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Best cuts of meat for slow cooking

Make the most of your slow cooker with these tips and recipes from our CHOICE kitchen expert

slow_cooking_meat_in_crock_pot
Last updated: 19 May 2020

Those chilly nights are closing in, so it's time for your slow cooker to step into the spotlight. The queen of convenient kitchen appliances, slow cookers are rightly celebrated for their 'set and forget' capabilities, and patient cooks will gleefully reap their rewards. 

Slow cookers turn the most stubborn cuts of meat into succulent stews, comforting soups and wholesome dinners for the family that pack the goodness in. Basically, all you have to do is throw in the ingredients and leave them to simmer away while you go about your day. 

Slow cookers turn the most stubborn cuts of meat into succulent stews, comforting soups and wholesome dinners

CHOICE kitchen expert Fiona Mair is a fan of this versatile kitchen-hand: "I would definitely recommend a slow cooker for a family or keen cooks and entertainers," she says. "Foods cooked in a slow cooker are great for batch cooking and freezing, plus you can use cheaper cuts of meat and stretch out meals with legumes." 

Here are Fiona's recommendation for some great-value cuts of meat that love to be cooked low and slow in your cooker. Plus, we give you some delicious recipes to get you inspired.

1. Oyster blade steaks (for shredded chilli beef)

Oyster blade is a hard-working muscle that is found below the shoulder blade. It has a strip of gristle that runs through the meat that can make it tough when grilled, so it's perfect for slow cooking in dishes like a rich chilli beef. Available in supermarkets for about $15 per kg, you can usually buy it in steaks, or buy a whole roast that you can dice or slice into steaks yourself for slow cooking. 

Fiona's tip for cooking with this cut? "It's best to season and sear the meat first before slow cooking," she says. "If you're cooking a whole piece of beef, you can cook it on low for 8 hours. If you use steaks, they'll need about 5-6 hours on high in the slow cooker, they will become tender and easy to shred with a fork."

Recipe: Shredded chilli beef

Ingredients

  • 3 cups soaked dried borlotti beans (soak overnight, drain and rinse)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 1kg oyster blade steaks, cut into 2cm thick slices 
  • 2 large brown onions, thinly sliced 
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped 
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper 
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano 
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin 
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander 
  • 1½ teaspoons paprika 
  • 800ml beef stock 
  • 2 fresh jalapeño chilli, seeded and finely chopped 
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander stalks, finely chopped 
  • 400g (1 can) diced tomatoes 
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste 
  • 2 bay leaves 
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped 
  • Sour cream, to serve 
Method
  1. Heat the oil on medium/high heat in your slow cooker using the sear function, or in a frypan on your cooktop. Add steaks and brown on both sides. Remove the meat, add onions and garlic, fry until soft. 
  2. Add cayenne pepper, oregano, cumin, coriander and paprika. Cook for 1 minute. 
  3. Pour in the beef stock, bring to the boil. Add steak, onion and stock mixture to the slow cooker pan, fresh chilli, soaked beans, tomatoes, salt and pepper and bay leaves. 
  4. Make sure the meat is pushed into the liquid. Cook in your slow cooker for 5–6 hours on high setting or 8 hours at the low-heat setting. 
  5. Remove the meat from the slow cooker and gently shred the meat using a fork. If the sauce is too liquid, turn the slow cooker on high setting, with lid removed, for a further 30 mins. 
  6. Return the shredded meat to the sauce, add the coriander leaves and season to taste. Serve with rice and a dollop of sour cream.

2. Chuck steak (for beef goulash)

Chuck steak is probably the most economical cut of beef. The chuck is found around the neck and shoulder, so it contains some connective tissue and fat that will melt down during long slow cooks and give your dish a rich, robust flavour. You can buy it from supermarkets for about $15 per kg.

"It's best to cut chuck into chunks as it needs to be cooked well otherwise it can be tough and hard to chew," says Fiona. "I like to use chuck in this beef goulash recipe."

