How to Cook Roast Beef in a Slow Cooker: The Ultimate Guide

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Making slow cooker roast beef lets you set it and forget it for an almost effortless dinner.
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For many families, pot roast is a go-to dinner. And there's no easier way to cook this classic meal than in a Crock-Pot.

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Cooking a 3-pound roast in a Crock-Pot isn't as difficult as it may seem. Plus, letting the meat cook all day ensures you'll come home to a delicious-smelling house and a meal that's equally tasty. All you need to complete this hearty meal is some potatoes and carrots.

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Roast Beef Food Safety

A Crock-Pot is a type of slow cooker that cooks food at a low temperature — usually between 170 and 280 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the USDA.

The lengthy cook time, the heat from the pot and the steam that's contained in the slow cooker all allow it to reach temperatures that are high enough to destroy harmful, foodborne-illness-causing bacteria, although it may take several hours to do so.

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While it is safe to cook meat in a slow cooker, you will need to make sure it's defrosted first. You shouldn't put a frozen roast in the Crock-Pot. Doing so won't allow the meat to reach the safe minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees F (the safe temperature for beef), per the University of Minnesota Extension. Always measure meat's internal temperature using a food thermometer ($7.64, Amazon).

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After the meat is cooked, let it rest for 3 minutes so the juices redistribute, according to the USDA.

Warning

Do not place frozen meat in a slow cooker.​ Official advice from both the USDA and Crock-Pot is that you should not slow-cook meat from frozen. Putting frozen meat (or poultry) in a slow cooker may only thaw the meat, as opposed to cooking it to a safe internal temperature. “All of our slow cooker recipes call for starting with fresh or thawed meats," Crock-Pot's press office tells LIVESTRONG.com.

If beef doesn’t reach the safe minimum internal temperature, eating it could result in a foodborne illness. That’s because bacteria grow most rapidly in temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees F, per the USDA. In this environment, called the "danger zone," bacteria can double in as little as 10 minutes.

Plus, meat that’s cooked from fresh or thawed will cook much faster in a slow cooker than meat that’s cooked from frozen. And when you’re talking about a large roast, you can save a lot of time by thawing it first.

How to Defrost Roast Beef

A 3-pound roast beef can take hours or even days to defrost, depending on which method you use. There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave, according to the USDA. Here's how.

Refrigerator Method

Step 1:​ Place the roast in its original packaging on a plate.

Step 2:​ Put the plate in the refrigerator.

Step 3:​ Allow the roast to defrost until it's soft. Depending on the size of the roast, it may take 2 days or longer to thaw.

Cook the roast within 3 to 5 days of thawing.

Cold Water Method

Step 1:​ Keep the roast in its original, airtight packaging or put it in a leak-proof bag.

Step 2:​ Submerge the roast in cold water. If necessary, place a bowl on top of the meat to weigh it down — the meat should be completely submerged.

Step 3:​ Change the water every 30 minutes, until the meat is completely thawed. A 3-pound roast may take 2 to 3 hours to thaw.

Meat that is thawed in cold water should always be cooked right away. Don't store the roast and cook it later.

Microwave Method

Step 1:​ Remove the roast from its packaging and place it on a microwave-safe dish.

Step 2:​ Place the roast in the microwave.

Step 3:​ Microwave the meat on the "defrost" setting until it is soft and thawed.

If you thaw meat in the microwave, always cook it immediately after you thaw it.

Warning

The USDA warns against thawing meat on the counter. That’s because even though the center of the food may be frozen, the outer layers could be in the “danger zone” temperatures, where harmful bacteria can rapidly proliferate.

How to Cook Roast Beef in a Slow Cooker

To start, you need to make sure that you begin with washed hands and a clean slow cooker. If the beef is frozen, put in the fridge, microwave or under cold water to thaw. It needs to be completely thawed before you put it in the slow cooker.

Try your hand at this slow cooker roast beef recipe. The recipe recommends making the Crock-Pot roast with potatoes, carrots and other vegetables, which will add nutrition and flavor to your meal.

