The Absolute Best Cuts Of Meat For Your Slow Cooker

Do we really need to expound on the general appeal of a slow cooker? After all, as long as you plan ahead (it cooks slow, don't you know), it's crystal clear why slow cookers are the ultimate easy-going cooking appliance for any home chef. Frankly, nothing tops the simplicity of tossing ingredients into a pot, covering it on low heat, and letting it simmer for hours on end — just as nothing beats the often toothsome final product found from slow cooking.

There's no shortage of potential foods that can be prepared in a slow cooker, including soups, side dishes, desserts, and meat. Now, while some meats should never be slow-cooked, we're not interested in the worst cuts of meat to throw in your slow cooker. As the title plainly states, we're here to offer guidance on the best cuts of meat for your slow cooker.

From tough, lean cuts (those comprised of tissues needing time to break down and tenderize), to bone-heavy cuts with difficult-to-access meat, we've compiled a list of meats seemingly destined for the slow cooker. So if you're eager to expand your slow cooker protein game, keep reading, as we reveal the absolute best cuts of meat for your slow cooker.

Pork butt

If there's any sort of running theme to be found in this assemblage of meats best suited for the slow cooker, it's that they're best when cooked at a low temperature over a long period of time. While that may be stating the obvious, it does help illustrate why a number of meats that produce a top-notch dish in the slow cooker also work fantastically when oven-roasted, as well. In that vein, even though we're not ranking these items, it's fairly obvious why our selection for the top pork cut to roast — pork butt — also kicks things off when it comes to the best cuts of meat for your slow cooker.

Occasionally known as a Boston butt, pork butts aren't actually butchered from a pig's backside, but instead come from its shoulder area (via Smoked BBQ Source). Given the high level of fat and collagen interspersed within that muscle, pork butt tends to become incredibly tender and moist when cooked low and slow — making it absolutely perfect for the slow cooker.

Frankly, since there's no other feasible option to prepare pork butt beyond an extended cooking time, you may as well utilize the slow cooker to do so. It's not messy, it's convenient, and it just about guarantees you'll end up with a delightfully shreddable pulled pork final product.

Lamb shanks

If we're being perfectly honest, lamb shanks are a cut of meat we're not entirely sure the world needs. And while there's clearly a decent amount of phenomenal meat on that bone, therein lies the entire problem: Lamb shanks are attached to a sheep's shin bone, and come with all the connective tissue expected from such a highly-used muscle area (via The Spruce Eats). Of course, like other bone-filled, tough cuts of meat, the very nature of lamb shanks makes them absolutely perfect for preparation in a slow cooker.

According to Simply Beef and Lamb, cooking lamb shanks at a low temperature for a long period — like in a slow cooker — allows the meat to tenderize, resulting in an out-of-this-world final product. The fall-off-the-bone tenderness achieved in a slow cooker coincides with the retained moisture in the meat, so you won't need saliva to enjoy luscious meat from a slow-cooked lamb shank — though there's a strong chance your mouth will be watering either way.

Of course, similar to a chuck roast, you'll want to take the time to sear lamb shanks before you start the slow cooking process, as illustrated in this slow-braised lamb shanks recipe by developer Ting Dalton.

Beef chuck roast

We have to admit that when we first started researching cuts of meat for this article, we didn't realize pot roast was a specific cut of beef. Frankly, we sort of assumed it was more of a catch-all term — one that could be applied to any cut of beef suitable for roasting. But lo and behold, according to Beef. It's What's for Dinner, pot roast is, in fact, just another word for chuck roast. Though, for our purposes? Just call it one of the absolute best cuts of meat for your slow cooker.

Butchered from the cow's shoulder region, a boneless chuck roast is full of the flavor you're craving when your body desires red meat. Since the incredibly lean cut takes a long time to tenderize while cooking — given chuck roast's high volume of connective tissue (via Southern Living) – it's the type of meat that needs to be slow-cooked no matter how you prepare it. In other words, there's no reason not to toss a chuck roast into the slow cooker, flip the switch, and let it work its sloth-like magic.

One step to consider is searing a chuck roast's edges prior to placing it in the slow cooker. After all, all raw meat can benefit from pre-searing before the slow cooking process begins, since it enhances the flavor of the meat itself, and the surrounding dish.

Ground meat (any type)

Realistically, the idea of cooking ground meat in a slow cooker — any type, be it beef, turkey, or another kind — likely conjures images of stews and sauces of various sorts. This makes perfect sense, of course, and isn't an assumption we'd consider challenging. Because that inherent inclination regarding ground meat's suitability for a slow cooker — as in, it's a wonderful (ground-up) cut of meat to cook in slow cooker soups, stews, and sauces — is right on point.

