Many cooks know that searing your meat before putting it in the slow cooker is a good idea, but are tempted to miss this step as it takes more time. Do you really need to brown your slow cooker roast first?
Browning your roast before placing it in the slow cooker adds a depth of flavor and color to your meal. While it’s not absolutely necessary, it’s worth doing as it makes a real difference to the finished dish.
In this guide, I explain the benefits of browning and provide some step-by-step instructions on how to sear the roast before slow cooking. I also show you that some slow cookers allow you to sear the meat in the same pot as you cook the roast.
Why Brown A Roast Before Slow Cooking?
Browning your roast helps to form a crust on the surface of the meat. This adds depth and richness to the flavor as well as visual appeal to the slow-cooked meat.
By searing the meat for your slow-cooked roast beforehand you can greatly improve the overall look and taste of your finished dish. Here are some of the benefits of this technique in more detail:
Browning the roast adds a pleasing caramelized flavor to the meat as the proteins and sugars react under high heat through a process called the Maillard reaction. This important step of cooking results in meat that has many layers of flavor and tastes great.
The resulting golden-brown color of the cooked meat is considered by most cooks to be far more visually appealing and appetizing than a pale-looking roast that hasn’t been browned beforehand.
Potentially Improved Texture
Some say that by “sealing in the juices” through the crust that forms on the surface of the meat, you ensure you end up with a succulent roast.
I’m not convinced that browning seals in moisture this way, and others also say it’s a common misconception. But the other benefits of browning are definitely true, so it’s worth doing.
How To Brown A Roast For Slow Cooking
To brown a roast, use a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat and sear your well-seasoned cut of meat for a few minutes on each side. Make sure you achieve a golden crust all over before putting it in the slow cooker.
By following the simple step-by-step process below, it’s easy to achieve the perfect sear on your slow-cooked roast every time:
1. Choose The Right Pan
First of all, select a pan that can withstand high heat such as a heavy-bottomed skillet or a cast-iron frypan. This type of pan distributes the heat evenly, making sure you get an even crust all over your roast. Non-stick pans aren’t as good as they don’t brown as well.
2. Preheat The Pan
Next, allow the pan to heat up for a few minutes over medium-high heat. The idea here is to make sure it’s hot enough to start creating a good sear as soon as the meat touches it.
3. Season The Roast
For an even better flavor, generously season your roast using salt, pepper, and any additional herbs or spices of your choice. This complements the browning process and adds some extra depth to the crust.
4. Add Oil
For this to work properly you will need to use a cooking oil with a high smoke point, such as canola or vegetable oil. Pour a small amount into the preheated pan and swirl it around to make sure it evenly coats the base all over.
5. Sear The Roast
Now it’s time to put the meat in. Carefully place your seasoned cut in the hot pan or skillet, ensuring each side makes good contact with the metal surface at all times. Leave it to sear undisturbed for a few minutes until a golden-brown crust forms before turning the roast.
6. Remove And Transfer
Once all sides are evenly browned, carefully lift the roast and transfer it to the slow cooker. Check in the pan for any browned bits left over and scrape these into the pot as well, as they contain a wealth of flavor that will help make your dish taste amazing.
How Long To Brown The Roast
Brown each side of the roast for 2-3 minutes until a caramelized crust is formed all over. This should take a total of between 10 and 15 minutes depending on the size and shape of your cut of meat.
How long this actually takes will vary between different types and cuts of meat as they all vary in size and thickness. Typically around 2-3 minutes is sufficient to achieve a beautifully caramelized crust on each side before you need to turn it.
However, use your own judgment and adjust the time accordingly as it’s easy to see when the browning is done. Remember, the goal is to achieve a golden-brown color on the surface without starting to cook the meat through.
What Happens If You Don’t Brown A Roast Before Slow Cooking?
If you don’t brown a roast before you put it in your slow cooker then your finished dish will not look as appetizing and is likely to lack some of those deep meaty flavors.
While it’s not absolutely necessary to sear your meat first, it can make a big difference to the dish at the end as you will lose the rich flavor from the Maillard reaction. If you choose to skip this step here’s what you can expect:
Through the process known as the Maillard reaction, browning gives the meat a much richer depth of flavor that is impossible to achieve without searing the meat first.
Less Appealing Appearance
If you don’t brown your roast first you will lose the beautiful and tasty caramelized crust and end up with roast meat that appears pale and less appetizing to look at.
Potentially Worse Texture
As browning the meat may help seal in the juices, your slow-cooked roast may end up a little less tender.
Can You Brown The Meat In The Slow Cooker?
There are now slow cookers on the market that allow you to either brown the meat in the crockpot itself or use the pot from the slow cooker on the stovetop so you don’t need a separate pan.
Until recently, the only way to brown your meat was to use a separate pan on the cooktop. Traditional slow cooker pots aren’t designed for hot direct heat so can crack on the stove.
But now some slow cookers exist that feature a browning function or are heatproof to stovetops.
Take a look at your owner’s manual to find out if your particular model allows you to do this and if so, which method you should use.
This makes browning the meat before slow cooking so much easier to do so it’s worth searching out one of these models if you’re in the market for a new one.
You also don’t have to dirty any more pans!
Final Thoughts On Browning A Roast Before Slow Cooking
There’s no doubt that by taking the time to do the extra step of searing your meat before placing it in your slow cooker, you can seriously improve the taste and texture of your crockpot roast.
Just remember that the goal is to do just enough to create a nicely caramelized crust all over your cut of meat and not to start cooking it through.
While it’s certainly not compulsory, you will be very glad you took the time when you come to taste your roast later.
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