives it a delicious brown outer crust and helps the meat retain flavor.
Meat loaf does not need to brown before going into a slow cooker, but you may find that when you try to remove a cooked loaf, it doesn't remove easily from the pot. A foolproof method of retrieving your dish is to line the cooker with foil and allow the edges of the foil to fold over the side before securing the lid. When the food is done, use the extra foil as handles to lift out your dinner. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure that the inside of your loaf isn't pink, particularly when feeding children.
One of the primary ingredients that make slow-cooked meat so flavorful is the braising liquid. The liquid bathes the meat and tenderizes it for several hours, creating fork-tender bites. If you are a purist, opt for a simple beef stock to round out the natural flavors of a roast or brisket. If experimentation is your bent, mix together a spicy tomato sauce with crumbled ground beef to create a puttanesca sauce for pasta --- but go easy on the spice when serving kids. Asian-inspired marinades blend well with steak strips, or combine your favorite condensed soups with a little white wine or beef broth to bathe steak medallions in a rustic, faux French sauce. Add your favorite spices or salad dressing mix, and vegetables, and your meal is complete in one convenient bowl.
Settings and Conversions
Most slow-cookers have two settings: low and high. Certain recipes, such as beef stew, cubed steak and roast, are most flavorful when cooked all day on low, but if you get a late start and are beginning to cook slowly at noon, use the high-temperature setting to reduce the cooking time by about half. If you have a favorite brisket or beef ribs recipe that's been passed down for generations, convert the cook time from a conventional oven to a slow-cooker. If a beef dish takes about an hour in a conventional oven, it will take eight to 10 hours on low and four to six hours on high in a slow-cooker. If it traditionally takes 30 minutes to make, then the time in the slow-cooker will be six to eight hours on low and three to four hours on high. Keep the cooker far away from little hands so they don't accidentally pull it over onto themselves.
- "Crock-Pot Owner's Guide: 4 Quart Slow Cooker"
- USDA: Beef From Farm to Table
- "Taste of Home The New Slow Cooker"; Jennifer Olski; 2007
Kristie Brown is a publisher, writer and editor. She has contributed to magazines, textbooks and online publications. Brown holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Texas at Austin.