How to Use Your Slow Cooker: Tips and Tricks
Actually it’s 22 Tips and Tricks for using your slow cooker!
We both love using our slow cooker…there isn’t a week go by that I don’t use it at least once. Life is busy but I still want to sit down for a warm dinner with my family which makes my slow cooker a necessity in the kitchen.
We often get emails asking how we juggle running a business, taking care of our families, and managing a household. And one of our answers always is managing meal times…which means employing the help of our slow cookers.
However, we have discovered that many of the women we talk to either don’t know how or don’t use their slow cookers so today we put together a basic “how-to” list for those of you just starting out on your slow cooker journey. So if you haven’t ventured into the world of slow cooking take a look over this list and then follow along with our Slow Cooker Spooktacular as we continue sharing easy (and delicious) recipes. I promise once you fall in love with your slow cooker it will be a lifetime love affair.
Now…let’s get started:
#1. Safety first! Every slow cooker emits heat so make sure you place your slow cooker in a clear area when in use. Be sure there is enough room on all sides for your cooker to vent heat.
#2. Slow cookers come in a variety of sizes however this can affect cooking times. Make sure your cooker is at least half full to three quarters full before use otherwise this will effect both the time and temperature used for your recipe. (This is especially true when using large cookers.)
#3. They are called slow cookers for a reason. Plan on each recipe taking between 4-6 hours to fully cook. (And some take longer than that!)
#4. A great time saving tip is to put all of the ingredients into the crock pot portion of your slow cooker the night before. Next simply cover the crock pot and keep in the refridgerator until morning. Then remove from the fridge and slip the crock pot back into the slow cooker body and set your time and temperature!
#5. If you are experimenting with cooking a regular recipe in the slow cooker you may want to cut the amount of liquid you typically add almost in half since you won’t be loosing any due to evaporation.
#6. Know your spices! Stronger spices like chili powder and garlic intensify during the long slow cooking process while fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme tend to loose flavor.
#7. Lean meats like chicken take less time to cook in your slow cooker than fattier meats pork shoulder or beef chuck.
#8. It is often best (but not necessary) to brown meat before adding it to a slow cooker. This helps not only seal in the flavors but makes it more visually appealing. *One exception is ground beef…this should always be cooked in a skillet first and drained of grease…then added to your slow cooker.
#9. You can add frozen food directly to your slow cooker without thawing first however it is not recommended by experts. If you add food that is frozen to your slow cooker just remember this will increase your cooking time and that you will want to get it up to that 165 degree cooking temperature as quickly as possible to prevent the growth of bacteria.
#10. If you are adding pasta to your slow cooker recipe it is best to cook it first and then add the cooked noodles to the recipe right at the end of it’s cookig time.
#11. Uncooked rice can be added to your slowcooker. Just be aware that you will need to add at least the same amount of liquid to your recipe as rice (and possibly a little more).
#12. Dairy items such as milk, cream, and sour cream have a tendency to break down during the slow cooking process so it is best to add them during the last 15 to 30 minutes of your slow cooking time.
#13. Root vegetables like carrots can take as long to cook as meat in a slowe cooker. It is best to place them at the bottom of your crockery and submerged in liquid if possible.
#14. Remember that meats and vegetables will give off a lot of liquid during the slow cooking process…and in the slow cooker will not evaporate….which means you do not need to add a lot of extra liguid to your recipes. However, if you do add to much liquid you can remove the lid for the last hour of cooking which will allow your recipe to thicken.
#15. Bacteria is killed at the cooking temperature of 165 degrees (according to the United States Department of Agriculture) so it is best practice to quickly warm your food up to that temperature and then keep it above that temperature during the cooking process. (Most slow cookers have a low setting that is on average around 200 degrees.)
#17. Slow Cooker “warm” settings are just that…for keeping food warm while it is being served or waiting to be served…not for cooking.
# 18. Resist the urge to open the lid of your slow cooker…they say every time you take of the lid you add another 30 minutes to the cooking time.
#19. An easy rule of thumb to remember is that roughly two hours cooked on LOW equals one hour of cooking time on HIGH.
#20. The removable crockery inserts found in many brands of slow cooker are also oven safe to 400 degrees and microwave safe. (Check your owners manual to see if yours is one of them!)
#21. Remember to unplug your slow cooker when you are done using it and before you clean it!
#22. After cooking do not store your leftovers in your removable crockery portion of your crock pot. The crockery itself can take hours to cool down which won’t allow the food inside to cool and will promote the growth of bacteria. Just remove the leftovers and store them in a seperate container.
So there you have it 22 rules of thumb that we follow when we use our slow cookers. Now, 22 rules may sound like a lot but most of them are common sense items and will all eventually become routines that you do like clockwork!