Table for One

Slow-Cooker Beef Stroganoff Is Why I’ll Never Throw Out My Crock-Pot

Not even for the Instant Pot.

October  4, 2018
Photo by Julia Gartland

When I bought Alfred (my mustard yellow Dutch oven) years ago with my very first paycheck as an editorial intern, it felt like a rite of passage. That Friday I brought home a hunk of pork shoulder from Dickson’s (my butcher to this day), seared it in olive oil, then braised it in red wine, fennel, and herbs, "low and slow" as they say. It tasted like adulthood.

Still, there are certain foods I only ever make in my blue-checkered slow cooker, which I'm also quite fond of. TV-dinner beef stroganoff, for example. Hal (the Crock-Pot) may not be shiny and French like Alfred, and I may have stolen him from my mother back home in Georgia, but he's still a good, reliable buddy in my kitchen, even after all those years of service. He also happens to make very delicious brown food. And as Nigella Lawson once said, "brown food tastes the best."

Furthermore, having recently acquired a kitchen with a dishwasher, I find that I'm looking for more and more reasons to keep the Dutch oven stowed away because 1) it's so heavy and 2) it's a pain in the keister to wash. Food just seems to crust onto Alfred, whereas Hal is sparkly clean after one cycle through the dishwasher.

Perhaps it's out-of-fashion that I still own a Crock-Pot. The world seems to have turned its back on single-purpose slow cookers, opting instead for multipurpose cookers like the Instant Pot. And boy, are we in the era of the Instant Pot.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“What I make most often in my crockpot (other than soup)? Butter Beef, of course!! THE most slap stupid easy, oh em gee good recipe ever. Been making this since my kiddos were teensy...they in their mid-late 30s now and the grandkiddos clamor for it now. How to: into the crockpot put 1-2 packages of stew meat chunks, 1 stick of real butter, 1 package of instant onion soup mix. Put the lid on and cook on low for about 6 hours. Serve in a shallow bowl with mashed potaoes on top and a sprinkle of chives (or not). A splash of beef broth will make more “gravy” if needed. ”
— Laurence T.

It took a year for America to catch up, but since Melissa Clark said it in The New York Times in 2017, sales have skyrocketed (the Instant Pot is the 2018 bestseller in America on Amazon). Google searches for "Instant Pot recipes" are now as voluminous as those for "slow cooker recipes" and "Crock-Pot recipes." Major cookbook publisher Clarkson Potter is putting out four Instant Pot–specific titles this fall, including one of Clark's, Comfort in an Instant, following her Dinner in an Instant which came out last year.

“There’s no other single gadget that can make weeknight cooking easier,” Clark wrote in the Times. “It can cook food either quickly or slowly, and it does both consistently, evenly and automatically. Get one, and you can get rid of your slow cooker.”

Despite Clark's advice, I have yet to get rid of my slow cooker. Here's why: When I want something like beef stroganoff, that childhood comfort, I want it the way I've had it for years. It's more than just for the ease that I use Hal (though I do love his single switch and mere four options: "Off," "Low," "High," and "Keep Warm"). It's for the ritual of it all, knowing that I'm cooking the same thing—and in the same way—that Americans have been making stroganoff since 1971, when the Crock-Pot-brand slow cooker came out.

I've been thinking about the slow cooker a lot these days, especially whether or not Americans will soon be getting rid of theirs for the Instant Pot (which, we should mention here, has a "Slow Cook" function). Certain kitchen appliances are fads, but a part of me can't help but feel that the Crock-Pot isn't like the manual egg beater (the one that looks like a unicycle), or that awkward sifter with the handle you have to crank (which gets flour everywhere). It's a way of life for so many Americans who need the convenience of being able to set something in the morning and have dinner waiting for them 8 hours later when they come home from work—or to have it simmering overnight and ready when they awake. There's nothing more American than 8-hour food.

It's for the ritual of it all, knowing that I'm cooking the same thing—and in the same way—that Americans have been making stroganoff since 1971, when the Crock-Pot-brand slow cooker came out.

Even if all Americans, someday, were to toss their slow cookers, the slow-cooker recipe will never go away. I have this theory that where other cultures celebrate chewy foods with texture (like naengmyun in Korea, mochi in Japan, socarrat in Spain, and black licorice in Sweden), we here in the States love soft, slow-cooked foods. Things you can dump into a single device—no searing, no dirtying of other pans—and, at the flip of a switch, have magicked into a home-cooked meal you barely have to chew.