Perhaps you're partial to chili (as long as it doesn't have beans, cried out Texas chili lovers), and want to make a batch in your slow cooker. Well, since the slow cooker offers a nearly foolproof path to creating chili — particularly if you brown the meat beforehand – the only real question lies in which ingredients to include. After all, you can legitimately do nothing more than toss the ingredients into a pot, let it simmer for hours on end while occasionally stirring it — and voila! A large pot of largely effortless chili awaits you as a reward for your patience.

Of course, there are more ways to use ground meat in a slow cooker besides chili. For example, one of our favorite ways to cook ground meat in the slow cooker is as meatballs. We love cooking par-baked meatballs in a vat of scratch-made tomato sauce, since the sauce eventually penetrates the meat during the process.

Chicken thighs

You may be wondering why we've chosen chicken thighs for this list, as opposed to the larger, more-plentiful breast. Well, it's certainly not to play favorites between the two in any way, since we're not trying to declare dark meat's superiority compared to white meat. But there's simply no way around the fact that the higher fat level found in dark meat (via lowers the risk of overcooking — and drying out — your meat while in the slow cooker. 

Therefore, when it comes to the best cut of chicken meat for your slow cooker (between those two options, at least), we have to give the nod to thighs. Additionally, since chicken thighs are known to contain a high level of connective tissue (via America's Test Kitchen), there's really no better option than slow cooking for this cut of poultry.

Of course, despite chicken thigh's slightly high-fat content, there's no reason you have to eschew a healthy meal when preparing the item in a slow cooker. Consider this slow cooker chicken thighs recipe from developer and registered dietician Kristin Carli, and you'll end up with a delectable, easy, and nutritious meal — eventually.

Beef brisket

If we asked you to imagine a beef brisket cooking, there's a better-than-average chance you'd picture the protein in a smoker, or barbecue pit. Of course, that instinctive reaction actually helps explain beef brisket's strong suitability for the slow cooker. After all, according to Home Depot, a smoker is nothing more than a different type of slow cooker — meaning there's no reason to doubt brisket's compatibility with your kitchen-based slow cooker, too.

A cut of meat from the lower chest area, according to Weber, brisket comes from a highly-used muscle of the cow and contains a rather unsettling amount of connective tissue as a result. Given beef brisket is both tough and overrun with the cartilage-like matter, well ... you don't need to be a Chopped judge to recognize why a slow cooker offers one of the best (and simplest) ways to break down beef its tough interior.

Now, if you're apprehensive about shifting away from the barbecue when it comes to beef brisket, there's no reason to fret. After all, you can rather easily infuse barbecue flavors into beef brisket in the slow cooker, as demonstrated by this delicious slow cooker barbecue brisket recipe.


Not unlike our slight quibble regarding lamb shank's status as an edible protein, we've often been baffled by oxtail's use in the culinary world. Yet we have to admit there's something to be said for utilizing every single edible part of an animal, given it subsequently reduces the amount of wasted animal parts. Plus, if we're being honest, we've always found oxtail to be an incredibly flavorful, tender piece of beef — when it was prepared in a slow cooker, that is.

According to a 2009 cooking demonstration by chefs Gary Rhodes and Keith Floyd, preparing oxtail with the bones and fat intact is crucial to developing the cut of meat's proper depth of flavor. Of course, the inclusion of said fat and bones is precisely why the slow cooker is positively perfect for preparing oxtail, as it will melt the fat down without sacrificing the food's taste.

Since oxtails are often utilized as a main component of stews in British households (via The Guardian), you may want to consider potential slow cooker stew recipes that feature oxtail. Just be sure to take the necessary steps to avoid producing an overly oily oxtail stew when you do.

Pork loin

Pork loin may be mistaken for the similarly-named pork tenderloin on occasion, but the differences between the two cuts of pork are quite apparent with a simple eye test. After all, the long, thin, tube-shaped pork tenderloin is easy to distinguish when placed beside a shorter, thicker pork loin cut. Additionally, while pork tenderloin is far too lean to endure anything beyond a quick sear or roast (via Master Class), the larger, fat-capped cut of pork that is loin is perfectly suited for the slow cooker.

