Help me get started with this new crockpot

So about a month ago I decided to buy a crockpot. I was thinking how nice it would be to just toss some stuff in there in the morning and come home to a ready to eat meal at the end of the day, and just to make food in bulk to have over the course of a few days or perhaps in the freezer or whatever other possibilities come from having a crockpot.

But it’s pretty much sat on my table unused (except for cheese fondue, which I love, but isn’t quite the reason I got it) since I got it. I’m not sure why it’s so hard for me to just dive into it. I guess for one thing, the sheer amount of recipes online is overwhelming, and for another, though I’ve been living in Germany for a few years now, I still hesitate when I read too many ingredients that I’m just unsure of where to get here or if they’re even available. Sure laziness plays a role.

Anyway, I just want to go simple right now. So I’m figuring chile con carne for my first real attempt. It seems to me the type of food most perfectly suited to the crockpot and it should be simple enough. Question: I’ve seen recipes online that call for browning the chopped meat in a pan first. Cannot I not cook the raw meat directly in the crock pot? Because this is a minor step back away from the blissful laziness I was hoping to support by having a crockpot in the first place.

Does this apply to meat in general? Because I also bought a big hunk of the cheapest steak I could find in the store. I plan to use that for my 2nd attempt.

Ok, back to the chile. So lets say I want to add some veggies. I currently have in the house onions, red bell peppers, and white mushrooms I think. Do I just toss those in at the same time? What about the hot sauce? I’ve got canned red kidney beans (that’s sadly the extent of the beans I can get at my typical market here). Oh, got cans of corn too.

So basically, help me get started. What common food items can I toss in when?

Oh, and do I need cooking spray first? Other general tips?

FTR, I NEVER brown the meat before I use it. Almost every recipe says to do that, but I never bother and everything comes out just fine. The exception being ground meat, but I’m talking about stew or something you’re going to shred. When I use the crock pot, I’m looking for something easy. At most, I’m hoping for little more then a cutting board a knife to clean. If I have to scrub a pan when I’m done, I might as well, cook. Ugh, the humanity.

Anyways, something super easy.
2# (or so) Chuck Roast
1 packet of Zesty Italian Dressing seasoning
1 jar pepperoncini (I use the smaller one unless I’m making a big batch, then the bigger one)

Toss it all in, including the juice, leave it on low for the better part of the day. Shred the meat, if it’s not falling apart, it’s not done. It should be hard to even pull out of the crock without it breaking. Toss it back in for another half hour, then pull the peppers/stems out and serve. Freeze the rest.

As for things like stew, just look up stew recipes and toss them in. You can stagger the ingredients, but I just put everything in in the morning. I don’t brown the meat, I don’t sautee the onions, it all gets tossed in in the morning and thicken it before I’m ready to eat.

Here’s a good place to get started.

Also, no cooking spray, no bags. When you’re done eating empty it out, let it soak in soapy water and clean it with soap and water a brush.

Like Joey, I never brown meat before putting it in the crockpot. Browning might improve the flavor but the stuff I’ve made tastes fine without it.

Chili’s a good easy thing to start with. Stew’s also easy, especially if you’re lazy like me and buy pre-packaged stew vegetables.

OK, so if I understand Joey P, with ground meat you would indeed brown first? Because that’s what I plan to use for the chili.

Personally, I always brown meats before cooking them in a slow cooker. It isn’t necessary, though, and I don’t know why anyone would make ground beef the only exception.

Yes, you have to brown ground meat if you’re going to use it in the crock pot. I don’t recall the reasons why, but I don’t think it would brown/crumble correctly. Besides, you’d end up with very greasy chili if you didn’t.

I’d imagine it has to do with the fact that when you brown ground meat you’re basically frying it and you can’t do that in a crock pot. When you cook big chunks of meat in a crock pot, you’re slow cooking it, that’s different then what you want to do with ground meat.

You brown the ground meat first so you can drain the fat. Otherwise, your chili is going to be super-greasy. Unless the meat is very low in fat, but then it’s not going to be tasty.