At least for me, it's exactly what I want to eat when the weather starts to cool down in the fall. In fact, I suppose it's the kind of food I only ever ate during the school year, on a tray, in a cafeteria (as my mother cooked mostly Korean dishes at home). Appropriately, stroganoff is the epitome of the past: brown nursery food. It may not be beautiful, you might not Instagram it—but you sure as hell want to eat it.

How to Make Beef Stroganoff in a Crock-Pot

I'm with Sam Sifton when he said, in 2015, that 8 hours "is a long time to simmer most anything other than beans, steel-cut oats or a leather boot."

I personally hate the way 8-hour Crock-Pot food tastes, which is admittedly why I stopped using Hal for a few years, as I favored the 3-hour braise of Dutch oven cooking (emphasis on oven). But recently, as I wanted to develop slow-cooker recipes for those of you asking for them, I realized that the "High" function worked just as well as the oven. And in 5 hours, the food didn't come out utterly destroyed. It kept its integrity. I've tested this same recipe at 8 hours on "Low" and found that the meat became tough when cooked that long. When I whined to one of my chef friends about this, he said, "Chuck meat does this thing where it starts tough, goes soft, then goes tough again." So there you go.

This is how I make stroganoff today: loaded with fresh cremini mushrooms, red onion, and Worcestershire sauce (to give it that Salisbury steak taste from the '70s). 5 hours on "High." It's not a fancier, chef-ier stroganoff by any means, but it's a very good TV dinner.

Do you still use your slow cooker? Let us know in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • C_MOM
  • Victoria W Tashjian
    Victoria W Tashjian
  • beejay45
  • sf-dre
  • David_R
Eric Kim was the Table for One columnist at Food52. He is currently working on his first cookbook, KOREAN AMERICAN, to be published by Clarkson Potter in 2022. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can find his bylines at The New York Times, where he works now as a writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @ericjoonho.


C_MOM February 25, 2023
Great recipe! My family enjoyed it. very easy. I made it in my pressure cooker.
Victoria W. January 16, 2020
I do!! Thanks for your recipes.
This is awesome!
beejay45 December 18, 2019
I'm willing to give this recipe a try. Previously, I've always made stroganoff in the moment. A friend who worked for a Russian chef in his youth swore by adding vodka. I was skeptical (OMG! I spelled that wrong and one of the suggested corrections was "cataleptic." /))))...any way, I was disinclined to believe that was an actual ingredient until I started seeing the vodka recipes for pasta sauce. So, now I use vodka in mine, although I don't think that would work in the slow cooker. )

I have many slow cookers, some from way back in college. My favorites are those that came in a row of three. We use them for taco bars, two of them for T-day buffets, winter soup and sandwich buffets. All kinds of stuff. They're the ideal solution for the group of guests who can't agree on one soup, or a mix of meat eaters and vegetarians, whatever. Slow cookers are here to stay.
Smaug December 18, 2019
First recipe I made for Stroganoff used some kind of booze; not vodka, brandy maybe? I've since found that there is absolutely no consensus on what is or isn't an ingredient in Stroganoff, or even what sort of dish it is; this recipe was the first I ran across that treated it as a stew. Personally, I use sherry.
Eric K. December 18, 2019
Sherry and cream are a match made in heaven.
beejay45 February 17, 2021
That came out like a commercial for crock pots. Sorry.
sf-dre December 8, 2019
My 4 quart Crock-pot is so old it doesn't have a keep warm setting and the Low setting's somewhere between low and high. But that works for starting a dish in the late morning, run errands, eat lunch, watch football, even do chores. If one doesn't eat mushrooms, what's a good substitute?
Eric K. December 18, 2019
You could just leave them out!
David_R September 27, 2019
I started using a Crock Pot in 1978 when I was 21 and just out of the Army
I was in a brief vegetarian phase so I would just toss in some veggies, some beans and some miso and would have a great meal when I got home from work.

I now have two pots, a regular one and an oval one with more capacity. I especially use them for homemade soups, stews and pot roast.

