I always look through the comments on recipes I find online that I want to try. The comments are usually helpful and give great tips on how to make the dish even better!

I recently found a great crockpot beef stew recipes and in the comments, there was some debate on whether to brown the beef before putting it in the crockpot or not. The recipe did not call for browning the meat prior to putting it in the stew. Some reviewers of the recipe said it was absolutely necessary to maintain the right flavor. Others argued that not browning helped keep the meat tender.

So, what are the advantages of browning the meat before? What does not browning it first do?

To brown or not to brown?

  • See related: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/40887/…
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Mar 21, 2014 at 20:06
  • 3
    The effect of browning on taste is not huge; in a stew with red wine, like boeuf bourguignonne, it makes no real difference, in my experience. I used to brown, then stopped, and I noticed no real difference. As to the texture, it makes no difference at all in a normal stew, since you make a stew by basically destroying the texture of the meat: only once it has been sufficiently destroyed, like after 3 hours of slow boiling, is the meat tender enough to enjoy. So it may depend on the stew, but in most classical, red-wine stews, I wouldn't bother.
    – Cerberus
    Mar 21, 2014 at 21:35

5 Answers 5


Browning ingredients (both meat and vegetables including the aromatics) before doing a braise or stew (which is what slow cookers do) helps develop depth of flavor, through the Maillard reaction where proteins and carbohydrates react together to create a myriad of flavorful compounds. Vegetables that are high in sugar, such as onions or leeks, and even carrots may also have some caramelization, where sugars react with each other, again creating flavorful compounds.

Especially with beef, these deep browned flavors are often what people associate with the product, and what they expect to taste.

On the other hand, browning almost by definition overcooks the outside of meat well past well done, so it is somewhat drier and tougher, although this can be mitigated by a long braise Some experts recommend browning only on one side of cubed meat, to compromise between getting flavor development, and getting good texture.

The one thing browning or searing doesn't do is "seal in the juices"; that is a myth that is well de-bunked.

The choice to brown or not brown is one of taste and balance. It is traditional in many recipes, especially of Western European heritage. There are many traditions where browning is not as frequent, including true Mexican cuisine and many Asian cuisines.

Choose what seems most appropriate and tasty to you in a given dish. Personally, I like the flavor development, and almost always opt for browning.

  • So it's all about preference, and whether to compromise tenderness for flavor and vice versa. Very nice answer, thank you. :)
    – Nicole Rae
    Mar 21, 2014 at 20:42
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    I felt soooo depressed the day I learned browning doesn't "seal the juices". Just imagine my grandma lying to me all those seemingly happy years :) Mar 22, 2014 at 0:13
  • Instead of browning only one side of the meat as you reccomended, I prefer to fully brown a small percentage of the meat (usually about a quarter). This gives the same effect but means that you still get some pieces of meat that are completely tender. Mar 22, 2014 at 12:17
  • A side note, you also do not want to crowd the pot when going for a maillard reaction. Cook meat in batches instead so that the meat does not steam. You may also want to brown on a higher heat as long as you feel you won't burn the meat. We cook on higher heat for stir frys when browning meat, take it out, cook everything else, and throw it back in to cook all the way through. Mar 26, 2014 at 20:00
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    I believe the answer above is correct. But I wanted to re-enforce the idea of browning the meat. I cannot back this up with scientific data, but I have been taught by EVERYONE from mom to trained chefs that browning is flavor, and so far I have never had a reason to doubt that. I brown all meat before stews or pot roasts and any other long, slow cooking method. I think otherwise the color comes back blanched and the consistency of the bite is chewy. This is my experience/advice.
    – geoffmpm
    Mar 26, 2014 at 20:26

Browning meat helps increase the savory, satisfying taste called umami. Umami is the taste of free amino acids. Free means the aminos are not bound into a protein. Glutamate, the most common amino acid, is required for umami to be tasted. But when glutamate is combined with certain other free amino acids, the umami taste is increased at a multiplicative rate rather than additive. That is, a food with glutamate and another umami amino in equal portions has about 8 time as much umami as a food with just glutamate. Most meats are naturally low in unbound glutamate. It is trapped in the proteins. Browning (like aging) breaks down the proteins on the surface, unbinding the glutamate. And since meat is high in inosinate, an umami multiplier, a little goes a long way. Umami is a first class taste, alongside sweet, sour, salty and bitter. While it is the most subtle taste to the modern palate, its impact is perhaps the furthest reaching in the eating experience. It makes salty or sweet taste more salty or sweet, while reducing bitterness and sourness. It is long lasting, humming on the tongue when other tastes have long faded. Further, it physiologically triggers satiety, making the eater full and satisfied with less food.