Recipe: Beef goulash

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • 2 onions, diced 
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped 
  • 1kg chuck steak, cubed 
  • 2 tablespoons paprika 
  • 1 x 440g can diced tomatoes 
  • ½ cup water 
  • 1 cup tomato passata 
  • 1 green capsicum, cubed 
  • Salt and pepper, to season 
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream 
  • Cooked fettuccine or spätzle, to serve

Method

  1. Add oil to a large frypan or a slow cooker with a sear function, heat on medium. Add onion and garlic, cook until softened. Transfer to the slow cooker. 
  2. Fry batches of chuck steak on high until browned well. 
  3. Add paprika, tomatoes, water, passata and capsicum to the last batch of browning the meat and bring to the boil. Pour into the slow cooker with the onions. 
  4. Cover with the lid and cook on high setting for 5-6 hours or low for 8 hours. Season to taste, serve with sour cream and fettuccine or spätzle.

CHOICE tip: For better flavour development, sear meats and cook off any spices before slow cooking. Some models of slow cooker let you sear in the slow cooker bowl, and some have a bowl that can go directly on a stovetop. This means you won't need to use a frypan as well, cutting down on washing up.

slow cooked corned beef on plate with veggies recipe square

3. Silverside (for corned beef)

Silverside has a less-than-glamorous reputation, but give it a spin in your slow cooker, simmered slowly with veg and seasonings, and you can turn it into a classic, nostalgic corned beef that will rival the one your Nanna used to make. And at about only $8 per kg, it's excellent for budget dinners. 

It gets its name from the shiny connective tissue attached to the cut. It comes from the outer part of the rear leg and sits between the knuckle and the topside above the shin. Because this cut is a muscle, it needs a moist, long, slow cook. 

Buy corned silverside from your butcher or supermarket in a whole piece (there is usually a layer of fat on one side that should be left on during cooking to keep the meat from drying out – it also adds flavour).

Recipe: Corned beef

Ingredients (for 5–6.5L capacity slow cooker or halve the ingredients for a 3–3.5L capacity)

  • 2kg piece corned silverside 
  • 1 large onion, peeled and halved 
  • 10 peppercorns 
  • 2 bay leaves 
  • 2 tablespoon brown sugar 
  • ¼ cup malt vinegar 
  • 1–1½L water (roughly)
  • Steamed carrots, potato and shredded cabbage, and parsley sauce, to serve
Method
  1. Put the corned silverside into the slow cooker or multi cooker bowl (you may need to cut the silverside in half to sit it flat in the bowl). 
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and pour over the water – just enough to reach the top of the meat. Cover and cook on low for 6–8 hours.

CHOICE tip: Slow-cooked corned beef is perfect for sandwiches. You can store it in a sealed container in the fridge for up to two weeks. 

slow_cooker_with_meat_for_chilli

A slow-cooker makes light work of wholesome family dinners, and needn't be constantly watched.

4. Lamb shanks 

Tender, fall-off-the-bone lamb shanks are a winter menu must-have, and because you can pick them up for about $15 per kg from the supermarket, they're economical, too. 

The shank comes from above the knee joint and below the leg. As it's a working muscle, shanks require a low and slow form of cooking to tenderise the meat. They're also great for the pressure cooker if you want to speed up the process. 

"Cooking meat on the bone really boosts the flavour of your dish," says Fiona. "Once done, the meat will be so tender and will easily fall off the bone."

Recipe: Slow-cooked lamb shank

Ingredients (for 5–6.5L capacity)

  • 4–6 lamb shanks, remove fat and season with salt and pepper 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped 
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped 
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped 
  • 2 sticks celery, finely chopped 
  • 1 cup chicken stock 
  • ½ cup red wine 
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste 
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped 
  • 1 tablespoon butter 
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar 
  • Salt and pepper, to taste 
  • Creamy mashed potato and steamed green vegetables, to serve
Method 
  1. Heat the oil in a frypan or sear function of your slow cooker. Add the shanks and brown on all sides. Remove from the heat. 
  2. Cook the garlic, carrots, onions and celery until lightly browned. Add the stock, wine, tomato paste, and rosemary, cook for 1 minute. Add shanks and garlic wine mixture to the slow cooker. Make sure the shanks have enough liquid to cover, and add extra stock if needed.  
  3. Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on high for 5–6 hours. To reduce the sauce, return the liquid to a pan and bring to a boil uncovered, until the liquid has been reduced and thickened slightly. Whisk in the butter, and then add the vinegar and season to taste. Serve shanks with sauce, creamy mashed potato and green veg.

