How to thicken a slow-cooker stew at the end

Yesterday my husband and I set a stew going in the crock pot bright and early in the morning. Being bright and early in the morning, I totally forgot about thickening it. I went on line to look for solutions. Plenty of people asked how to thicken a crockpot stew, and yes, there were answers.

  • Include a bit of flour (1/4 cup or thereabouts) mixed in at the beginning, possibly tossed with the meat before browning it (assuming you plan to brown it first).
  • Leave the lid off and let it cook down. These suggestions were obviously written by people who don’t use slow-cookers and aren’t aware that you don’t use them that way. Keeping the lid on is essential to the ambient heat that builds up and cooks the food. So don’t do this. This is why you don’t normally add as much liquid to slow-cooker recipes in the first place.
  • Include mashed potato flakes or at least diced starchy potatoes for thickening.

However, not a single person addressed being able to thicken it at the end. The assumption seemed to be that you really couldn’t do that. Well, that’s all well and good when you remember the flour at the beginning, but when you’re improvising, and you haven’t had your coffee yet, all does not necessarily go as planned.

So here’s what we did, and it not only worked, it worked amazingly well. This was for a stew that occupied more than half of a six-quart crockpot and had a fair amount of liquid; adjust as needed for other amounts.*

About half an hour before the crockpot is due to finish, briefly lift the lid long enough to ladle out roughly two cups of hot liquid; this should leave some liquid remaining in the crock pot. Re-lid. If it isn’t already over high heat, turn it to high heat. (Note that if you have it on a short cycle, such as 4 hours on high heat, you should wait until it’s finished the cycle so you don’t let the heat out early; just turn it back on to high for the extra half-hour.)

Melt four tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour. Keep whisking as it bubbles, smooths out, and thickens; you want to go for long enough to cook off a bit of the flour taste, but you also don’t want this to get too dark. Maybe a minute, but it’ll depend somewhat on just how hot your burner is. You’re making a roux, and the lighter the roux, the greater the thickening power. So if you see it browning, you’re definitely done.

Gradually whisk in the hot liquid from the stew, and keep whisking until it’s smooth and bubbling. Remove from heat, and stir thoroughly into the contents of the slow cooker. Re-lid and allow to bubble along for another 10-20 minutes.

*For a thick gravy, I find that a ratio of 1:1:1 (butter, flour, hot liquid) works pretty well. If you don’t think you have anywhere close to four cups of hot liquid total in the slow-cooker by the end, adjust the butter/flour amounts downward as well. Or, cook the roux until it darkens somewhat. That will cause it to have less thickening power and will also add a bit of a nutty flavor. You can also make a thinner gravy by adjusting in similar ways.

 

In case you’re curious, this is what we were making (roughly): First, we drained and rinsed the contents of a can of cannellini beans (white kidney beans)—the 14 oz size. Most similar types of beans would substitute just fine. We spread them out over the bottom of the slow-cooker, then added half of a 28 oz can of fire-roasted crushed tomatoes. We put the slab of meat over that, salted it, and peppered it. We covered it with the rest of the crushed tomatoes, then surrounded it with an assortment of chopped veggies (bell peppers, broccoli, portobello mushroom—that sort of stuff). I spooned maybe a cup of homemade chicken broth overtop, and then we set it on low and let it go for about 9 hours before doing the above thickening routine to it. I think that’s pretty much all of it, although it’s possible I’ve forgotten something.

Goes great with homemade chile-cheese biscuits!

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52 comments on “How to thicken a slow-cooker stew at the end
  1. Ray says:

    I was thinking that making the classic roux and adding at the end on high heat would be the way to thicken up the stock of the stew I was cooking today. Thanks for the verification of my thought!

    • Colleen says:

      Thanks for the tip it worked great! I made stew in the crock pot and didn’t know about adding flour to it at the start so it was real soupy and this was easy to thicken it up. Thank you

  2. john anderson says:

    Great tip on how to thicken stew.
    try adding splash of red wine to the roux

  3. Crystal says:

    This worked great!! Thank you!