On glutamate, umami, and browning: http://books.google.com/books?id=TPd2SaE3HW4C&pg=PA60&lpg=PA60&dq=browning+meat+glutamate&source=bl&ots=RuJMyJ7QBO&sig=-luhaivoktO0DYwPOLk8WA3KVOc&hl=en&sa=X&ei=NjozU_3BA9TNsAS15ICAAQ&ved=0CGoQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=browning%20meat%20glutamate&f=false

On amino acid levels in beef (see slide labeled "Meatiness"): http://www.hull.ac.uk/php/chsanb/Food/Food_3.pdf

On amino acids, palatability, and the multiplicative effects of combining: http://jn.nutrition.org/content/130/4/910.long

That last one is a little long and dry, but by far the most exhaustive.

  • 1
    Do you have citations for any of this?
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Mar 26, 2014 at 11:00

Honestly, I had always done the things said to add flavor—browned the meat, used stock instead of water, wouldn’t think about omitting garlic. One day I was preparing beef short ribs, bone-in, and I worried about introducing too much hardness into the meat (I was preparing it for the slow cooker).

That day I was also short on time and energy, so prepared a blanc. For some reason I used water and no garlic. Voila! Tender, beefy ribs that tasted like my mother’s cooking! I was impressed!

Today I will be fixing Irish stew the same way. Think about it; fuel for cooking, time for washing pots; the huge proportion of home cooks worldwide could not AFFORD the cost of browning and stock was not available prepackaged. The traditional Irish cook was lucky to have enough peat to cook the stew, much less extra to brown it first! The penchant for browning comes directly from French haute cuisine—royalty could afford the fuel!

Now I could afford the cost of browning the meat, but can I spare the time for that meticulous preparation and the inevitable cleanup? I won’t say I’ll never brown again, but I am experimenting with the simplified prep and am happy with the increased tenderness of the meat (I buy almost exclusively pasture-raised meats, and toughness can be a concern. I’m also serene in realizing that, at least in this one regard, I am emulating the thrift and simplicity of my ancestors!

  • That’s an excellent point… starting with a more flavorful (but tougher) type of meat should be taken into consideration, as should what cuisine you’re working from. there are many that do not brown their meat ahead of time.
    – Joe
    Sep 9, 2023 at 13:05

Most stew recipes call for cubing the meat and then browning it on all sides. Something I find absolutely impossible to do. If I choose to brown the meat, I cut it into about 3/4 inch slabs and then brown each side before cubing it. That way each cube is guaranteed to be browned on 2 sides. Otherwise some get browned on 1 side and burned on the other sides and they all get ripped up. I'm pretty much going for not browning because I don't think it really makes that much difference.

  • I’ve never done it when browning meat, but I do it all the time for onions (cut into slabs of rings, brown on both sides, then take a metal spatula and cut into smaller bits). I’ll even do it for potatoes when making a morning hash. It also means that you get everything started cooking faster, so saves a lot of time. I would probably let the meat rest a little bit, or use a cutting board with a channel around the side to catch any juices that might come out.
    – Joe
    Sep 9, 2023 at 13:08

total nonsense, western tradition. Recipe after recipe said brown the meat for a tagine..all it did was dry it out. Even the mighty Oliver agrees, try it without browning. Just let you meat/balls absorb the spices and flavours of then tagine overnight and then slow cook them to Heaven. Oh forgot my wife is from Fez

  • 1
    The idea that browning meat, unless you completely cook it through and through, dries it out is also "total nonsense." Perceived moistness has more to do with fat and connective tissue content, for something like a stew. Aug 17, 2016 at 20:53

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