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Is beef stew better on stove or crockpot?

Beef stew is a classic comfort food that can be made either on the stovetop or in a slow cooker. Both methods have their pros and cons when it comes to flavor, ease of cooking, and nutrition. This article will examine the differences between stovetop and crockpot beef stew to help you determine which method results in the best tasting stew for your preferences.

Stovetop Beef Stew

Cooking beef stew on the stovetop allows you to brown the meat and vegetables to develop rich, caramelized flavors. Browning the beef before simmering builds a deep, beefy flavor that slow cooking alone can’t quite achieve. The high heat also caramelizes the vegetables, enhancing their natural sweetness. Here’s a quick rundown of the stovetop beef stew cooking method:

  • Pat beef dry and brown in batches on all sides in a Dutch oven
  • Cook aromatics like onion, garlic, and carrots until softened and browned
  • Deglaze pot with a small amount of liquid, scraping up browned bits stuck to bottom
  • Add remaining vegetables, broth, herbs, and seasonings
  • Simmer partially covered on low heat for 2-3 hours
  • Skim fat and adjust seasoning before serving

Browning the meat and vegetables gives the stew incredible depth of flavor. The long simmering time allows the ingredients to further develop their flavors as they cook low and slow. The drawback is that stovetop beef stew can take upwards of 3 hours of active cooking time. You’ll need to monitor it occasionally and skim fat and add additional liquid if needed.

Benefits of Stovetop Beef Stew

  • Deep, beefy flavor from browning the meat
  • Caramelized vegetables with enhanced sweetness
  • Natural reduction of liquids concentrates flavors
  • Ability to season and adjust as it simmers

Downsides of Stovetop Beef Stew

  • Requires unattended cooking time on the stove
  • More hands-on time and involvement
  • Can easily burn if not monitored
  • Long cooking time of 2-3 hours

Crockpot Beef Stew

Slow cookers excel at creating fall-apart tender beef and vegetables with minimal effort. To make beef stew in the crockpot, simply combine all ingredients in the cooker and let it do the work over a long period of time. Here are the basic steps for crockpot beef stew:

  • Cut beef and vegetables into uniform pieces for even cooking
  • Place beef and vegetables into slow cooker
  • Add broth, tomatoes, herbs, and seasonings
  • Cook on low heat for 8-10 hours
  • Switch to warm until ready to serve

The slow, moist environment of the crockpot breaks down the vegetables and meat over time. The resulting stew is fall-apart tender with melded flavors. However, the lack of browning means the overall flavor won’t have as much depth. The set it and forget it method does make crockpot stew super convenient.

Benefits of Crockpot Beef Stew

  • Minimal hands-on time
  • No risk of burning
  • Fall-apart tender beef and vegetables
  • Great for cheaper cuts of meat
  • Makes your home smell wonderful

Downsides of Crockpot Beef Stew

  • No caramelized flavors from browning
  • Broth isn’t reduced so can taste weaker
  • Long 8+ hour cook time
  • No ability to season and adjust during cooking

Comparison of Nutrition & Cooking Time

When it comes to nutrition, there is little difference between the stovetop and slow cooker methods. Both cook the vegetables and meat in liquid, so nutrients should remain largely intact. However, crockpots tend to require less added liquid, so some vitamins and minerals may become more concentrated.

The main difference is the active cooking time. Stovetop beef stew requires 2-3 hours of simmering time, but much of it is hands-off. Slow cooker beef stew needs 8+ hours to cook, but almost all of that is unattended time.

Cooking Method Active Cooking Time Total Cooking Time
Stovetop 45 minutes 2-3 hours
Slow Cooker 15-20 minutes 8-10 hours

Tips for the Best Beef Stew

Use these tips to maximize flavor and tenderness when making beef stew:

  • Cut uniform pieces – Cut meat and vegetables into even sized pieces to ensure consistent cooking.
  • Sear the meat – Browning beef before stewing boosts flavor tremendously.
  • Use stew meat – Choose inexpensive cuts like chuck, brisket, or round.
  • Add umami flavors – Ingredients like tomato paste, worcestershire sauce, and red wine amplify the savory taste.
  • Simmer, don’t boil – Gentle simmering allows the flavors to develop without overcooking.
  • Skim fat – Use a ladle to skim off excess fat that rises to the top as the stew simmers.
  • Adjust seasonings – Taste and adjust herbs, salt, and pepper once stew is done.


Both stovetop and slow cooker beef stew result in tender, flavorful comfort food. If you’re short on time, the crockpot method requires little hands-on effort. For deeper, more complex flavor, take the time to brown the meat and vegetables on the stovetop first. Either way, beef stew is the ultimate cold weather meal. Add some crusty bread and you have a hearty, satisfying dinner the whole family will love.