Your Slow Cooker Beef Stew Road Map

Because what guy doesn’t like beef stew?
Beef stew

Beef stew is hearty, filling, and tasty fare, maybe the very definition of a “man meal.”

Problem is, so many of us eat it out of a can. That’s the real tragedy, especially since beef stew is so easy to make.

“Easy?” you ask. “But my mom or grandmom said it takes all day?”

They were hiding their secret from you: the slow cooker. It provides an even, gentle heat that lets the beef get tender while mellowing and blending all the flavors in the stew. Better yet, the slow cooker does all the work for you. You can set it up before you leave for the day, and have dinner when you come home eight hours later.

Track Your Stew

Once you’ve made your ingredient selections and mapped your route to a great stew, use our Recipe Builder to figure out the PointsPlus® values, so you can track and enjoy.

Here’s our road map to building your own signature beef stew in the slow cooker:

Step 1: Spray a large nonstick skillet with nonstick spray, set over medium-high heat, and brown 3 pounds cubed boneless beef.

Yep, you have to cook a bit before you can let the slow cooker do the rest of the work. Face it: Browning pumps up beef’s flavor. You won’t have wimpy gray chunks in the stew; you’ll have a satisfying, rich dinner.

Choose long-cooking boneless cuts of beef such as:
  • chuck
  • arm or blade roast
  • top round
  • bottom round
  • eye of round
  • sirloin

Cut the beef into 1 1/2-inch cubes, then brown them in batches in that large skillet. If you crowd them in the skillet, the liquid released during browning won’t boil away quickly enough, and you’ll end up with stewed, gray meat. So brown about a third of the beef cubes at a time for the best crust, browning all sides evenly. Be patient. Dinner will be better for it.

Step 2: Add the browned beef and any remaining juices in the skillet to a 5- to 7-quart slow cooker. Also add 2 cups thinly sliced aromatic vegetables.

Start out with the standards. Choose among:
  • yellow onions
  • red onions
  • shallots
  • leeks

Watch out for grit in between the layers of the leeks — wash them carefully before chopping.

But don’t just stick with the naturals. Also try:
  • fennel
  • celery
  • bell peppers

The best beef stew is made with a combo of aromatic veggies: yellow onions, celery and bell peppers. Or shallots and fennel. Or leeks and bell peppers. You can mix and match to your heart’s content, although you’ll most likely want to include one choice from the onion group.

Finally, consider adding a little minced garlic or minced peeled fresh ginger to this mix of aromatics, no more than 1 tablespoon of either in the final combo.

Step 3: Add 4 cups cubed, peeled root vegetables.

Those aromatic veggies offer sweetness to the stew; these hardy bruisers will give it all its heft. Choose among:
  • carrots
  • parsnips
  • potatoes
  • sweet potatoes
  • turnips
  • celery root
  • rutabaga

And don’t forget that in culinary lingo, winter squash counts as a “root” vegetable. So also consider:
  • butternut squash
  • acorn squash
  • pumpkin
  • or any other more exotic hard winter squash like buttercup or blue hubbard

Any of these winter squashes will need to be seeded as well as peeled and cubed. But keep in mind that many of these root veggies are available already prepped for you in the produce section of your supermarket.

For the best taste, use a mix of roots: carrots, potatoes and parsnips. Or rutabaga, turnips and acorn squash. Or celery root and sweet potatoes.

Step 4: Add 2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs, 1/2 teaspoon dried spice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper.

Consider these your options for herbs:
  • parsley
  • oregano
  • thyme
  • rosemary
  • sage
  • marjoram

Mint and dill will give too much of a flavor pop. You want to be a little more subtle. And since the slow cooker melds flavors into a common palette, we suggest choosing one herb — or at the very most, two.

Consider these your spice choices. Choose only one:
  • ground cumin
  • ground allspice
  • ground cinnamon
  • grated nutmeg
  • red pepper flakes
  • mild smoked paprika

Here’s where you get to play chef. Consider classic herb and spice combos that pair well with beef: sage and nutmeg, rosemary and red pepper flakes, parsley and cinnamon, oregano and smoked paprika, or marjoram and cumin.

If in doubt about your selections, choose an herb, then sniff it while holding it over an open bottle of a ground spice. You’ll tell immediately if it’s a good mix.

Step 5: Add 1 1/2 cups liquid and 2 tablespoons of a wet flavoring-enhancer, preferably a wet condiment.

Here are the liquids to try:
  • reduced-sodium fat-free beef broth
  • red, white, or rosé wine
  • beer (from a light pilsner to a stout)

Use only one from the list, or broth with wine, or broth with beer. (Just don’t mix beer and wine. Ever. In the kitchen, the sugars in beer give the acids in wine a funky aftertaste. In your stomach, you’ve probably already experimented with the combo — to bad effect.)

Remember: the more wine or beer, the sweeter the stew. So if you’ve added already-sweet carrots and butternut squash, you’ll want to lean more on the broth here to keep the savory notes present — say, 1 1/4 cups broth and 1/4 cup red wine.

As for the flavor-enhancer, here are your options:
  • reduced-sodium tomato paste
  • tamarind paste
  • Dijon mustard (coarse or smooth)
  • ketchup
  • hoisin sauce
  • chutney
  • pomegranate molasses
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • orange marmalade

Choose one and stir it into the stew until fully dissolved.

Step 6: Use a large wooden spoon to toss the stew until all the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout, then cover the slow cooker and cook on low until the beef is fork-tender, between 8 and 10 hours.

If you can’t wait, and you check on the slow cooker during the day, you’ll need to add 30 minutes' cooking time for every time you lift the lid, because of heat loss. So be patient and keep it covered.

Step 7: When the beef is tender, skim any fat off the top of the stew and stir in 1 tablespoon of an acidic flavor-brightener.

Flavors can dull after long cooking, so give them a spark by adding 1 tablespoon of one of the following:
  • lemon juice
  • lime juice
  • balsamic vinegar
  • rice vinegar
  • sherry vinegar
  • wine vinegar
  • cider vinegar

After that, dish that stew up! There are about 12 servings in the cooker. Consider 1 1/2 cups a serving.

And freeze any leftovers in single-serving containers for up to four months — a lunch or dinner from the microwave whenever you want it.

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Slow Cooking, Dinner, Beef, Soups & Stews
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