Beef

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

Not even for the Instant Pot.

by:
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.

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Top Comment:
“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. ”
— BC
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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.

47 Comments

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.
 
Jaye B. October 31, 2018
I have two slow cookers, an old 4 qt model with a simple - but very reliable - temperature dial, and an updated larger model that has many features including browning. Neither are the CrockPot brand because I have used two of those owned by relatives and found the High setting to be too hot, needing supervision. I've always made Stroganoff the traditional way but I'm going to try this recipe because I like the beefy flavor of chuck. In the past, sometimes I've had to amp up that flavor via the sauce which is tricky because you don't want to dilute the tang of the sour cream. Thanks for this version which also looks easy to customize.
 
Michelle October 18, 2018
Love my new instant pot but no plans to get rid of the slow cooker. I tried slow cooking in the infant pot but it did not come out. You have to put the lid to venting so you don't get that seal of heat. I was going to buy the clear lid but the slow cooker still works fine and like you sometimes the simplicity is just perfect. Definately trying that butter beef recipe.
 
Stacie L. October 16, 2018
Making bone broth in mine as we speak.
 
Nzedfi October 10, 2018
We use a slow cooker and a Le Creuset for winter dinners. Or just set the timer on the over for a long slow roast lamb leg - red peppers and rosemary. The slow cooker does tend to cook a casserole with soggy veg and lots of liquid but this is drained off and reduced, and is delicious. I usually freeze some liquid for soups.
 
Bryan D. October 9, 2018
I use my crock pot on occasion to make soups. But the best thing I make in it is chicken and dumplings. This is a true comfort food for me, one that my grandmother made (not in a crock pot as she was born in 1884) and grandma passed on to momma. My crockpot version is the only thing I cook that tastes better than momma's. The cut up chicken, celery and carrots cook slowly in a sauce of cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soup, and I add the dumplings (from Joy of Cooking) ten minutes before I'm serving the dish. <br /><br />As for the Instant Pot, I don't have one. But when I started seeing recipe after recipe show up in my facebook feed, I had to look into the phenomenon. Oh, it's a fancy pressure cooker with fuzzy logic. I see. Years ago, I bought an electric pressure cooker which sat in my pantry for at least ten years. I remembered being afraid of momma's pressure cooker, and neglected the thing. Once I saw all the Instant Pot recipes, I dragged the thing out of the pantry and tried it out. Now I use it several times a week. No, it doesn't function as a rice steamer, a slow cooker, or any of those other contraptions, but it makes a mean pot roast or potato-leek soup in no time at all.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 9, 2018
Bryan, that's really helpful to hear. We're playing around with the Instant Pot right now, developing recipes. Stay tuned.
 
Laurence T. October 7, 2018
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.
 
4376ab October 7, 2018
This sounds absolutely delicious. I am not one to use packaged ingredients, but am going to throw that notion out the window and hop to the store right now. Thanks Laurence T.!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 7, 2018
Butter Beef sounds the best. I've NEVER heard of that; so curious to try it now, as well.
 
HalfPint October 13, 2018
@Eric K., this recipe is the reason I almost obsessively peruse comment sections. Gems like Butter Beef and my pot roast are very often freely given out. When a recipe has been made for years and sometimes generations to rave reviews, it’s a keeper.
 
Michael F. October 7, 2018
Say Halfpint could you please share the corned beef recipe, please?
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 7, 2018
Ditto.
 
HalfPint October 8, 2018
Literally, take the corned beef from the package, rinse off the brine and pat dry. Mix ~ 1/2 cup deli mustard with ~ 1/4-1/3c brown sugar. Coat the corned beef with the mixture. Place in slow cooker and cook on low for 5-6 hours or 3-4 hrs on high, or until the meat is tender but not falling apart.
 
HalfPint October 8, 2018
You should be able to cut the beef into slices without it falling apart. My husband prefers this version over the boiled one.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 8, 2018
Thank you!
 
Michael F. October 8, 2018
thanks, sounds simple and tasty
 
Smaug October 7, 2018
Got rid of mine. After doing a number of recipes from usually dependable sources and reading a lot more, I concluded that nothing was going to come out of it that I liked. For one thing, not everything is a stew. Also, the timing usually worked out so that I needed to prep at 4 AM, aa bit early even for a morning person.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 7, 2018
"For one thing, not everything is a stew." Too true. And I'm like you, for many things I cook, I prefer the Dutch oven. This bit by Sam Sifton is useful:<br /><br />"But using a slow cooker is, at its best, an exercise in vague worry, if only occasional vigilance. Its value as a kitchen tool degrades quickly after six to seven hours. It is not for when you are at work, or sleeping. It is best for afternoon cooking while a game or opera plays on the radio, for while you’re doing chores or running errands, or for using in the evening for a meal you’ll finish cooking before bed and consume later. It is excellent for making stock."<br /><br />Have you tried the Instant Pot?
 
Smaug October 7, 2018
No, I considered buying one for my sister in law but the consensus seemed to be that there were no recipes available. At any rate, I'm retired and can pretty much do things old school without scheduling problems. Actually, not sure exactly what an instant pot does- some sort of variant on a pressure cooker, isn't it? For the record, though there's no well defined history for it, Stroganoff is most certainly a restaurant dish, designed for quick cooking on the stove top, and a leading example of "not a stew".
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 7, 2018
It's basically a pressure cooker; has a couple other options, including "Slow Cook." I imagine we'll be living in a world inundated with Instant Pot recipes very soon.<br /><br />Re: stroganoff—right, even Beard said it: "Beware of those that specify long cooking. Beef stroganoff is much better when prepared quickly" (1959). Haven't tried this, but bet it's delicious: https://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/James-Beards-Beef-Stroganoff. My interest in stroganoff has more to do w/ how home cooks have adapted it for the slow cooker in later years. It's definitely a mid-20th-century American bastardization of the 19th-century Russian dish. Actually, my first stroganoff wasn't even from the Crock-Pot; it was a microwavable TV dinner!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 7, 2018
Argh, link keeps getting cut off. Google: James Beard stroganoff.
 
