By Noel Christmas

Check out the kitchen secrets that make Slow Cooker Beef Stew I the most popular beef stew on Allrecipes.

Photo by mis7up

The Ingredients

A recipe won't stand out if it doesn't have the right ingredients, and this one has some basic building blocks that make a huge difference. Let's look at 3 ingredients that do a lot of heavy lifting:

  • Flour. If you want the right consistency, flour is the best choice, especially in this case, where it coats each piece of meat, adding flavor and thickening the liquid. (Other thickeners, like cornstarch, get a little pasty when cooked this long).
  • Paprika. Turns out that paprika doesn't mellow out or lose flavor like some spices, so it keeps its full taste even after several hours of cooking.
  • Worcestershire. A little goes a long way, but boy does it make difference. Worcestershire adds an element of something called "umami," which is that meaty, savory taste we associate with beef. And yes, even a beef stew can sometimes use an extra shot of it.

The Way It's Cooked

Beef stew needs low, slow heat that creates tender beef and a thick sauce. The proper term for this is "braising," where the meat is cooked in a closed container with a little liquid around it. It's the go-to method for turning tough but flavorful cuts of meat into something wonderful.

As it turns out, one of the best ways to braise is in your slow cooker.

The key to braising is patience, but if you're like me, it's often in short supply. That's why I love the slow cooker—you can't rush it. As a matter of fact, you're probably not even home while it's "braising,' so there's no chance you'll keep opening the lid and hindering the process.

The Extra Steps

In review after review of this recipe, cooks do one extra step that makes a huge difference: browning the beef.

Typically, braised meats are lightly coated in flour, then quickly seared/browned in the pot before the liquid is added. This boosts the flavor and gives the flour a head start on thickening the sauce. If you're interested, this is also called the Maillard reaction, and it's a pretty important principle in cooked meats.

Unfortunately, you can't brown in a slow cooker, so this extra step requires an extra pan and a little bit more time. But read the reviews, and you'll see that the flavor boost is totally worth it.

Browning also lets you perform one more bit of cooking wizardry: deglazing the pan.

This is your chance to reclaim the little bits of flour, meat, and oil that stuck to the pan as you browned the beef. Add a little stock, wine, or plain water to the pan after you've removed the browned beef and start scraping. Then just add that concentrated, flavorful liquid to the slow cooker with everything else.

Bonus tip: if it seems like you're cleaning the pan when you do this, then you're doing it right.