I’m not too wild about leaving a crock pot going all day with nobody home. I usually do it on days off so I can be there to stir it, watch it, and be able to turn the temp down when needed. It just seems like a bad idea to me.

That said, I never pre-brown meat before putting it in (except for ground meats).

A crock pot isn’t much more than a heating pad wrapped around crockery. There shouldn’t be any reason not to leave it going during the day while everyone is out.

Get the America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook on Slow Cookers. They have tested hundreds of recipes and perfected the way to get the most flavor from your crock pot dishes. They often do not brown the meat, but they’ll make a small mixture of onions, tomato paste, and garlic and cook it in the microwave for about five minutes to replicate the deep-browned flavor. Seriously, you need this book. There are three of them, and this is the simplest. Available for kindle. (You don’t need a kindle–just download the free kindle reading app for your computer.)

I just got my first crockpot, and I’ve been loving it. So far, my go-to is just dumping a pork shoulder in with some kind of sauce (BBQ, salsa, etc.) and shredding it after 8 hours for use on sandwiches, with rice, etc. I’ll also do the same with chicken thighs. You don’t have to get exact about recipes. Just think meat plus sauce.

It takes some attention, but you can make granola is a slow cooker. I do this weekly.

I brown ground meat primarily for the flavor (carmelized meat just plain tastes better) and for dumping excess grease before it goes into the pot. For solid meats, I just don’t worry about it.

For chili, I usually brown the meat, drain it, then put it and all the other chili fixins (besides beans, if I’m doing that sort of thing) into the pot and cook it for about 24 hours. I will often have to add more liquid as it cooks, which I add in the form of beer.

For pulled pork, I just put the meat in the bottom of the pot and then cover it with the vegetables (primarily onions and peppers, and occasionally carrots). Then I put in about two cups of liquid. Cook on low for 8 hours and you’ll have pork that is incredibly tender.

Ground meat needs to be browned to cook out the fat.

Browning other meat adds a depth of flavor. It’s not strictly necessary, but there is a difference in how the final product tastes. If I am using my Dutch oven, I brown right in the pot, but when using my slow cooker I mostly don’t. (Ground meats aside)

Here is my Pinterest Crock Pot board. These are recipes I’ve tested and liked. Pinterest is a great source not only to find recipes, but to organize them for finding later.

pork roast with sauerkraut is best done in a crock pot. put in the sauerkraut then the (partially?) browned pork roast then add sliced onions and apples and a teaspoon or so of caraway seeds and 1/3 cup of brown sugar. top off with beer or any liquid you think would impart flavor. Cook on low for 8-12 hrs keeping it topped with liquid.

You can’t screw this up and it’s delightful.


For some reason I’ve been dismissing Pinterest as some teen fad on facebook. Your post inspired me to check it out.

Many thanks everyone. Tomorrow I crack the crock with chile con carne (with beer as per Lightnin’s suggestion). So please feel free to share specific chile recipe ideas for the next 12 hours. And any addtional tips and suggestions anytime you like. I look forward to coming back to this thread and Hockey Monkey’s pinterest page in the future.

It really depends on what you’re cooking and what kind of beef you’re using. I don’t use a slow cooker, but a similar idea with a Dutch oven, and I very rarely have to end up draining ground beef. Only if it’s like 25-30% fat. For 85-15, it’s fine, and sometimes you don’t want your beef browned because you want a more delicate texture (for example, I like my ragu bolognese beef NOT to be browned.) What I do end up doing is not adding additional fat, though.

Here’s an idea I think somebody posted in a previous slow cooker thread. Make a sauce of one part cranberry sauce and one part barbecue sauce. I’ve made it with pork but it would probably work with chicken.

Is there a disadvantage to using the bags? They seem like such a great idea…

Because crock pots really aren’t all that hard to clean and if the bag burns to the crock or leaks (both of which I’ve had happen) you end up cleaning it anyways.

If it works, great, I’ve just had bad luck with them and for the trouble and cost, I don’t mind spending 5 minutes scrubbing the crock.