Do you really need to sear meat before slow cooking?

If you've ever made chili or beef stew in a slow cooker, you've probably noticed that the recipe always directs you to brown or sear the meat first. This might seem like unnecessary extra work. After all, isn't the whole point of a slow cooker to make preparing a meal as easy as possible? Searing meat before throwing it in the slow cooker certainly goes against the set-it-and-forget-it approach, and the "to brown, or not to brown?" debate has embroiled the slow cooker community. Thankfully, there is no right or wrong answer here (via Slow Cooker Central).  

If you want to sear or brown meat before placing it in your slow cooker, that's fine, though you don't have to. As for why you might want to do so, there are a number of good reasons why making that extra effort might pay off. As for the myth that searing meat locks in the juices, well, this simply isn't true, and myth-buster Alton Brown proved it years ago on Good Eats. Heat simply damages the cells of meat causing them to lose moisture and searing isn't a magic solution for this.

What searing or browning your soon-to-be-slow-cooked meat will do is speed up the cooking time and can give it a nice caramelized flavor. "The caramelized surface of the meat will lend rich flavor and color to the finished dish," Southern Living test kitchen director Robby Melvin said. Dusting the meat with a little flour before searing will also add a nice body to the sauce once it goes in the slow cooker. If you make the extra effort to brown ground meat on the stove before adding it to the slow cooker, you can discard some the fatty liquids produced beforehand. Because nobody wants chili that's swimming in grease. "Browning, or caramelizing, meat before putting it into a slow cooker isn't one hundred percent necessary, but it is well worth the effort for the most flavorful and full-bodied end result," Melvin noted.

As for reasons not to sear or brown meat before slow cooking, well, that's entirely an argument of convenience. Skipping the searing process is one less step between you and dinner. Oh, and there's less to clean up too. 

In the end, when it comes to searing before slow cooking, do whatever works for you.