Slow Cooker Tips to Swear By!

crockpotI have a brand new slow cooker sitting in my kitchen cabinet. I’m going to be completely honest—it probably has been there for 3 years. I always intend on using it, but I’m one of the lucky ones; I spend my day in the kitchen. It’s my job and my passion. I have time to spend fiddling around with gas stoves and pots with lids. That, my friends, is why I haven’t taken it out of the box yet.

Just because I’m “old school” doesn’t mean you are, though. So many of you tell me you rely and swear on your slow cooker. You’d even give up your partner before giving it up. I get it , I get it! All of us aren’t so lucky to have the time I do to spend in your kitchen whipping up a healthy meal and the few times I have used a slow cooker, I have to admit that I found it very convenient and liked the results

So with that said, I’ll share what I’ve learned from my limited expertise with using one.

First of all,  I learned that a Crock Pot is a specific kind of slow cooker. It’s actually a brand name. All Crock Pots are slow cookers, but not all slow cookers are Crock Pots. Get it? The term “Crock Pot” has become synonymous with “slow cooker” because it’s probably the most recognizable brand of a slow cooker,  kind of like how Kleenex became the word for tissue and Xerox for copies.

Now that I we’ve straightened that earth-shattering information out, I want to tell you that the best foods to be cooked in a slow cooker are dense and tough meats, such as chuck, brisket, short ribs, shanks, pork butt. Fibrous vegetables also work well, like root and tuber vegetables (onions, yucca, potatoes, carrots, radishes, turnips and beets.) Put these kinds of meat and vegetables together in the pot in the morning and and you’ll have with some amazing soups, stews, casseroles waiting for you when you get home. And the aroma when you walk in the door only takes a back-seat to the fact that dinner is just waiting to be enjoyed.

If you’re going to take a regular recipe, say out of a Weight Watchers cookbook or one you found on eTools, and turn it into a slow cooker recipe, always check procedure and cooking time. If your regular recipe calls for cooking the food “covered” on a stove top or in an oven, it will probably be an appropriate slow cooker recipe.

When placing the ingredients in the cooker, remember to layer them. Carrots, parsnips potatoes and turnips take longer to cook thae meat, so you should put them on the bottom of the slow cooker. As far as timing, if the original recipes call for 2 to 4 hours in the oven or the stove top, it will probably take 4 to 6 hours on high or 7 to 9 hours on low in the slow-cooker, but that’s just a good guess.  My suggestion is to first try your slow cooker version of a recipe when you’re at home for the day so you can check its progress. Then when you go to make the recipe again and again and actually leave the house, you’ll know exactly what setting to use on the cooker and how long the recipe needs to be cooked.

Another thing to remember as your placing items into the pot is to not go crazy with  using a lot of liquid. I find that fans of slow cookers love to add way too much liquid to their pot. Liquid does not evaporate in a slow cooker the way it does on the stovetop or in the oven, so chances are good you’ll need less. If you come home and find you’re meal too soupy, and it isn’t a soup you wanted, take the lid off for the last half-hour of cooking so the excess liquid can evaporate.

I’m not done dispensing info yet, you know I love to talk, so read on:

  • For best results, brown your ingredients (especially meats) in a skillet before putting them in the slow cooker. This step maximizes flavor!
  • Make sure the vegetables you’re adding are all cut into the same size to ensure equal doneness.
  • Any tender vegetables, seafood, herbs, dairy or pasta should be added towards the end of the cooking cycle to avoid overcooking.
  • Go light on the spices. It’s always best to adjust fresh herbs or dry spices towards the end of the cooking cycle because some seasoning could become stronger while cooking in a slow cooker.
  • Use wooden, plastic, rubber utensils when stirring or serving.
  • NEVER put frozen food in the slow cooker; for safety reason (most harmful bacteria grows between 40 and 140 degrees), defrost them first.
  • Don’t store food in the crock nor reheat food in the slow cooker.
  • If you’re going to try one of the many cheese cake or fruit cake slow cooker recipes (and planned for the PointsPlus values), remember to lay a folded kitchen towel under the lid to keep condensation from dripping onto the cake.