Sear First for the Best Crock Pot Beef Stew

After a bit of searing, this slow cooker beef stew is basically a set and forget situation. Have your crock pot ready!

Sear First for the Best Crock Pot Beef Stew
Slow Cooker Beef Stew in a Bowl
Simply Recipes / Nick Evans

A good beef stew should be in every home cook’s arsenal and this one fits the bill. It should be meaty, packed with vegetables that are tender but not mushy, and have a rich, thick sauce that coats everything. It’s comfort food at its best and perfect for a dinner party, served with good bread and red wine. 

While simmering beef stew in a Dutch oven all day is a thing, using a Crockpot or slow cooker makes this meal almost too easy—you can set it and forget it to some extent. Just be sure to cut your meat and veggies in large enough chunks so they don’t get cooked into oblivion. 

Everyone needs comfort in a bowl at some point in the fall and winter, and this recipe will deliver!

Slow Cooker Beef Stew (Close-Up)
Simply Recipes / Nick Evans

What’s in a Classic Beef Stew?

While there are many versions of beef stew out there, for me it needs big chunks of fork-tender beef coupled with potatoes, carrots, celery, and onions in a rich, thick sauce. For this version, I like to add some parsnips. In short, it should be a complete meal in a bowl. 

The Best Beef for Beef Stew

Chuck roast is the classic cut for beef stew and it’s what I recommend. Instead of the pre-cut beef called stew cuts, I recommend buying a whole piece of beef and cutting it into cubes yourself. Large cuts of beef stay fresher for longer and it will allow you to trim the fat more easily. While some fat is perfectly fine, I like to trim off any large chunks of fat.  

The Vegetables in Beef Stew

Potatoes are essential. I prefer the smaller new potatoes—you can simply cut them in half and toss in without peeling. They become tender, but not overly mushy. 

Slow Cooker Beef Stew
Simply Recipes / Nick Evans

If you use a baking potato, like a russet, peel it first. Also, note that it will break down and get mushy. You could add the potatoes half-way through the cooking time to ensure they don’t get mushy.

Carrots, celery, and onions are all classic stew vegetables. I prefer whole carrots, peeled, and chopped, but you could use baby carrots in a pinch. When it comes to the onion, white or yellow work well. 

Slow Cooker Beef Stew: Tips and Tricks

While this is an easy recipe that relies on a Crockpot or slow cooker to tenderize the beef, there are a few tips and tricks to get the best results.

  • Sear the beef until golden brown before adding it to the Crockpot or slow cooker. This is an extra step, but it’s maybe the most important part of the recipe. The flour that coats the beef gets cooked and helps thicken the sauce. Also, the caramelization on the beef gives the stew a deep, rich flavor that you won’t get otherwise. 
  • Deglaze the skillet. You worked hard to develop flavors by searing the beef. Now add some red wine to help scrape up the browned bits stuck to the skillet! All that good flavor should go into the stew.
  • Thicken the stew slightly with a cornstarch slurry. A thick sauce sticks to the meat and veggies. Add the slurry to the stew at the very end to help it thicken. 
Slow Cooker Beef Stew in a Bowl
Simply Recipes / Nick Evans

Substitutions and Swaps

Stews should be flexible, and you should feel free to take some liberties based on what you have in your fridge. 

  • Any root vegetable does well in the stew. I like parsnips, but rutabaga is fine as well. 
  • In addition to bay leaves, feel free to toss in fresh herbs like a sprig or two of thyme.
  • Add quick cooking veggies like peas near the very end of cooking just to warm them through. 

Serving Suggestions

For me, a good stew should be a meal on its own and should not need much else. My children disagree and prefer to have stew with buttered egg noodles. I’m happy to oblige. 

The other very acceptable side: a big chunk of crusty bread!

Slow Cooker Beef Stew in a Bowl with a Piece on a Spoon
Simply Recipes / Nick Evans

Slow Cooker Recipes to Inspire You 

Brown the beef: 

In a medium bowl, add the beef, flour, salt, and black pepper. Toss to coat the beef evenly with the flour. 

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil. Once oil is hot (rippling, but not smoking), add half of the beef and sear for 3 to 4 minutes without stirring it. Flip the beef over and brown the other side, for 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the seared beef into a bowl. Sear the remaining beef and transfer them into the bowl.

Bowl of Beef with Flour, Salt, and Black Pepper for Slow Cooker Beef Stew Recipe
Simply Recipes / Nick Evans
Beef Seared on Caste Iron Skillet
Simply Recipes / Nick Evans

Deglaze the skillet: 

Turn heat down to medium-low and add the onions. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, to soften them slightly. Add the red wine. Use a wooden spatula to scrape up any brown bits stuck to the skillet.

Onions and Red Wine in a Caste Iron Skillet for Crockpot Beef Stew
Simply Recipes / Nick Evans

Cook the stew in the slow cooker:  

In a large slow cooker, add the celery, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, garlic, bay leaves, and beef stock. Add the browned beef and the onions and red wine from the skillet. Cover and cook on high for 5 to 6 hours or on low for 8 hours.

Carrots, Celery, Parsnip, and Potatoes in a Slow Cooker for Beef Stew
Simply Recipes / Nick Evans
Beef Stew Ingredients in Slow Cooker
Simply Recipes / Nick Evans

Thicken the stew: 

The stew is cooked when the meat is fall-apart tender if you grab a piece with a fork. The vegetables will be cooked through and very tender as well. Taste and season the stew to your liking. It might need a pinch of salt and black pepper. 

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water and stir it into the stew to thicken it slightly. It should thicken after 1 to 2 minutes of stirring.

Serve the stew:

Ladle the beef stew into bowls and garnish them with the parsley.

This stew keeps and freezes fantastically. Keep it in the fridge for up to 5 days or transfer it to a freezer-safe container and freeze it for up to 3 months. Reheat gently on the stovetop with a splash of water for best results.

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Slow Cooker Beef Stew in Slow Cooker (Cooked)
Simply Recipes / Nick Evans
Bowl of Beef Stew Next to a Slow Cooker
Simply Recipes / Nick Evans