Since pork loin tends to be far less tender than the aptly-named tenderloin, cooking the cut of meat in a slow cooker allows its tougher muscle fibers to break down and soften over time. In fact, while it's not an exact match by any means, we've found slow-cooked pork loin provides a fair facsimile to pulled pork made with pork butt — though it just barely misses matching pork butt's slow cooking prowess in that area.

Then again, we're not here to rank any cuts of meat — just provide general guidance on which types to use. Therefore, which cut of pork produces a more enjoyable shredded-and-pulled meal is irrelevant. And if you're in the mood for a super simple slow cooker pork loin recipe, consider this one from recipe developer Christina Musgrave.

Beef cheeks

Once again, we come to a cut of meat that's flabbergasting to consider on its own — beef cheeks. Of course, the relatively ridiculous nature of beef cheeks as a food item is precisely what makes the slow cooker such a desirable option for preparing it. After all, beef cheeks are exactly what they sound like: The tissue from a cow's cheek muscle (via Master Class). Since these muscles are highly utilized by a cow, beef cheeks are incredibly tough before cooking — which makes it one of the absolute best cuts of meat for your slow cooker.

Now, by this point, there's a decent chance you've noticed that tougher, almost leathery-when-raw cuts of meat are generally best served by the slow cooking process. Since beef cheeks fall into this category — along with countless other meat cuts butchered from an animal's more-often-used muscle areas (via Exploratorium) — it's no surprise that beef cheeks need time to tenderize.

But if you can find that time? Beef cheeks can be transformed into a rich, melt-in-your-mouth meal when cooked in a slow cooker. Some may prefer smoking beef cheeks, but we have no doubts the kitchen-based slow cooker can get the job done just as well.

Rump roast

As we mentioned earlier, the name pork butt is a misnomer, since that cut of meat actually comes from a pig's shoulder muscle (via Smoked BBQ Source). However, that's not the case when it comes to the cut of beef known as a rump roast. After all, according to Beef. It's What's for Dinner, rump roast does, indeed, come from the actual backside of a cow. Not only that, but since it comes from the muscle responsible for a cow's movement, rump roast is extremely lean — making it ideally suited for the slow cooker.

Since nothing tops a slow cooker when it comes to tough cuts of meat (particularly those with little to no interior fat content), it's no mystery why the rump roast deserves a spot in your slow cooker rotation. According to Southern Living, the rump roast makes for an ideal slow cooker meat cut for similar reasons as the chuck roast. Rump roast is beset with connective tissue, which remains nearly inedible if it's not cooked down properly (as in, slowly and over low heat).

Rump roast may not technically be categorized as a pot roast (since that nickname is reserved for chuck roast). But when you use a slow cooker to prepare rump roast — like in this recipe from developer Christina Musgrave — you'll never notice a difference.

Whole chicken

Have you ever cooked an entire chicken in a slow cooker? No? Well, if not, we hope you're not too, ahem, chicken to attempt a feat as stupendously easy as preparing a whole chicken in the slow cooker. Of course, if the idea simply never crossed your mind, that's what we're here for! Because when it comes down to the absolute best cuts of meat to slow cook, one of the best options isn't a 'cut' at all — it's a whole chicken.

Beyond the incredible ease offered by slow cooking a whole, unbutchered chicken, doing so also provides a chance to utilize every part of the chicken in some beneficial manner. For one thing, the chicken's meat gets so tender and juicy in a slow cooker that it nearly melts off the bone — meaning you can, quite literally, obtain every single scrap of meat found on the bird.

Additionally, as noted in this slow cooker chicken recipe from recipe developer Christina Musgrave, the chicken's bones can be effortlessly removed after cooking — which, in turn, can be used to create a dynamite homemade chicken bone broth for future use.

Beef short ribs

We probably could've used the phrase "falling off the bone" to describe any cut of meat that's been prepared in a slow cooker — at least the ones with bones in them. But since we tend to try and zig when the world expects a zag, we've consciously avoided overusing the phrase in this article. Of course, since Beef. It's What's for Dinner specifically describes beef short ribs as "falling-off-the-bone tender," and suggests slow roasting it, well ... we'll follow the beef expert's lead, and name it one of the absolute best cuts of meat for your slow cooker for that reason.

Frankly, when it comes to what your slow cooker can do to beef short ribs, why bother trying to find some fancy-pants way to describe a cut of meat that legitimately falls off the bone after cooking? The proof is in the pudding, after all, and if you prepare beef short ribs in your slow cooker, you'll know firsthand why the description is so apropos.

While any style of slow-cooked beef short ribs would entice us to leap across the room, we've always been fans of this Korean-style short ribs recipe from developer Ting Dalton.