It’s January and, like clockwork, you’re writing us to ask the butcher about lean cuts to counteract holiday excess. Josh Applestone has you covered, including his tips on how to keep these cuts from drying out when cooking. This month, you’re also curious about fixing mistakes, like when you neglect to add enough liquid to your roast (been there). Also, Josh weighs in on the great slow cookers versus Instant Pot debate, plus offers ways to reduce the odor in your kitchen when you brown meat. 

Do you have a question for Josh? Let us know.

Q: Hi Josh! I have both a Crock-Pot and an Instant Pot, and while I can totally appreciate the speed that the Instant Pot provides when preparing various things, I love the end product (tenderness, moistness, what have you) that the Crock-Pot gives me. What say you about these two vessels? What do you use and when?

Instant pots, slow cookers, even pressure cookers – they are all different things. A slow cooker – Crock-Pot is a brand name for slow cookers —  is a one trick pony. You can slow cook anything, but it is limiting. I’d put a big fresh chuck eye, not frozen, in there in the am with carrots, onion, celery, tomato paste, and some liquid and come back 8 or 10 hours later and that’s ready to go.

A pressure cooker is also a one trick pony. It cooks things under steam, which accelerates the cooking time. That chuck eye in the slow cooker takes all day, but in the pressure cooker you’re doing it in less than two hours easy. Short ribs are like 45 minutes. It will do any type of cooking really fast – stock, pulled pork – but it’s just one thing.

With an Instant Pot, you can do the same things as in a pressure cooker or a slow cooker, and you can program it to start at a specific time. Plus you can cook rice. You can even make yogurt. The trade off on the Instant Pot is that it can do a lot of things, but it doesn’t really do anything perfectly. My rice sticks to the bottom in the Instant Pot but it does not in my rice cooker. There are little things that make it not perfect. But it’s a great kitchen tool if you have the space. I’m probably using mine more than anything other than my stove or grill. It’s the third most used in my house at the moment; during the winter we use it more. We even make dog food in it. I want a bigger one.

If you have an Instant Pot, you can get away with not having a pressure cooker. But having both an Instant Pot and a slow cooker at your use is cool. It makes your life easier, like a 24/7 butcher shop. Sometimes you want to accelerate cooking time, sometimes you don’t. They’re both great for cooking big meals when you have a lot of things going. Not everyone has two ovens.

If I have time, I use the oven over slow cookers. A really big slow cooker is a mini oven. I’d take that chuck eye and put it in a large covered pot in my oven overnight. If I don’t have time, I would put it in the pressure cooker or Instant Pot and cook it down.

Q: I’m sure you get this every year, but I ate too much for the holidays. What are your leanest cuts and how do I cook them to keep them from drying out?

Merlot steak, top round, and lean ground round. Pork loin, too, but the muscle is thin and cooks faster and temps fast. Roll it around in the pan, sear it until you get a nice crust all over, then put it in the oven at 300 or 350 degrees. Then watch it like you would a steak. Cooking time depends on how rare you want your pork. People always think chicken is lean, and skinless breast are, but keep in mind that thighs and legs are filled with fat, so are wings.

Q: I didn’t put enough liquid in my Sunday roast and it got a little crusty on top. Is there a way to fix that when it happens?

Crusty is dry. But burned you have to remove. If it isn’t burned, reconstitute it. Turn it over, crusty side to the bottom of the pot, add liquid and cook it some more. It can break down the crust and make it soft again.

If you burn it, you have to cut all the burn off and change pots. Good luck. A tiny piece of black will really transfer flavor. You have to be careful with it. You have to go opposite when fixing. Read Salt Fat Acid Heat; the book gives you a great idea of working with counter actions. You need the opposite of burnt, or if it’s too salty or sweet, you need to counter act to fix.

Q: I have a small kitchen and when I brown meat, the smell lasts forever. Do I always have to brown meat? Most recipes call for it.  

Use the grill. Or don’t brown. It’s not necessary, it’s for a layer of flavor. People think they have to tie roasts or chicken. They don’t have to be tied. I do it untied all the time.

We are programmed to follow recipes. It makes us feel silly not to follow them. But do what you want to do. There is no reason to. It’s not a law. It doesn’t make it better, it makes it different. This is important – different versus better. It’s just relative. People put too much worry into what they are told they have to do rather than take guidance. Recipes are just guidelines. 

People should stop listening to other people and start checking it out themselves. You learn the process, you are empowered. You will figure it out. Don’t sear and see what happens. You may like it. It’s just a matter of what you want. Try it and tell me what you think.