in the kitchen

Pan Sear When Using Slow Cooker

Why I pan sear when using a slow cooker from Go GinghamWhen I first began using my slow cooker, I mostly opened packages and cans, dumped them in, and turned it on. The result was less than tasty but after a long day at work, my husband and I were happy to come home to a warm meal. It didn’t taste great and was super salty but at that time, my cooking skills were practically non-existent and I didn’t know any better – or care.

Over the years, I have tried to improve the result of what was coming out of my slow cooker. Now my slow cooker gets used weekly – but mostly for cooking dried beans. When I do use the slow cooker for cooking meat, I pan sear the meat, first, before placing it in the slow cooker.

I resisted pan searing my cuts of meat, first, because I’m lazy and didn’t feel like cleaning one more pan – especially since I was already using the slow cooker. Meats can really be flavor-less when cooked in a slow cooker. Somehow they’re flavor-less and dried out – even when they’re cooked in liquid.

Recently I was teaching my kids how to make this recipe and I said, “We don’t have time to pan sear. We’ll skip that step.” Even they busted me! “But, Mom, you have to pan sear it! Remember, you just taught us to never skip that step.”

Darn those little foodies! Of course they’re right. It tastes so much better.

Searing the meat first locks in the flavor! I have no idea about the science behind it – and there’s always science with cooking – but don’t skip this step. Your foodies will thank you.

Why I pan sear when using a slow cooker from Go Gingham

Be sure and wear an apron, too. You’ll be glad you did.

Pan Sear First When Using Slow Cooker

  1. Cut the meat – whatever you’re using – chicken, beef, or pork – into large chunks or cubes. Don’t make them too small. Too much work for the cook!
  2. Using your fingers to grab, sprinkle meat with salt, pepper, and I like to use Tony’s Lite Seasoning.
  3. Warm a pan on the stove – I use cast iron for this job. It retains heat and is easy to clean.
  4. Add oil (canola or olive works) to cover the bottom and get the pan smoking hot.
  5. Place meat in pan and sear it for several minutes.
  6. Using tongs, turn meat so that every side gets seared or browned.
  7. Now you can place the meat into the slow cooker and add your other ingredients.

Using a slow cooker doesn’t mean meats will come out flavor-less and dry. Pan searing makes all the difference – even if we have to dirty one more pan in the process. Once again, looking for a scullery maid to do the clean up in my kitchen!

What do you cook in your slow cooker?

 Go Gingham related links:

Go Gingham food philosophy – yes, there is one
New to cooking at home? Fear not!
Cute and clean for the kitchen: make a baking soda shaker for soaking those stubborn pots and pans
Why I cook with pork – several reasons – and one involves sweat

13 thoughts on “Pan Sear When Using Slow Cooker

  1. I make pulled pork using an America’s Test Kitchen recipe. To add flavor it calls for beef broth, liquid smoke, and left-over coffee.


    1. Rebecca,
      I’ve added beef broth and liquid smoke to slow cooker recipes but never left-over coffee! Their recipes always have crazy ingredients that I wouldn’t have thought to add.
      I made a French onion soup in the slow cooker recently – using their recipe. It called for “apple butter” which I had but would have never added it without reading it with my own eyes! 🙂
      Thanks, Rebecca!


  2. Don’t forget to deglaze the pan after searing to 1) get all the flavorful bits off the pan and into the slow cooker, and 2) make the pan easier to clean up!

    Deglaze by pouring a half cup of liquid into the pan and stirring until all the bits are off the pan and into the liquid. Then pour that into the slow cooker!

    This is more evident in a lighter colored pan than in cast iron.


    1. Michelle,
      You are right!! I completely forgot that crucial part. I’m posting my recipe for “Mexican Pulled Pork” next week and will be sure and add this to the steps – more flavor, less clean up – dream come true!
      Thanks. 🙂


  3. Deglazing is important (deglazing with wine adds great flavor) But first, pan searing in the right oil is important. You want to sear the meat at a high heat so that the natural sugars will caramelize and form a charred crust. Olive oil has a low smoking point and burns easily. it is good to use for lightly sauteing meats and vegetables. Better oils to use for high heat searing include canola, grape-seed, peanut oil and lard.


    1. Meg,
      Great information on the olive oil! I have read that before but maybe my stove doesn’t get hot enough because it seems to work fine. (It could be my stove!!) Olive oil and canola oil are what we use in the kitchen but for cooking on our outdoor wok, we only use peanut oil because it can really get hot.
      Thanks so much for chiming in here, Meg.
      I love your use of leftovers in the pot pie! 🙂


  4. You are so right, cooking techniques make all the difference. I tried a new crockpot recipe yesterday for boneless pork chops (I got a deal on pork loin and cut my own) and it was tasty but it didn’t include pan-searing first, which would have made it better. And yes, sometimes laziness overtakes me–I know better, but I didn’t do it–next time, I will! Good info above from your other commenters.

    My crockpot has been in almost constant use this season–I make lots of soups and stews. My family also loves overnight steel cut oats in the crockpot. We wake up to a hot breakfast and I just have to dish it up. Bonus! I have also been roasting a whole chicken in my crockpot the past few months (not sure it’s technically “roasting” but that’s what the recipe says) and we like that as well. Many days it’s just easier for me to cook things early in the day and not have to deal with it at “crunch time”.


    1. Winter time just lends itself to slow cookers, doesn’t it? Kris, I love the idea of overnight steel cut oats. We have done brown rice overnight and pinto beans – both of which have get eaten for breakfast here!
      Thanks for the idea – and yes, when kids are hungry the slow cooker meals are a dream come true.
      Thanks for the idea 🙂


  5. It’s 1 1/2 cups steel cut oats to 6 cups liquid (I use all water but many recipes call for milk). I frequently throw in whatever spices strike my fancy (cinnamon, allspice …). Enjoy.


  6. I learned this the hard way with pasta in the slow cooker. I would always just dump the pasta in with the rest of the ingredients just to make it quick (and yes, one less dirty dish!) After the fifth “this is soggy” meal, I started just making pasta as soon as I got home to go with the slow cooker dish. SO SO glad to have this tip for pan searing meat, thank you!


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