First, I'll give you a little primer on meat, and this is true whether it be beef, pork, wild game, or poultry. Meat fibers are constructed of mostly protien and liquid. As heat is applied, the meat warms and cooks as we all know. If the protien is heated beyond about 170 degrees Farenheight or so, the strands of meat fibers will start to curl and tangle together, much like pinching a straight shaft of hair and pulling it sharply makes it curl. When this happens, the fibers tangle together and tighten, squeesing some of the fluid from the meat muscle cells. The result is tough, dry meat.
Slow cookers rely on a method of cooking called braising, where the food is cooked in relativiley low temperature liquid for long periods of time. The liquid should never boil while braising foods.
Meats suitable for braising are cuts that have substantial connecting tissue (collagen) and fat. When these cuts are brought to temperatures of around 180 to 190, the connecting tissues and fats that hold the muscle strands together melt, allowing the strands to seperate easily. That is known as "falling apart tender". The individual meat strands will still be tough, but since they are already seprated into small pieces, you don't have to exert as much energy when chewing to grind everything into a the consistancy required before swallowing. The meat appears to be more tender.
Leaner cuts, with more solid muscle tissue, such as a bottom round, or even a tri-tip, actually become more tough and dried out when cooked to a well-done state and are therefore poor choices for a slow cooker. The result of cooking lean meats in a slow cooker is that you will have tough, dry meat, even if completely submersed in liquid.
Tougher cuts of lean meat, such as try-tip, london broil, sirloin, skirt and flank steaks, eye of round, etc. should be cooked no more than medium rare, and then thinly bias-sliced against the grain. Again, this maintains the moisture content and by slicing thinly against (sideways to) the grain, makes the meat fibers more able to be seperated by chewing into a consistancy able to be easily swallowed.
My little epxlanation is by know means an exhaustive treatise on the subject, but should help you understand a little more about what types of meat to use in your slow cooker, and the purpose of the appliance. Oh, and by the way, a pressure cooker is used for the same reasons as is a slow cooker. But the pressure cooker does everything much faster. The down side is that you have to be there to watch it as it is easy to burn foods if left in the pressure cooker too long. Hope this helps.
Seeeeeya; Goodweed of the North
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