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Another Crockpot Debacle

  • b

I love the idea of crockpot cooking, but I've been uniformly disappointed by the results. I find that meat tenderizes nicely in the crockpot, but flavor doesn't develop in the same way as on the stovetop. This week I made my favorite beef stew recipe(the Zinfandel of Beef from Julia Childs' "The Way to Cook"). I've made this dish on the stovetop many times, with stellar results. To adapt the recipe to the crockpot, I cut down on the liquids, browned the beef, onions and carrots before putting them in the crockpot, but basically stuck to the original recipe. The results were amazingly dull. The beef was very tender, but it had no real flavor. I ended up simmering the sauce on the stovetop with salt and a roux to make it palatable. I also have done a beef brisket recipe (again, stellar when slow-cooked in an oven) in the crockpot, and it had the same strange lack of flavor, even though the meat texture was good.

What am I doing wrong? Do people have suggestions on what types of recipes work well in a crockpot?

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  1. I use mine a good deal, but am only now getting the courage to step very far. However, things like pulled pork come off tremendously well in one. Also the corned beef/cabbage works well. Chili also finishes nicely in them.

    I tried a chicken chile dish I got here recently. While not bad, it was a little too soupy and overly "straight ahead", which I guess I mean too much like a package meal when done. But it holds hope.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Dennis S

      I agree -- we make some *fantastic* pulled pork in the crockpot. We always marinate the meat overnight...so no problems with blandness.

      (We also keep it going with mulled cider for much of the winter.)

    2. I've never understood the lure of the crockpot. The lowest oven setting accomplishes the same thing, but with *even heating all around*.

      Crockpots are like microwaves IMO, to be used to re-heat or serve already cooked food.

      (I know there are huge crock-pot fans--don't take it personally!)

      4 Replies
      1. re: Funwithfood

        I'm not a crock pot fan, but there are a couple of very nice times for them:
        - When taking something to another locale, especially a potluck where space in the oven or on the stove may be limited
        - at your own house where the same is true.

        Do they use less electricity too for the amount you're cooking?

        1. re: Funwithfood

          The crockpot's major benefit -- compared to the oven, which does produce superior results -- is SAFETY when one is not in the house.

          Leaving an oven on when one's house is empty for 8+ hours is riskier than leaving the crockpot on a low setting for that period of time. Very simple.

          That being said, the crockpot does produce a superior turkey breast on low than an oven-braised item, though the latter produces a better sauce....

          1. re: Karl S.

            "Leaving an oven on when one's house is empty for 8+ hours is riskier than leaving the crockpot on a low setting for that period of time. Very simple."

            How do you know that?

            1. re: rudeboy

              I have a gas oven. One does not leave a gas oven burning unattended for hours in a multi-family dwelling. Things do happen.

        2. A friend of mine actually took his crockpot out into the yard and shot it with a shotgun. (He lives on a farm.) I just don't hardly ever use mine and have found there is absolutely nothing that it does better than some other way. In the process of discovering this truth I had to bear my wife's looks of disgust and pity when I took it out of the cupboard.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Steve

            Ha ha. I've realized I can't even attempt crockpot cookery in my marriage. My MIL (not a good cook to begin with) ruined it for my husband growing up - think Campbell's cream of mushroom soup-type dishes, in the crockpot! By definition anything that comes out of a crockpot is inedible to him. I tried once to convince him otherwise but could see it was hopeless.

          2. does anyone have a great recipe that does not require much pree cooking out of the crock pot?

            1. c
              culinary nerd

              My advice is to ditch the crockpot and use a pressure cooker instead. You get the same texture as a long cooked item and more flavor than you get from a crockpot. Cleanup is easy if it is a stovetop model. No breakable crockery inserts.

              Far and away one of my favorite bits of cooking equipment and you get complex, strongly developed flavors out of it.