In today’s fast-paced world it’s easy to feel like there’s no time to cook, which is one of the reasons that slow cookers continue to gain popularity. They’re also economical to purchase and use, and offer a healthier cooking method. Put easy quick meals on the table by getting the most out of your slow cooker with these tips for cooking.
Pick the Right Meat
Tough, fatty cuts of meat become tender and delicious in a slow cooker, but leaner cuts tend to dry out. Short ribs, chuck roast, lamb shank, and pork shoulder are some of the best cuts of meat for slow cooking. Dark chicken meat like thighs and drumsticks also tends to stay juicier than the leaner chicken breasts.
Clean Up Easier
Grease or butter the crock before placing ingredients inside for easier cleanup. Or use a slow cooker liner to make cleaning up a breeze.
Prepping ingredients the night before gives you a quick start in the morning. Place food in separate containers to refrigerate overnight, then put everything in the slow cooker in the morning. For dishes without meat or other potentially hazards ingredients, you can refrigerate everything in the crock and let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before starting the cooker.
Every time you lift the lid it lets heat escape and adds 15 to 20 minutes to the cooking time, so no peeking. Give the lid a quick twist while leaving it on the crock to make the condensation fall off. This makes it’s easier to see inside without lifting the lid. Begin checking 30 to 45 minutes before you expect the food to be ready.
Boost Flavor by Browning
Browning meats and vegetables before putting them in the crock gives you a deep flavor boost. This step isn’t necessary, since for most recipes you can simply put the ingredients in and get good results, but it’s often well-worth the extra effort.
Avoid Frozen Food
Use fully thawed meat and vegetables in your slow cooker. Frozen food takes a long time to thaw and heat up in a slow cooker, so the food stays in the temperature danger zone for too long. Bacteria flourish in this zone and can make the food unsafe to eat. Frozen pre-packaged slow cooker meals are an exception, but always follow the package’s directions.
Fill your slow cooker one-half to two-thirds full for best results; too much or not enough food may not cook properly. Overfilling the crock can make the food take longer to cook and can create potential food safety issues.
Trim the Fat
Fat doesn’t drain away during slow cooking, so it’s best to avoid putting too much in the cooker. Trimming excess fat from meat and skin from chicken gives you silkier sauces and gravies. It also helps you avoid greasy, oily cooking liquid and produces healthier results.
Prep for Success
Cut food into pieces that are similar in size for even cooking. Put food that requires longer cooking times, like root vegetables, on the bottom of the crock.
Go Easy on Liquids
Liquids don’t evaporate during slow cooking. When adapting a standard recipe, it’s usually best to reduce the liquid by a third. The meat and vegetables should be just covered by liquid. The liquid also doesn’t thicken in a slow cooker. For a thicker sauce, roll meat in flour before placing it in the crock or add a cornstarch slurry at the end of the cooking time.
Adjust the Heat
In general, food cooked on low takes twice as long as food cooked on high. Most foods do best cooked on low heat, particularly tough cuts of meat. If you need to speed things up a little, you can jump start the process by setting your cooker on high for an hour, then turning it down to low for the rest of the cooking time.
Be Aware of Altitude
At high altitudes, plan to cook an extra 30 minutes for every hour called for in the recipe.
Wait to Add Dairy
Milk products often break down in a slow cooker, so it’s best to add them during the last 15 minutes.
Finish with a Fresh Note
Brighten flavors and cut richness by adding a fresh note at the end of cooking. Fresh herbs, citrus zest, lemon juice, hot sauce, and grated Parmesan are great options.
Check out our Favorite Slow Cooker Recipes
Take advantage of the benefits of a slow cooker, saving yourself time and money. These 14 slow cooker tips to make it simple to prepare a quick healthy dinner.