  4. graett says:

    To thicken my stew, I tried a tip from Bon Appetit and took out about 1 cup of the potatoes and carrots and pureed them with my stick blender and put them back into the stew. Perfect. You might want to try that as well. Also, it is gluten free. (I don’t care about that.) I think the cannellini beans might have acted as a thickener as well. Of course, then you wouldn’t have had any beans.

  5. Dawn Shockey says:

    Great advice; this worked perfectly. Thanks for saving my Sunday dinner!

  6. Mindy says:

    This post saved me tonight! :) I too made stew in the crockpot and totally forgot about the roux… was super bummed when I went to check it and it was so… soupy. Your trick worked like a charm. My hubby will be pleased. :) Thanks!

  7. Mindy says:

    PS. You should add a photo to this post that people can pin on Pinterest!

  8. Dana says:

    This is a life saver!

  9. Chrystal says:

    Thank you so much it worked fabulous, the stew was the best I ever made. My family enjoyed it.

  10. heather says:

    So glad this has been helpful to everyone!!

  11. Cdub says:

    Used all the “after” suggestions and they worked. After fully cooked I left the lid off while I was making the roux. And I sprinkled some mashed potato flakes on the top after adding your recipe to give it an extra boost.

  12. Theresa says:

    Followed your directions to a T. Turned out great! Thank you so much for posting this.

  13. Sheila L says:

    I am making an Irish Stew for the first time and am afraid it won’t be thick enough at the end although I did add flour at the beginning. I so appreciate this information in case I need it at the end. Thank you!

  14. Julie G says:

    Saved my stew Thanks

  15. Jenny says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! I did a double batch of stew in the crock pot last night, to be delivered to two friends who have both recently gotten out of hospital… it didn’t thicken, and I needed a solution, QUICK! This saved the day… and about $30 worth of ingredients and an hour of chopping! :) Thank you, thank you!!

  16. Jim says:

    Great suggestion. Worked great. Removing the liquid and processing it separately also gives the opportunity to add more ingredients. Butter worked great.

  17. Bunny says:

    I don’t like my stew being too liquidy-soupy at the end, so this is great advice on what I should do in a couple hours. Thanks!

  18. Linda Holt says:

    Thanks! Just made chicken teritaki in the crock pot.Tastes delicious but so thin! I needed an “end of the process” idea! Perfect!

  19. Floriana says:

    You know, I’ve tried thickening with flour before and it didn’t turn out. Just got a big bunch of stickiness. I didn’t try it the way you outlined it though. Since it is rainy this week it’s the perfect time to give it another go.

  20. Nora says:

    Thank you for this great info and in plenty of detail! I have not had a slow cooker for long and met this problem a few times already, so I will give this a try. Ciao from Australia!

  21. Judy Richter says:

    The roux worked perfectly. I also added 1 Tablespoon of browning sauce to the mixture which gave the stew a nice color. Thank You so much!

  22. Lee says:

    Thank you very much, this was exactly what I was looking for!

  23. Jack says:

    Good one! Just added the roux to my steak and bacon stew. Not only thickened it nicely but the butter added a touch of excellence.

  24. Carole says:

    Did stew for 4 in the crockpot and needed to thicken it. I had so many veg in it I used 2 oz marge & 2 oz of flour with quarter of pint of the stock in the crock. It worked so well every one had second helpings except my brother-in-law who had 3! It worked like a dream, and whisking the roux and stock, then whisking into stew broke up a few of the veg as well, enhancing even more. Thanks so much.

  25. Alice says:

    Thanks! This worked perfectly.

  26. Brenda says:

    Thank you!

  27. Bugg says:

    I’m doing a Hobo Stew Saturday in a 5 gallon cauldron outside on an open fire, I will have to try this. I love for my stew to be really really thick.

  28. jeannette macnish says:

    You saved the day, Heather! This was also a great way to add spices to enhance my stew. Thank you.