Things You'll Need

  • 3-pound roast beef

  • Potatoes

  • Carrots

  • Onions

  • Mushrooms

  • ½ cup of broth or water

  • ¼ cup of Worcestershire sauce

  • Olive oil or cooking spray

  • Salt

  • Pepper

  • Cutting board

  • Knife

  • Frying pan

Step 1:​ Chop all the veggies into bite-sized pieces and season them with salt and pepper.

Step 2:​ Season the beef with salt and pepper, then drizzle olive oil (or spray cooking spray) onto a frying pan.

Step 3:​ Cook the beef over medium heat until it's brown on all sides.

Step 4:​ Put the vegetables into the slow cooker first (because they cook slower), then layer the roast on top. Top it off with ½ cup of liquid and ¼ cup of Worcestershire sauce.

Step 5:​ Turn on the slow cooker to your desired temperature. How long it takes to cook roast beef in the slow cooker depends on what temperature you set the Crock-Pot. The roast should take about 6 hours on the high heat setting, and 10 hours on the low heat setting.

Tip

The cooking times change depending on how much meat you’re cooking. For example, a 3-pound roast can cook faster than a 5-pound roast when set at the same temperature setting. Foods cook faster on the high settings than on the low settings.

Still, cooking times can vary depending on the size of the meat (if it’s cut into cubes), whether there are other ingredients in the pot and so on, according to the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

How to Cook a Top Round Roast in a Slow Cooker

Top round roast in a slow cooker can be as tender and tasty as more expensive meat dishes, if you take your time in the preparation. After it cooks for hours with herbs, vegetables and broth, you'll have a memorable meal to enjoy.

Filet mignon and prime rib aren't the only quality cuts out there, says Ed Wiley III, owner and chef of The Prime Smokehouse in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. "In fact, tougher, less expensive cuts, such as chuck roasts, briskets and round roasts, lend themselves to a pot roast you might find for a royal feast."

For more everyday meals, like a Sunday roast, Wiley prefers the top round. "While this meat tends to be extra dense — after all, hind muscles are what a 1,000-pound steer uses for walking and running — it's ideal for slow-cooking," he says.

How to Tenderize a Top Round Roast

“Generally, I’d suggest marinating or pounding out a cheaper cut of meat like a top round, but the best technique for turning it into a succulent, savory, fork-tender meal is taking your time,” Wiley says. “Although you’ll be putting your roast in a slow cooker for 5 or 6 hours and forgetting about it, you should still give it plenty of love beforehand.”

Wiley shares his go-to slow cooker top round roast recipe with LIVESTRONG.com below. (Note that this recipe calls for prep the day before cooking.)

Things You'll Need

  • One top round, 3½ to 4 pounds

  • 1 pound soft butter

  • 3 large sweet onions

  • 8 large cloves of garlic (rough cut)

  • 2 large rutabagas

  • 2 large sweet potatoes

  • 3 or 4 parsnips

  • 2 large russet potatoes

  • 3 or 4 large carrots

  • Fresh thyme

  • Fresh rosemary

  • Fresh cracked black pepper

  • Kosher salt

  • 3 cups of beef stock

  • 3 cups of dry red wine

  • Cutting board

  • Knife

  • Cast-iron skillet

Day One Prep

Step 1:​ The day before cooking the roast, poke holes throughout your top round, using an ice pick or a narrow-bladed knife. Rough-cut your garlic cloves, and push the pieces into the holes.

Step 2:​ Season the beef with kosher salt and black pepper. In a large cast-iron skillet, drizzle some vegetable oil and get the pan very hot. Crust the beef on all sides, and remove.

Step 3:​ Caramelize the onions in the same skillet, and put them to the side.

Step 4:​ Cover the beef and refrigerate until use the next day.

Day Two Prep

Step 5:​ Mince the fresh herbs and fold them into the soft butter. Pat the butter all over the top round.

Step 6:​ Season your root vegetables with salt and pepper and place them in the bottom of your Crock-Pot.

Step 7:​ Layer the caramelized onions on top of the root vegetables.

Step 8:​ Layer the roast atop the onions and add the beef stock.

Step 9:​ Cover, and roast for 3 hours on high.

Step 10:​ Add the red wine, cover and continue roasting for an additional 3 hours on high.

