Monday, February 2, 2009

One of My Favorite Things: My Slow Cooker - A Primer

I use my slow cooker (aka, Crock Pot) at least 2-3 times a week. It is probably my favorite kitchen appliance (with the possible exception of my bread machine... but I'll save that for another post...). In the past 5 years since I started using my slow cooker on a regular basis, I've learned a few things...
  • Slow cookers prefer cheap cuts of meat – really! Less tender, less expensive cuts of meat are better suited for slow cooker cooking than expensive cuts of meat.
  • Leave the lid on while the slow cooker cooks. The steam that condenses on the lid helps cook the food from the top. Every time you take the lid off, the cooker loses steam. After you put the lid back on, it takes up to 20 minutes to regain lost steam and temperature, which means it takes longer to cook.
  • One hour on high equals about 2 to 2 ½ hours on low. High is about 300°. Low is about 200°.
  • Fill the cooker no more than 2/3 full and no less than half-full, no matter what the size.
  • Milk products such as cream, milk, and sour cream can curdle and separate when cooked for a long period. Add them during the last 10 minutes if cooking on high, or during the last 20-30 minutes on low, unless the recipe states otherwise.
  • In recipes that use sauces high in sugar or milk (such as BBQ sauce, teriyaki sauce, or Alfredo sauce), sometimes the sauce will scorch and ruin the flavor of your dish if cooked too long on high. For best results, cook these dished on low heat for a longer period of time or add the sauce closer to the end of the cooking time.
  • Liquids don’t boil down in a slow cooker. If the dish is “soup-ier” than you want at the end of the cooking time, remove the cover, set dial on high and allow the liquid to evaporate (for 30-45 minutes). You can also add instant potato flakes or tapioca to thicken the liquid, depending on what is appropriate for your recipe.
  • To get the best flavor, sauté vegetables or brown meat before placing in cooker to cook. When cooking meats and vegetables together, place the vegetables on the bottom where they will be kept moist. Recipes that contain a combination of raw meat and veggies should cook at least 4 hours on high.
  • To eliminate prep time and cleanup when preparing a slow cooker recipe that calls for browned ground beef, prepare it ahead of time in large quantities. Brown beef, seasoned to taste. Drain and cool. Freeze in pint freezer containers or Ziploc bags.
  • If a recipe calls for cooked rice, stir in raw rice with the other ingredients. Add 1 cup extra liquid per cup of raw rice. Use long grain converted rice for best results in all-day cooking.
  • Trim as much visible fat from meat as possible before placing it in the slow cooker to avoid greasy gravy.
  • Always spray your slow cooker with cooking spray before adding ingredients. It makes cleanup simpler. Or, they now make “slow cooker liners” you can get at the grocery store – even simpler!
  • A slow cooker on low does not burn food and will not spoil a meal if cooked beyond the designated time.
  • When cooking on high, stir occasionally for more even cooking and improved flavor (if appropriate for your recipe).
  • In place of ground meat in a recipe, you can use vegetarian burgers, cut up. No need to brown the meat!
  • Using foods that are completely frozen in the slow cooker will extend the cooking time. For best results, use completely thawed foods, or partially thaw them in the microwave before adding to the slow cooker.
  • Make sure the outside of the pot is not touching anything. The outside of the crock may get very hot.
  • Recipes can be assembled and stored in the refrigerator the night before (unless they call for uncooked pasta). In the morning, place cold stoneware in cold electrical base. *Do NOT preheat electrical base! Once stoneware is in place, turn the dial to the preferred heat setting.

To adapt a recipe for a slow cooker:
Oven Slow Cooker (High) Slow Cooker (Low)
15 - 30 mins 1.5 - 2 hrs 4 - 6 hrs
35 - 40 mins 3 - 4 hrs 6 - 10 hrs
50 min - 3 hrs 4 - 6 hrs 8 - 18 hrs

I have a great collection of slow cooker / Crock Pot recipes from when I did a presentation for my church group a few years ago. Everyone sent me their favorite slow cooker recipes and I compiled them for the group. It has 82 recipes in it! If you'd like a copy of it, email me at cleverhomemaking (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll send it your way... [**Or, if someone knows how to post a link to a pdf doc on my blog so folks can just upload it, let me know. I am obviously clueless on this concept!]

Also check out the blog A Year of Crockpotting for some great recipes. This gal spent all of 2008 cooking for her family using her Crock Pot. She even did a guest spot on Rachael Ray. :) You can also go to for recipes, tips, and advice on using a slow cooker.

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