  29. Kalyna:) says:

    Used bacon fat instead of butter in a turkey leg stew and OMG it was AMAZING!!!! I have been telling everyone about this recipe. Thanks for helping me kick my stew up to the next level! :D

  30. Jen says:

    Thanks so much, just saved my stew :-)

  31. Kelly says:

    This worked out perfectly – thank you so much!

  32. Merv skinner says:

    I generally just ladle the liquid out and add bisto onion gravy granules to it , wait for it to thicken and pour it back in the stew!..simples!

  33. Emily says:

    I don’t even thicken my stew in the beginning anymore due to this tip!!! My family likes it better this way and so do I! Thank you!

  34. Angie says:

    OMG! This turned out so good! I had never made a gravy/roux before, so I think I’m more excited about that!

  35. Robin says:

    Worked great, thanks!

  36. Richard Grave says:

    Worked out great. Thank you

  37. Craig says:

    OMG! Amazingly simple, delicious & worked perfectly! Couldn’t be happier. Thanks

  38. Simona says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!! Something so very simple but very much appreciated as it saved my dinner becoming a watery nightmare!

  39. Donna says:

    Thank you Heather,
    your step by step guide was excellent,
    you rescued my family from a watery slow cooker disaster.

  40. Dan says:

    My wife of 32 years passed away a while ago so I’m on my own. A cook I ain’t! Got a beef stew in a big cauldron on the go and its looking thin. I like a thick gravy-like texture, so I’m gonna give your tip a try. I followed a recipe from the internet and so far it looks alright. Kalyna, above, mentioned substituting bacon fat for butter for added flavor. I like that. I’m 65 and don’t give a damn about eating healthy. I’d rather eat tasty food than live a month longer by eating food the doesn’t taste good!

    • Heather says:

      I hope it works for you, Dan. Sounds like you’ll make a good cook in no time; being willing to dive right in is the most important part. :)

      So glad this has worked so well for the other commenters, and I love hearing about the variations like the bacon fat!

  41. Sue says:

    Ye ha – just tried it – bloomin’ awesome, nice and thick with a beautiful flavour, I also added a grated potato and that seems good too,
    Cheers

  42. Dan says:

    Well. Another way is to transfer from crockpot to saucepan, simmer, add some cornflour and water mix (paste), and then boil up for a couple of minutes and then bring back down to simmer and put back into the crockpot. :) Just another way.

  43. Karen says:

    The initial suggestion is what I was looking for, Many thanks. I know that it will work. But the tips on “How to” are perfect.
    I also enjoyed reading ALL the other responses. Thanks to all.

  44. Bobbi says:

    Worked great and saved my dinner!

  45. Siobhan says:

    Hi. Being blind, it’s not always easy to thicken something, but out of either hearing, “Your gravy for your stew/pot roast is to thin, I tried this last night. I came home to barely enough left in an eight quart pot to feed myself and my father two bowls each. If only they hadn’t left me with the nasty not cleaned out pot, too. Thank you so much, btw i used yourmeasurements exactly. I’ll keep using this. I am pretty sure you’ve saved me from comitting homicide. :P

  46. Royston Swann says:

    i have just used a slow cooker for the first time and your tip has transformed my beautiful,but thin soup into a magnificent stew just like I used to enjoy in my childhood. Happily, it also changed the colour to a lovely golden glow. Many thanks.

  47. Denise says:

    Yes thank you so much, I noticed my stew was looking rather soupy and this was very helpful.

  48. Tyrone says:

    This worked perfectly! THANKS. I was making Chicken/Beef stew. Essentially turned the two cups of broth into gravy, added it back for the perfect consistency. Total life saver!

  49. Siobhan says:

    Hello. Being totally blind, I’ve only started cooking, and haven’t killed anyone, yet. I’ve gotten comments of watery broth, need to spice it up, to spicy, and i tried your trick on the last stew a few weeks back. Amazing, thank you so much!! :)

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