I'm convinced that slow cookers are magic. I once forgot some banana oat bars in the oven, and when I took them out 2 hours later, they were burnt to a crisp. When I leave my slow cooker alone for a few hours, everything is perfectly cooked. Coming home on a frigid day to a nice hot meal is absolutely lovely.
Slow Cooker Beef Stew
This is why slow cooker beef stew is my new favorite dish. After a bit of initial prep, you get tender beef and vegetables in a savory broth. This would go great with mashed potatoes or some other carbs to soak up the extra sauce.
- 1 tablespoon of oil
- 1 pound of stew meat
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of parsley
- ½ teaspoon of pepper
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 pound of chopped carrots (about 4)
- 1 pound of chopped potatoes (3-4 medium)
- 1 can (28 ounces) of crushed tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons of tomato paste (1/2 of a 6 ounce can)
- 2 cups of water
- Heat up the oil in a large pan over high heat.
- When the oil is hot, add in the meat and the spices. Leave the meat alone for 2-3 minutes. Flip over the meat pieces, and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
- Transfer the meat to the slow cooker. Add the onions, and cook for 3-5 minutes until golden brown.
- Add the onions and all of the other ingredients to the slow cooker. Stir to combine.
- Cook on low for 10-12 hours or on high for 4-6 hours until the beef and vegetables are tender.
- Oil: Used for browning the meat. Any oil with a high smoke point works (olive, canola, vegetable). Substitute half of the oil for butter for more color and flavor.
- Stew meat: Tough, lean cuts become tender with a long cook time. I used pre-packaged beef stew meat. Using well marbled cuts with fat, such as chuck or pot roast, may be richer and more tender. Cuts of different animals also work. See here for more details.
- Flour: Optional. Thickens the stew. When cooking the beef, add 1 tablespoon of flour per pound of beef.
- Onion: Required for beef stew. Adds sweetness and depth. Using any color onion (red, white, yellow) or shallots is okay. Spring onions would be less flavorful.
- Water: Used for cooking the beef. Substituting chicken or beef stock would add more flavor.
- Salt: Seasons the beef stew. I used 1 teaspoon because there's a lot of food, and nothing was salted. Add more to taste.
- Spices: Add up to 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Add up to 1 teaspoon of each of the following spices: parsley, thyme, rosemary, paprika. Add a bay leaf. Add up to 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce.
- Garlic: Add up to 4 cloves of garlic, minced. Cook at the beginning with the onion.
- Alcohol: Add up to 1 cup of red wine or beer.
I had a vegetable heavy stew with 1 pound of meat to 2 pounds of vegetables. I highly recommend increasing the meat to 2 pounds of meat per 2 pounds of vegetables.
- Carrots: Root vegetables work well in beef stew. Feel free to substitute parsnips or turnips.
- Potatoes: Adds substance and absorbs the flavor of the broth. Alternative starchy vegetables include butternut squash and sweet potatoes.
- Crushed tomatoes: Makes a beef tomato stew. For less tomato flavor, use 1 can (14 ounces) of tomatoes and 2 cups of liquid or no tomatoes and 4 cups of liquid. If you use 6 cups of liquid, I suggest using broth instead of water or else the stew may be too bland. The stew will be thinner, so you may want to add some flour (see above).
- Tomato paste: Adds subtle tomato flavor and savory depth. Adding the whole can (6 ounces) of tomato paste may be too strong.
You can add additional vegetables for flavor and texture.
- Celery: Add up to 4 stalks of celery.
- Mushrooms: Add 1 container (8-10 ounces) of mushrooms.
- Frozen vegetables: Add up to 1 pound of frozen peas, corn, green beans. Add these at the very end after the beef and the raw vegetables have finished cooking.
Step by Step Photos
Start by prepping the vegetables. Dice the onion, potatoes, and carrots. Since you will be slow cooking the vegetables, you can use a larger dice for the potatoes and carrots.
Before putting everything in the slow cooker, you should brown the meat to add depth and complexity of flavor. Heat up the oil in a large pan over high heat. When the oil is hot, add in the meat and the spices. If you have more meat, you may need to cook more than one batch.
The outside of the meat should be dark brown, but not burnt. The inside of the meat will still be raw and pink. Leave the meat alone for 2-3 minutes. When the first side is done, flip over the meat pieces, and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Transfer the meat to the slow cooker.
Add the onions to the pan, and cook for 3-5 minutes until golden brown. If the onions start sticking to the pan, you can deglaze with a splash of water, broth, or alcohol.
Add the onions and all of the other ingredients to the slow cooker. Since the recipe only calls for half a can of tomato paste, you can scoop out the other half, wrap it in a ziploc bag, and store it in the freezer for later.
Stir to combine. The liquid doesn't quite cover the meat and vegetables, but the meat and vegetables will release more liquid as they cook.
Cook on low for 10-12 hours or on high for 4-6 hours depending on your slow cooker. If in doubt, err towards the longer cook times. I stopped after 4 hours of cooking on high, and the stew wasn't quite done. Some of the potatoes were a bit crunchy, and the meat could have been softer.
Unlike with stovetop stews, you should not lift the lid to check on slow cooker beef stew because this increases the cook time. Resist the urge to check on the stew too early, and trust your slow cooker.
Alternate Cooking Methods
You can make beef stew on the stove top if you don't have a slow cooker, if you want fewer dishes, or if you want your food in 2 hours. Same ingredients, slightly different method. Here are the differences. I made stove top beef stew using 4 small potatoes and 1 cup of peas.
Since the vegetables won't be cooking for as long, you should chop the vegetables into smaller pieces. Instead of using a pan, you should brown the meat and cook the onions in a large pot, so you can simmer the stew in the same pot.
Transfer the browned meat to a separate plate. After cooking the onions, add all of the ingredients to the pot.
Cover the pot with a lid. Simmer the meat on low heat for 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours. Add the vegetables for the last 30 minutes of cooking. If you cut your potatoes at the beginning, you should soak cut potatoes in water to prevent them from turning brown and drain the water before adding the potatoes.
You should occasionally stir stove top beef stew to make sure that there's enough liquid. If all of the liquid evaporates, you will have stuck on tomato mess on the bottom of your pot.
After the meat and potatoes finished cooking, I stirred in 1 cup of frozen peas. Stove top beef stew looks and tastes the same as slow cooker beef stew, and you'll love either version.