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So my wife cooks a few times a year. She saw a recipe in one of her online magazines for Carla Hall's (Top Chef) meatloaf.

The picture in her magazine clearly shows the meatloaf has a very brown crust on the top. It was cooked with big chunks of carrots, onions, potatoes with a little stock - on low for 6 hours.

The picture of this clearly showed a deep browning and crust on the meatloaf.

Wife did a pretty good job following the recipe. The meatloaf... well it was more like pate. The recipe was rather basic. Really bottom barrel for carrots, potatoes and meat in a crock pot.

To me the question is really stupid but I need to still ask it - can you get a brown crust cooking a meatloaf in a slow cooker (and how about on low)?

Seems like the magazine might have duped her and I feel bad.

  • I'll just say that a lot depends on the slow cooker. For several years, I had one those rather fancy and large slow cookers (which I disliked, it was given to me as a gift) where the "low" setting was higher temp than most "high" settings on old-fashioned crockpots. I never made meatloaf in it, but a few times I made pot roast with relatively little added liquid, and the top exposed portion of the meat definitely dried out a bit and browned more than the rest, even on "low." So, with the right "slow" cooker, I'd say it might be possible to get some crust. – Athanasius Jul 28 '16 at 2:56
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It's very difficult. The trapped moisture can keep the meatloaf from drying out sufficiently to brown well. ... but if you vent the steam, you're also releasing a lot of the heat, so it might cool off too much.

I'd personally try turning up the heat to high and leaving the lid askew for the last 15 minutes or so of cooking, and see if that gives you the desired effect. You may also want to remove some of the liquid (but not all, as it'll help to regulate the heat and prevent the bottom from getting too far overcooked)

I suspect that the laws regarding 'food styling' as it applies to recipes in magazines aren't as vigorous as for advertising a product they want to sell you in stores or a restaurant. (where they have to use only the same techniques and ingredients as what's being advertised ... although if it's for cereal, they don't have to use milk ... and if it's pie, that doesn't have to be real ice cream, etc.).

If you just want it 'brown', then a spray of soy-sauce will do it. If you want it actually 'browned' (ie, with an actual crust), you can take a propane torch to it. (although I'd do it out of the crock pot -- ceramics don't take well to high heat from one side only)

  • Is there any way on the low setting they could have gotten that dark brown crust? – blankip Jul 20 '16 at 15:24
  • @blankip : I doubt it. You need to get enough heat for the proper reactions to result in the browning. See Richard ten Brink's answer. – Joe Jul 20 '16 at 15:32
  • If you look up here meatloaf abc.go.com/shows/the-chew/recipes/… you will see what we got. Actually wife nailed it. But notice this site shows it as a pate with some cold elements, which makes sense. The magazine she saw it in had a rustic meatloaf picture in it. Definitely not soy or even blow torched - as the sides had some browning. I felt bad because when it was cooking she showed me the picture and in my head I was like... ummm that's not happening. – blankip Jul 20 '16 at 15:49
  • Really, there are such laws for advertising? Because I know that food photographers freely use nonfood attrapes, I've even seen acrylic "ice cubes" commercially sold to photographers. I'm glad to hear that somewhere, some jurisdiction has paid enough attention to require that. – rumtscho Jul 20 '16 at 18:24
  • @rumtscho : There are in the US & Canada ... but only the item they're trying to advertise has to be real ... if they're selling soda, the ice doesn't have to be real. If cereal, the milk doesn't have to be real. If a salad, it has to be the same proportion of what the restaurant would have (but they can re-arrange it so the chicken caesar salad has all of the chicken on top & showing). If a hamburger, they have to use the same ingredients ... but can go through thousands of buns to find the perfect on, and glue the lettuce & tomato in so they peek through just right. – Joe Jul 20 '16 at 19:31
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It all depends on the ambient temperature. You need to expose the surface of your meatloaf to a sufficient temparature to start the Maillard Reaction, otherwise you will be left with meat that just looks boiled I'm afraid.

There is an old discussion about the right temperature right HERE on Seasoned Advice.

In general I try to never let the pictures in books or magazines bother me too much, since they are usually pimped up with hairspray and other stuff to get the right look and exactly recreating them while still being good to eat is often simply not possible.

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You should brown the meat, chicken, onions or whatever you want to brown, first!, before putting them in the slow cooker. The browning gives what you are making great flavor. Then and only then, if you forget to brown it first, take it out of the slow cooker when done, and brown it on a baking tray or in a pan by broiling it till it browns to your liking.

To get a browned top and sides of the meat loaf, or any meat or chicken, take it out of the slow cooker and put it on a baking sheet or in a pan, and broil it in the oven a few minutes till it's browned to your liking.

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Our previous slow cooker didn't really give any browning on high. It had a traditional (removable) crockery pot and lid. Our new one does for (some) meat and veg that's not immersed. It also has a "medium" setting which behaves more like the "high" on the old one. For what it's worth the pot is non stick steel (the lid is glass). It apparently doesn't need preheating. Timings in the instruction manuals for similar foods on high are similar but there's very little in the manual for the new one.

This illustrates the difference between models even for the same nominal setting.

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