How to Cook a Beef Rump Roast in a Slow Cooker

Rump roast is part of the round cut of beef from the back half of the cow. The meat is moderately tender and should therefore be cooked in moist heat, making it soft and juicy, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

One of the best ways to cook rump roast is in a slow cooker. That's because slow cookers use liquid and a combination of direct heat and trapped steam to cook the meat at very low temperatures. This moist heat will allow you to cook the roast to a fork-tender consistency.

Rolled rump roast may also take longer to cook in a slow cooker than other smaller cuts, as it takes longer for the heat to cook through solid meat, according to the USDA.

One caveat: If you want to cook a rump roast in a Crock-Pot, you'll want to make sure it doesn't get too dry. It's important that you pay attention to whether the Crock-Pot rump roast recipe needs to be cooked on the high heat or low heat setting — this way, you won't accidentally cook it on high for too long. Cooking your rump roast on high for too long can cause it to get tough and chewy.

The USDA recommends filling the slow cooker until it's between 1/2 and 2/3 full to make sure the foods cook thoroughly. Want to get started? Try our Healthy Pot Roast recipe.

Things You'll Need

  • 4-pound rump roast

  • 1 cup onions

  • 3 raw carrots

  • 3 medium-sized white potatoes

  • 1½ stalks of celery

  • 16 ounces beef broth

  • Salt

  • Pepper

  • Cutting board

  • Knife

  • Frying pan

Step 1:​ Season the roast with salt and pepper and pan-fry it over medium-high heat until each side is browned, about 4 minutes for each side. (You can skip this step if you're short on time, but it can help prevent the meat from getting too tough in the slow cooker.)

Step 2:​ Chop the vegetables and place them in the slow cooker.

Step 3:​ Layer the rump roast on top of the vegetables and add the beef broth.

Step 4:​ Cover the slow cooker and let it cook for 8 to 10 hours.

Tip

It's important that you let the rump roast cook. Even on the high setting, a 3- to 4-pound rump roast takes nearly 6 hours to cook, according to the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, so it may not be possible to cook in 4 hours.

How to Slow Cook Roast Beef Without Liquid

Slow-cooking beef brings out the rich, deep flavor of the meat and gives it time to tenderize while you devote your attention elsewhere. You can slow-cook roast beef without adding liquid to the cooker as long as you're not cooking vegetables — the meat's own juices stop it from drying out.

To create a heartier meal, brown the beef before slow-cooking it. This process brings out the beef's flavor and allows you to skim more fat from the meat.

Things You'll Need

  • Beef roast

  • Garlic

  • Onions

  • Salt

  • Pepper

  • Chili powder (optional)

  • Fresh or dried herbs (optional)

  • Knife

  • Skillet

  • Paper towels

Step 1:​ Trim fat off the beef using a knife.

Step 2:​ Brown the meat lightly on all sides in a skillet, and drain out the excess fat. Pat the meat dry with a paper towel.

Step 3:​ To make a dry rub for slow cooker roast beef, mix salt, pepper and any strongly flavored seasonings you desire, such as minced garlic, onions or chili powder. Rub the seasonings into the meat.

Step 4:​ Put the beef in the Crock-Pot and cover the pot. Set the slow cooker to low heat. Cook the meat for 10 to 12 hours.

Step 5:​ Add mildly flavored dried herbs or spices, such as sage, basil, white pepper, cinnamon, cloves or orange zest to the Crock-Pot after 8 to 10 hours.

Step 6:​ Add mildly flavored fresh herbs during the last 30 minutes of cooking.

Tip

Try not to open the Crock-Pot while the roast is cooking. Releasing the heat lengthens the cooking time. (Hot Crock-Pots are safe to leave unattended.)

Cooking Temperatures for Roast Beef Chart

The USDA recommends cooking meat until the internal temperature reaches a minimum of 145 degrees F. Here are the internal temperatures for roast beef by the degree of doneness, according to Certified Angus Beef.

Doneness

How It Looks

Temperature

Rare

Cool red center

125 degrees F

Medium-rare

Warm red center

135 degrees F

Medium

Warm pink center

145 degrees F

Medium-well

Slightly pink center

150 degrees F

Well done

Little or no pink

160 degrees F

Source: Certified Angus Beef

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