Smaug October 8, 2018
Well- I guess the recipe's ok, though I find the idea of Stroganoff without mushrooms foreign to my policy, and I certainly wouldn't use Worcestershire or A1 sauce; some people use mustard, too- other than the substantive ingredients, I like to flavor it with Sherry, dill and paprika (in conformance with no tradition known to me); I also make noodles containing paprika and sherry to go with it. Not mentioned in the recipe (at least the copy I found) was how the meat is cut, which I consider a major defining characteristic of the dish- the meat should be cut thin- no more that 1/8"- and across the grain.
 
bym October 6, 2018
Still use the crockpot we got as a wedding gift 43 years ago. Makes the best cheesy potatoes!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 6, 2018
Delicious. Would love the recipe...
 
bym October 9, 2018
2 pounds frozen shredded hash brown potatoes<br />1/4 C melted butter<br />1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper<br />1 can cream of chicken soup<br />2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese<br />1/2 cup chopped onion<br />2 cups sour cream<br />combine all ingredients in crock pot. Cook on low at least 7-8 hours or high 4-5 hours. Can stir at the beginning until cheese melts--or if not available-you'll be ok. Our family does not prefer crunchy potatoes so that's why cook longer than 8 hrs. If making your own hash browns--wouldn't take as long to cook.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 9, 2018
Dang, that sounds so good.
 
Joy October 6, 2018
The name Instant Pot is just a mis-nomer for pressure cooker because the general public had become wary of pressure cookers. I prefer my old CrockPot. Low and slow is the way to go (for me).
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 6, 2018
That's so convincing, Joy. "Instant Pot" does sound so much safer, friendlier than "pressure cooker" (which my mother has been using for years).
 
MQuad October 5, 2018
I do still use my multiple crockpots, but haven't used "cream of ..." soups in 15+ years at my Doctor's request. Would love a tried and true that tastes like I had growing up, without the canned soup. My Mom made it with a Lawrys seasoning packet that's also off limits. Thanks!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 6, 2018
Hm, I wonder if it's just a matter of replacing it with cream or more sour cream. I've been playing around with creamy slow-cooker recipes without the "cream of" soups; will report back.
 
HalfPint October 5, 2018
i've had my 4 qt Crock Pot for 18 years. The 6 qrt slow cooker is 8 years young. I love them both. I'm always trying to convert recipes to the slow cooker. My favorite recipes are:<br />Vietnamese chicken curry<br />Bolognese<br />Corned beef (coated with mustard and brown sugar; no added water)<br />meatloaf<br /><br />I've toyed around with the idea of buying an Instant Pot but I don't know that I want to get rid of my slow cookers :)
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 5, 2018
18 years!! Thanks for reading, HalfPint. I'd like the recipe for that Vietnamese chicken curry pls.
 
HalfPint October 7, 2018
Let me go dig it up. My laptop died and all my bookmarks disappeared.
 
HalfPint October 7, 2018
Here you go, http://wanderingchopsticks.blogspot.com/2010/05/crock-pot-ca-ri-ga-vietnamese-chicken.html<br /><br />I love it with Vietnamese banh mi baguettes but Portuguese torpedo rolls are great too.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 7, 2018
Ah! Yum, thank you. Love the idea of using sweet potatoes.
 
Diane S. October 5, 2018
I love my crockpots (different sizes)! Tender pot roast, beef stew, stroganoff, chicken soup to chicken drumsticks that fall off the bone, it's so easy!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 5, 2018
So easy.
 
Kathy H. October 5, 2018
Do I still use my crock pot. Silly question. I love that thing and once fall comes I will use it at least once a week.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 5, 2018
"Do I still use my crock pot. Silly question." Ha! Love it.
 
Ella Q. October 4, 2018
There's nothing more comforting to me than a sauce, stew, or braise simmering away for hours. Meanwhile, I'll flit around the apartment pretending to be productive, but really I'm just sneaking tastes every five minutes.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 4, 2018
“Flit” is a great word.
 
Sandi J. October 4, 2018
Moved ON, not I'm. (Sorry)!
 
Sandi J. October 4, 2018
I definitely still use my crock pots. Yes... plural. From chili to appetizer dips to chicken & dumplings to cheap, chewy meats into multiples of yummy, tender, irresistible meals. I'm never the one to run out & buy the latest new "must have". But, I'll also confess to eventually giving in & buying these things long after everyone else has settled down & moved I'm! ;-) <br />P. S. Beef stroganoff is one of my worst weaknesses! I do mine in the crockpot too!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 4, 2018
Takes me a second to catch up, too. :) My greatest weakness is nostalgia.
 
Oceanna D. October 4, 2018
I cook steel cut oatmeat in it. Beef burgundy, chicken with white wine, beef and chicken ragout, spaghetti sauce, <br /><br />Most convenient us steel cut oat. I used a regular cooking pot and it boiled all over the stove. No more..slow- cooker only from now on.👍
 
Author Comment
Eric K. October 4, 2018
Oceanna: Beef and chicken together in the ragout? Or separately?