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crock pot chili questions

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Citizen_Snips Dec 17, 2013 09:27 AM

I made crock pot chili last weekend and had a couple general questions:

1. Every chili recipe I have found, whether it be for a crock pot or traditional stovetop pot, instructs you to brown, or at least partially brown, the meat before adding it to the pot.

Is this really necessary, particularly for the crock pot? I've added whole raw roasts to a crock pot before and they end up cooked all the way through.

It would save me a lot of time making chili if I didn't have to brown 4 lbs of ground beef in a skillet before adding it to the crock pot. It's not as if I'm trying to sear it first or anything.

2. What is the ideal cooking time for crock pot chili, and does it matter much if you go over this amount? I have seen recipes calling for anywhere from 4-10 hours of cooking on low. If it's cooking on low, is there really any risk of overcooking?

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  1. PamelaD RE: Citizen_Snips Dec 17, 2013 09:35 AM

    I do 'brown' the ground meat first so I can drain off the rendered fat before it goes into the pot. Otherwise I think the final product would be too greasy.
    And I think the cooking time is very flexible. No real risk of overcooking. I just switch to 'warm' till ready to serve.
    If I use (canned, drained) beans, I wait and add them in the last 60-90 min, though, so they don't get too mushy.
    Have Fun.

    5 Replies
    1. re: PamelaD
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      jounipesonen RE: PamelaD Dec 17, 2013 09:55 AM

      Browning the meat will affect the taste of the meat as well - besides the removal of fat you might think to be excess.

      1. re: jounipesonen
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        brucesw RE: jounipesonen Dec 17, 2013 10:19 AM

        Yes to both of the responses so far with regard to draining off fat and adding flavor - the maillard reaction.

        However, if using ground meat, by which I mean hamburger grind, I do think overcooking is possible. Recipes I've seen using hamburger grind call for simmering for as little as thirty minutes. I don't like the sludge-like texture that results from long simmering of hamburger meat. If that texture doesn't bother you, then I say go ahead.

        If using chili grind or cubed meat, then longer cooking times are appropriate although 10 hours does sound excessive. Stove top chili with cubed meat can easily take 3 hours and four is not over-doing it.

        BTW, it is believed the original chili queens of Military Plaza in San Antonio did not brown their meat before adding the spices, that was a refinement to preparation that came along later. And Chilorio, a possible Mexican antecedent of chili, does not call for browning the meat. If you don't miss the intensified beefiness, skip the step.

        1. re: brucesw
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          julesrules RE: brucesw Dec 17, 2013 11:44 AM

          My crockpot on low probably takes about 4x longer than stovetop simmering to get the same results. Just coming to a simmer takes a lot longer than it does on the stove. So 10 hours is not completely crazy compared to 3-4 hours on the stove.
          It's not my preferred cooking method, definitely a matter of convenience, but I do find the results are fine to good for *some* things and beef stew meat is one of them.

          1. re: julesrules
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            brucesw RE: julesrules Dec 17, 2013 01:33 PM

            Well I have a crockpot but have used it once in the last 10 years so I'm not real familiar with them. Thanks for the edification.

          2. re: brucesw
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            Citizen_Snips RE: brucesw Dec 18, 2013 10:43 AM

            Doesn't the maillard reaction only occur when high heat is applied? When I'm working with ground beef, I never use anything higher than medium heat. Wouldn't cooking raw ground beef over medium heat be equivalent to letting it stew in the chili pot for a few hours?

            The point about draining the fat first makes sense.

      2. j
        julesrules RE: Citizen_Snips Dec 17, 2013 10:08 AM

        I started a crockpot thread recently, and a few people say that they do chili without browning the meat. Thinking about it, when I brown loose meat I don't get a heck of a lot of true "browning" anyway - the meat ends up steaming itself and greyish, without a lot of brown colour happening.
        Over a long day out of the house (my crockpot's minimum setting is 6 hours on low, then it will be on keep warm for another 5 hours), I do find that crockpot stews grow deeper in colour, tomato sauce seems to caramelize a bit, etc. I can believe that chili would get enough flavour from the long cooking and spicing, without needing browning of meat or aromatics so much.
        Overall - I believe crockpot chili, without browning the meat, might turn out alright. And I'm going to try it soon - with extra lean meat.

        2 Replies
        1. re: julesrules
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          jounipesonen RE: julesrules Dec 17, 2013 03:17 PM

          "the meat ends up steaming itself and greyish, without a lot of brown colour happening. "

          Reduce the thickness of the 'layer' of meat in the pan and do some healthy stirring. Otherwise you are coming close to the stewing of the meat - which is what happens just tossing the raw into a liquid.

          1. re: jounipesonen
            C. Hamster RE: jounipesonen Dec 17, 2013 04:02 PM

            Yes. If your meat is grey your pan is overcrowded. And perhaps not hot enough.

            I've never had a problem getting it brown, except when I screw up with too much or too low

        2. z
          zackly RE: Citizen_Snips Dec 17, 2013 10:33 AM

          I've made crock pot chili without browning the meat first and it came out fine. You just need to skim a lot more fat off the surface when you're done. I start the crock pot on high until the mixture is boiling then I set on low. I would think 2-3 hours is sufficient but maybe less time is better?

          1. c
            ChiliDude RE: Citizen_Snips Dec 17, 2013 11:36 AM

            First of all, I do not make chili with ground beef. I buy round roast or chuck roast and cube it. The cubed meat is braised in beer. The other ingredients then are added to the braised meat.

            Also, this is extremely important. DO NOT MAKE CHILI WITH BEANS IN IT.

            If you must have beans, make frijoles refritos as a side dish.

