Can I put raw ground beef in the crockpot when making chili?
There are two different issues: safety, and flavor.
From a safety point of view, assuming you don't overload your slow cooker, and it comes up to safe temperatures (140 F, 60 C) in less than two hours (preferably much less), it is perfectly safe to begin cooking in a slow cooker with raw ground meat.
On the other hand, you will not get the flavor development that browning meat provides. Slow cookers are essentially appliances for the long, slow, moist cooking method calling braising.
Many conventional (stovetop and oven) braising recipes begin by searing or browning the meat, prior to the braising phase. This develops deeper, richer flavors due to the maillard reaction.
If you skip this step for a slow cooker, you will lose the benefit of this flavor development. In some recipes, this may not be an issue, or it may even be traditional (such as for Cincinnati style chili). For other recipes, including many chili recipes, you may choose to brown or sear your meat (or other ingredients) prior to adding it to the slow cooker to benefit from the flavor development; in this case, it is not necessary to cook the food all the way through—that will happen in the slow cooker.
Has anyone actually tested the "deeper, richer flavors" claim? In McGee's "On Food and Cooking" he states "There are exceptions to the rule that browning reactions require temperatures above the boil. Alkaline conditions, con-centrated solutions of carbohydrates and amino acids, and prolonged cooking times can all generate Maillard colors and aromas in moist foods." Couldn't the prolonged cooking of ground meat, onions, etc produces most, if not all, the same flavor compounds?
@Didgeridrew Slow cooker conditions and times are not sufficient for the edge processes you allude to, and almost no dish is alkaline. The process is temperature dependent, so no doubt a few reactions do take place, but not enough to taste. The Chinese style eggs that turn brown in their shells take weeks to prepare. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Century_egg
Also, the experience of generations of cooks with stocks and broths demonstrates that unless the meat or bones are browned before making the stock, the color is much lighter.
As someone who frequently makes chili, I can confirm that the chili has a different (and usually less desirable) taste when it is added raw into the pot instead of browned first. Also the meat tends to fall apart and you get many little pieces of ground beef almost as if it was grains instead of larger meatier pieces.
You certainly can add raw ground beef to the crockpot. As a matter of fact, many (if not most) slow-cooker chili recipes ask for the meat to be added raw. The whole purpose of a slow-cooker is to save effort on the part of the cook/dishwasher. Browning the meat ahead of time requires effort and a whole additional pot to wash.
While the substance of your answer (simply put "yes") is accurate I cannot pass without challenging your claim `the whole purpose of a slow-cooker is save effort...`. Um, **NO**. The "Principal" purpose a crockpot is as a vessel for SLOW cooking. From being useful for breaking down tougher cuts of meat to the ability to deeply infuse flavors into a dish a slow-cooker has several purposes completely unrelated to 'ease of cleanup'(and IMHO 'more important').
There's a new generation of slow cooker like devices on the market that can get hot enough to brown things first. *those* were made for convenience. (but I don't have one, so I have no idea how well they work ... I just watch too much late night TV. and Breville and Cuisinart make similar appliances.
I completely agree with the comment that says the whole purpose of a slow cooker is too save time and energy. As a mother of 5 the scientific raining or a chefs training for using a slow cooker if something I could care less about. It's all about convenience and saving time for us mom's of multiple children. Some of us work fill time and by the time we gets hinge to start dinner, we are reaching against the clock with about 30 minutes to create a meal otherwise our families won't eat until 7 at night by the timewe make something gourmet.with a crock pot, we can throw ingredients in there before work and cine home to a fully cooked delicious meal. Everything in life is relative depending on who you ask so remember people, "to each his own". I know I could ALWAYS use one less pot to clean:)
You don't HAVE to precook your ground meat before putting in a crock-pot. But if the crock-pot doesn't get hot enough within an hour or so the meat could be unsafe to eat. So I would just precook it in a skillet anyway just to be on the safe side. It really only takes about 10 minutes and then u can just put your skillet in the dishwasher. Voila!