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crock pot chili questions

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. 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

      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

        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

          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

            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

            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. 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

          "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

            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. 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. 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

              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

                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: jounipesonen

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

                1. 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.