Slow cookers are popular kitchen appliances. They’ve been around for a long time because they are inexpensive and easy to use. This simple, yet amazing appliance can cook anything from glazed ham, salsa chicken, pulled pork sliders, and hearty taco soup with little effort.
Here are a few slow cooker tips and tricks to get the most out this wonderful kitchen staple.
How to Use a Slow Cooker
Believe it or not, first-time crockpot users often use slow cookers incorrectly. Yes, it’s a simple appliance with three cooking choices: off, low, or high. Not all slow cookers cook the same.
On most slow cookers, the high setting is around 280 F and the low setting is about 170 F. I have three and they all cook at different rates.
Typically, cooking high for one hour is equal to cooking on the low setting for two hours. Just consult the owner’s manual for cooking times on your unit before you try a recipe.
How Slow Cookers Work
Slow cookers are excellent for braising and stewing. This makes a slower cooker perfect for cooking tough and fatty cuts that need a long cooking time to make them tender. Also, it’s excellent for cooking root vegetables, dried beans, and tough greens. Its simple construction comprises of a heavy stoneware crock and a tight-fitting lid.
The crock is covered with a lightweight metal unit that generates low heat from underneath. The heat slowly builds up, and the crock holds it in, and the lid keeps the steam in. This produces a gentle, moist cooking environment that is perfect for breaking down tough connective tissues in meat and gently cooking stews to perfection.
Slow Cooker Tips and Tricks
Even though slow cookers are easy to use, these do’s and don’ts will ensure your meal comes out perfect every time.
- Do choose the right meat. Cheaper cuts of meat are perfect for slow cookers–beef chuck, short ribs, pork shoulder, and spare ribs. You can even cook a whole chicken in a slow cooker.
- Do brown the meat first. Searing the meat first will produce delicious flavors when high heat interacts with the proteins. It will also give the meat that lovely caramelized skin and look prettier when you remove it from the crock. Sear your meats in a heavy duty pan, like a cast iron skillet.
- Do use it while you are out. One of the primary advantages of a slow cooker is that you can leave it on during the day or overnight. It’s popular with busy moms for meal planning and cooking family meals ahead of time. Fill it up in the morning, and when you get home your dinner is ready. Use a tested recipe that will ensure your meal has enough liquid in it.
- Do add flavor at the end. Add fresh herbs and dairy products at the end (the last 15-30 minutes of cooking). This keeps its flavors bright and fresh.
- Do place hard, root veggies on the bottom. Placing them on the bottom of the slow cooker. This will allow the vegetables to receive more moisture and cook faster.
- Don’t overcrowd the crock. Fill your slow cooker about two-thirds of the way full with the ingredients. Overfilling it makes it harder for the crockpot to reach its target temperature.
- Don’t overdo the liquids. While it is necessary to put some form of moisture in a slow cooker, you don’t need as much as you think. The slow cooker is designed to draw out moisture from the meat you are cooking. If you are cooking something without liquid, like dried beans, you will need to add moisture. Consult the owner’s manual for your unit and follow a tested recipe for the best results.
- Don’t peek. Every time you open the lid, heat escapes. It takes 20-30 minutes for the slow cooker to heat back to the set temperature.
- Don’t store food in the crock. Transfer cooked food to containers to store in the refrigerator or freezer.
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