5. Ham hock (for pea and ham soup)

For the most flavoursome stews, soups and sauces, you can't look past a ham hock. The idea is to cook it in a stock so it imparts all its lovely rich and smoky flavour, then discard the skin and pull the meat off the bone to stir back into your dish. 

This cut requires slow cooking as it's a foot joint, made up mostly of tendons, ligaments and skin. In Germany, it's known as pork knuckle and is typically eaten whole. The knuckle is cooked slowly in a stock, then it is roasted on a high heat to crisp and brown the skin, and served as a roast with cabbage and potatoes. 

Fiona says: "Get the best ham hock you can find – you can get both fresh and cured ham hocks at your butcher, supermarkets and deli from about $10 per kg. They should be small, smoky and as fresh as possible."

Recipe: Pea and ham soup

Ingredients 

  • 1½ cups green split peas, rinsed 
  • 2 smoked ham hocks 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 2 onions, peeled & diced 
  • 2 celery sticks, diced 
  • 1 carrot, diced 
  • 2L water 
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to season 
  • ¼ cup mint, finely chopped 
Method 
  1. In a slow cooker with sear function or in a frypan, heat oil and fry onions, celery and diced carrot until vegetables are just tender.
  2. Put peas and ham hocks with the cooked vegetables into the slow cooker, add water and bay leaves. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 6 hours until meat is tender and falling off the bone. 
  3. Remove ham hocks from the soup and discard the fat and bones. Chop the meat up into small pieces and return to the soup. Add mint and season to taste. 

6. Borlotti beans (for vegan chilli)

We're big fans of slow-cooked meat but legumes are also primed to do a star turn in your cooker. Try dried borlotti beans – they're the brown ones speckled with red, they're super cheap (from about $4.75 per kilo), high in fibre and a good source of protein. And they make a mean vegan chilli, adding a mild nutty flavour and a creamy consistency (don't forget the guac, salsa and corn chips). 

We're big fans of slow-cooked meat but legumes are primed to do a star turn in your cooker

Buy the dried beans from supermarkets, grocers or delis, and soak for at least 4 hours or overnight before adding to your slow cooker. Soaking the beans removes any anti–nutrients such as lectins and saponin that may block the absorption of nutrients into the body and lower the nutritional value of the food (soaked beans can be refrigerated for up to 2 days or you can also freeze them ready for the next meal).

Recipe: Vegetarian/vegan chilli beans

Ingredients 

  • 3 cups soaked dried borlotti beans (soak overnight, rinse and drain) 
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 2 large brown onions, thinly sliced 
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced 
  • 1 small eggplant, chopped into 2cm cubes 
  • 1 zucchini, roughly chopped 
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper 
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano 
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin 
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander 
  • 1½ teaspoons paprika 
  • 2 fresh jalapeño chilli, seeded and finely chopped 
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander stalks, finely chopped 
  • 800ml vegetable stock 
  • 1 x 400g can diced tomatoes 
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste 
  • 2 bay leaves 
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped 
  • Sour cream, corn chips, guacamole and salsa, to serve 
Method
  1. Heat the oil on medium-high heat in your slow cooker using the sear function, or in a frypan on your cooktop. 
  2. Fry the onions, garlic, eggplant and zucchini, until just soft. 
  3. Add cayenne pepper, oregano, cumin, coriander and paprika. Cook for 1 minute. 
  4. Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Add mixture to the slow cooker pan with the fresh chilli, soaked beans, canned tomatoes, salt and pepper and bay leaves. Make sure the ingredients are pushed into the liquid. 
  5. Cook in the slow cooker for 5–6 hours on high setting or 8 hours on low. If the sauce has too much liquid, turn the slow cooker to high setting, remove the lid and cook for a further 30 minutes. Add the coriander leaves and season to taste. Serve with sour cream, corn chips, guacamole and salsa.