I also have an instant pot, but used it just once. I think I have a prejudice against pressure-cooked food.
Smaug September 27, 2019
Maybe a post-judice? That was my experience with crock pots- tried it (if a bit more than once) and just plain didn't like it.
Angela U. April 14, 2019
Heck yes I'll ALWAYS keep my crock pot!
Marilyn M. April 13, 2019
I will never let my crockpot go! I love to wake up in the morning on a Sunday and smell food cooking. It reminds me of when I was a little girl, and mom would get up early and cook dinner before going to church.
Ron B. April 8, 2019
In the video you seem to add water, buit the recipe doesn't say anything about it. Yes or no?
Eric K. December 18, 2019
Yes, after community feedback we decided to nix the extra water, as the vegetables lend their own throughout the slow cook.
Dave W. April 7, 2019
Wouldnt be with out a crock pot, not much you cant make in one if you apply yourself. Oh and chex mix is fantastic in a crock pot
Pauline J. April 24, 2019
Do tell!
Grammyof5 March 30, 2019
Got my first Crock Pot in 1973 as a Bridal Shower gift....Orange & Brown with Mushroom design...crock didn't remove, either, but I used the hell out of it. 'Orange Ophelia' bit the dust...I purchased Crock Pot ( always bought the brand' ) number 5 last fall. I use this & my electric pressure cooker constantly...good on everyone using the InstaPot, but I'm committed to my good old Crock Pot. And, this lastest version...has THREE different size inserts!!! BLISS!!
Sue D. March 24, 2019
I will NEVER surrender my crock pot ! It is 1 of my oldest friends, it has given me comfort when nothing else did from simply offering wonderful childhood memories to being there after a terrific accident that made it difficult to. Prepare meals, As a 1st time mom it saved the day those 1st few weeks, as a busy mom it saved much needed time & energy, as a new almost empty nester it has freed me to spread MY wings to dabble in many things that have always interested me but I lacked time for. But MAINLY it has provided me with JOY, COMFORT FOOD, BELOVED REPETITION ( repeating revipes from my family long gone).
Instant pot, dutch oven, no slight intended you are wonderful in your own rights. But my ❤ BELONGS TO SAM ! ( my svratched, dented, well worn blue cornflower crockpot).
Michael M. March 20, 2019
I have a Nesco " Multi Purpose " ; I use the " Slow Cooker " ( automatically at a " High " setting ) often, and love it !!!!
Lillie C. March 13, 2019
The recipe is new to me but it sounds like a crockpot dish that I'll enjoy to try. On my way to the store to pick up the ingredients.
The weather here is kind of nasty so I'm going to see if I can bring a little sunshine to my table.
Thanks Laurence T.
God Bless.
Dee January 1, 2019
When my children were young and I was a busy working mom, my Crockpot was my most reliable ally. I revised a lot of recipes to work in the crockpot. Load it up the night before, refrigerate, and drop the insert into the pot in the morning. Dinner was mostly ready when I got home. It felt safe, like leaving a radio plugged in; I would never have been comfortable with something on the stove or in the oven while I was gone for 11 hours but a slow cooker seemed safe on the countertop. It saves stovetop space for large holiday dinners ( sweet potatoes with maple-bourbon glaze come out perfect). I’ve tried a few brands over the years and still swear by Rival.
Antoinette December 20, 2018
I love the Instant Pot, but I would never get rid of my crockpot. A pork roast cooking all day, and a it’s still the best way to transport and serve meals at parties. I have a small apartment, and I can baste a ham for Christmas in the crockpot, and mashed potatoes in the Instant pot, leaving my 3 burner stovetop for other dishes.
C C. December 17, 2018
I love slow cookers. Why do it fast on a cold winter day. The smell is great. Before complaining, just enjoy!!!

Melly December 16, 2018
I also want to try this beef stroganoff recipe, I usually make it stovetop!😋
Melly December 16, 2018
I absolutely still use a crockpot!! I make amazing pulled pork and I make chicken as well as beef roasts!! So healthy yummy and the recipes are endless!!
Wendy December 16, 2018
Bought Instapots for 2 daughters but I continue with my crock pots; 4 quart for steel cut oats and 6 quart for other things. Do soups, chicken, smothered steak and have even baked; Boston brown bread and a date bread among others.
BC December 9, 2018
I own 9 slow cookers (just learned that Crock Pot is a brand name). I spent 3 years without an oven, so I cooked in my trusty slow cooker and a toaster oven . I have made an upside down spiced pear cake, a bacon wrapped meatloaf, corn beef for homemade corn beef hash and a lasagna (I have the Casserole Crock Pot) that was comparable to an oven baked one. Not everything has to be a stew! Also, I've read this idea that a slow cooker is for Winter and Autumn cooking; I use mine a lot in Summer, but I'm a rare duck that likes hot food even in Summer. Thanks for letting me share my slow cooker love.