I've recently bought a slow cooker and my first meal will be a simple beef stew.

According to this recipe, step one is to:

In a small bowl mix together the flour, salt and pepper; pour over meat and stir to coat beef with flour mixture

My question is, why do I need to coat the beef in flour mixture rather than simply add to the cooker?

  • 1
    Do yourself a favor and switch to this recipe. It's amaaaaaaazing.
    – ceejayoz
    Jan 11, 2018 at 14:19

4 Answers 4


Browning your beef with some flour adds depth of flavor. The flour will act as a thickener, and by coating the meat with it you won't have problems with it clumping and getting little flour balls in your stew. However, unless you are browning the meat before adding to the cooker I would recommend you leave it out as uncooked flour might give your end dish a raw flour flavor. You can thicken it up at the end if you like with a cornstarch slurry.

  • 6
    It's not the time, it's the temperature and getting mixed with oil. 10 hours of slow cooking and the flour will still be gluey.
    – GdD
    Jan 10, 2018 at 16:32
  • 4
    I've tried it myself, I didn't like the result as much as if I left it out.
    – GdD
    Jan 10, 2018 at 16:40
  • 7
    I no longer cook much meat in the slow cooker, but always found red meat to taste and look much better browned before slow cooking, which makes adding flour easy.
    – Chris H
    Jan 10, 2018 at 16:50
  • 4
    Totally agree @ChrisH, if I slow cook I brown it first. Less convenient but better results.
    – GdD
    Jan 10, 2018 at 16:52
  • 1
    It's personal preference, some people like a really thick sauce, other's don't. If you add lots of vegetables they might make it a bit watery. I prefer to look at it towards the end of the cooking and see whether it needs any extra thickening.
    – GdD
    Jan 11, 2018 at 16:19

Flouring meat for a stew is a convenient way to thicken the gravy. This tends to work best if you brown the meat with the flour on as it gets the flour properly cooked.

The downside is that it makes it harder to get good caramelisation on the surface of the meat without burning the flour, although for slow cooked stews etc. This is rather subjective and comes down to personal preference.

If you aren't going to brown your meat it may be more convenient just to add a roux (which you can make in bulk and chill or freeze to use as needed). This is better than flouring the meat as the flour in a roux is pre-cooked. You need a fairly high temperature to trigger the chemical changes in the starch which makes it thicken the sauce and slow cookers might not reach that temperature. That would give the dish a raw flour taste and won't work as well as a thickening agent as a roux.

A basic roux is also the base of many sauces and very easy to make.

Some cuts of beef like shin and oxtail produce a perfectly good sauce without flour, especially when slow cooked.

There are also plenty of other thickening agents. I quite like pearl barley in beef stew but peas, lentils and potatoes also work as does tomato paste, but that has a significant impact on flavour (not bad but not necessarily what you want). There are also various flavour-neutral thickeners.

Also, adding a starchy staple near the end of cooking such as rice, pasta, noodles or part-cooked potatoes will thicken the sauce and make a complete one-pot dish.

A thick gravy in stew tends to bring the flavours together well but a thinner broth-like sauce can work as well, especially if you like quite punchy Asian-style flavours.


Flour will help to distribute the seasonings more uniformly over the meat, and they'll stick more easily in the beginning of the cooking process. It will also help thickening the stew later on.

You can probably skip that step, since it's a long cooking time (6 to 10h) and there's no browning in the beginning.


No, you do not need to. As an example, here's a (google translated) traditional recipe on a food site: Matprat (Norwegian site, translated)

It's not properly translated (sos is a local word for sauce (as opposed to saus)), so it's literally called sauce-meat. There are many variations on this recipe, which is not surprising since it's a very simple idea: let meat simmer in sauce until it's delicious.

Variations of this recipe includes browning the meat in flour, simmering with and without vegetables, how thick you want the roux, etc. There's a thousand variations on this simple (and delicious) Sunday dinner dish.

While I have tried both variations the only real difference I have found is that the sauce gets thicker when you make roux AND brown the meat in flour.

I suspect that this may have been part of the reason why people like to flour up the meat before frying. (Part, not all! Other people have made good observations as well!) It gives you a way to get the sauce thicker without adding quite so much butter.

As for the necessity, I would argue that it isn't. If you're going to cook something for a long time, you'll have flavours mixing well regardless, and you have potato and corn flour to thicken the sauce if you feel like it's too thin anyway.

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