            7 Replies
            1. re: ChiliDude
              SIMIHOUND RE: ChiliDude Dec 17, 2013 04:18 PM

              ChiliDude, why not add beans? It is because of the traditional way it is usually made or is this for some other reason?

              1. re: SIMIHOUND
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                ChiliDude RE: SIMIHOUND Dec 19, 2013 12:07 PM

                Beans are used as a filler and take away from the flavor of the meat.

                It isn't that I dislike beans. I have some for breakfast every morning in a nutriceutical which I concoct. The nutriceutical is a thick minestrone which contains beans, other legumes, vegetables, and of course, some form of chile.

                Nutriceutical is defined as a nutritional pharmaceutical.

                My cholesterol levels hahave decreased by half due to the resistant starches of some of the ingredients.

                1. re: ChiliDude
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                  jounipesonen RE: ChiliDude Dec 19, 2013 02:28 PM

                  Then again the beans just taste good.

                  1. re: jounipesonen
                    monavano RE: jounipesonen Dec 19, 2013 02:28 PM

                    Well, the are the magical fruit!

                    1. re: monavano
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                      jounipesonen RE: monavano Dec 20, 2013 02:37 AM

                      And also musical

                    2. re: jounipesonen
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                      ChiliDude RE: jounipesonen Jan 4, 2014 08:20 AM

                      But they make the chili bland. I do not like bland chili.

                2. re: ChiliDude
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                  laliz RE: ChiliDude Dec 18, 2013 01:06 PM

                  I agree 200% ~~ NO beans

                3. EarlyBird RE: Citizen_Snips Dec 17, 2013 11:40 AM

                  I think browning is critical to chili, stews and many other things. It's not a matter of cooking through, which the crock pot will certainly handle, but developing flavor.

                  1. C. Hamster RE: Citizen_Snips Dec 17, 2013 11:48 AM

                    Browning meat is where the "meaty" flavor comes from.

                    It's called the Maillard reaction.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: C. Hamster
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                      Citizen_Snips RE: C. Hamster Dec 18, 2013 10:44 AM

                      Don't you need to use high heat to get the maillard reaction? I've never cooked ground beef with high heat.

                      1. re: Citizen_Snips
                        j
                        jounipesonen RE: Citizen_Snips Dec 19, 2013 12:22 AM

                        The bad part of browning is that it also creates the carcinogens. Then again, I've heard some idiots are still smoking.

                        1. re: jounipesonen
                          EarlyBird RE: jounipesonen Jan 16, 2014 10:50 AM

                          I've been in cancer research for many years now, and there does not seem to be a link between merely "browned" food, but rather, the blackened/charred food, the kind of stuff you get on a grill.

                      2. re: C. Hamster
                        monavano RE: C. Hamster Dec 18, 2013 10:55 AM

                        I think the Maillard reaction is not necessary when you've got chili flavors going on.
                        Skip the browning.

                      3. RealMenJulienne RE: Citizen_Snips Dec 17, 2013 11:54 AM

                        I think browning the meat is essential for chili, not because you're trying to get a sear but because the brown meat forms the chili's flavor base. After browning your meat you toss in aromatics like chopped onions and chiles, which release water and deglaze the fond so you're not wasting any flavor.

                        That said, you're not saving any time or effort by browning and transferring to a crock pot. Just layer all the ingredients in the same pot on the stovetop and then simmer until done.

                        1. t
                          tastesgoodwhatisit RE: Citizen_Snips Dec 17, 2013 04:21 PM

                          Browning isn't necessary for a cooked product, but it does taste better, with a fuller flavour. And with fatty meat, it can let you drain it. There may be a texture issue as well - when you brown the meat, you also break it up, but if you put it in the slow cooker raw, you might get much larger chunks of meat.

                          Overcooking is *definitely* possible with a slow cooker. It depends somewhat on the model - some models cook hotter than others, and overcooking tends to result in dry and/or mushy meat.

                          The other thing I find with adapting recipes for the slow cooker is that the slow cooker doesn't evaporate any liquid, while cooking on the stove top does. So things like chili or stew, with a regular recipe, tend to end up very soupy.

                          1. monavano RE: Citizen_Snips Dec 18, 2013 10:53 AM

                            I've seen many chili recipe that call for cooking the ground meat in liquid (water/beer/tomato sauce) and NOT brown it.
                            The meat will cook, the only issue is that you won't be able to drain the fat.
                            I don't bother doing any draining when I use turkey or 90/10 beef, so I say, go for it- dump it all in there for a few hours.
                            And don't worry about not getting the effects of browning the meat because chili has got a lot of flavors going on anyway.

                            1. monavano RE: Citizen_Snips Dec 18, 2013 10:55 AM

                              In fact, for chili, I prefer the softer texture of ground meat when it's cooked in liquid vs browned in a pan.

                              1. foodcompletesme RE: Citizen_Snips Dec 18, 2013 12:39 PM

                                #1. No, not necessary to brown first.
                                #2. 8-10 hours on Low.

                                Chili is one of the best things to make in the slow cooker. Below is a link to our discussion for Dish of the Month 2013 (chili) where I shared my fav crock pot chili recipe. I converted it from a regular stove top recipe to a crock pot one. Comes out great every time and I never brown the meat. Using lean pork tenderloin, there is no problem with the fat rising to the top. As mentioned by others, chilis in crock pot usually create a delicious dark sauce by the end of slow cooking so it looks great. Good luck!
                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9188...

                                1. Atomic76 RE: Citizen_Snips Jan 4, 2014 03:31 PM

                                  Cooking it first not only gets rid of some of the excess fat, but also the excess moisture in the meat. Otherwise, that will just dilute the chili and make it more bland tasting.

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