How To Cook In A Slow Cooker
Many people think that cooking in a slow cooker is as simple as throwing the ingredients in and turning on a switch. If you’re lucky, this will work, but often the result is a mushy, tasteless mess. But do you really want to trust your cooking to luck? Learn here How To Cook In A Slow Cooker.
There’s no luck required to use a slow cooker to make great meals. By following a few easy steps you can make sure that the “mess” thing doesn’t happen to you. Watch the following video to start you off with a few basic food safety-related tips on how to cook in a slow cooker. Then read below to make your slow cooking experience the best possible.
Food And Slow Cooker Safety
- Don’t store food in your slow cooker in the refrigerator and then take it out, plug in and start cooking. It takes a long time for the slow cooker to heat up during which time the bacteria can build up to dangerous levels and contaminate the food. If you can’t cook right away after preparing the meal, prepare it the night before and store it in the refrigerator in plastic bags, separating the meat from the vegetables. In the morning put the food into the cooker and start cooking.
- Don’t cook from frozen which can keep food in the dangerous temperature zone where bacteria can grow (40 -140° F). Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator a day before.
- Meat doesn’t have to be browned before slow cooking for safety reasons, however, as I’ll explain later it is a good idea to brown meat in a pan beforehand to enhance the flavor.
- Don’t put the slow cooker in the refrigerator with hot cooked food inside. The food will not cool off quickly enough. Food needs to be heated or cooled to a safe temperature as quickly as possible to prevent harmful bacterial growth. Remove the food from the slow cooker and store in the refrigerator in a different container.
- If there was a power outage or you forgot to turn on the slow cooker before leaving, don’t try to cook the uncooked food. Any food that sits between the temperatures of 40° F and 140° F can harbor bacteria. Throw it out and start again.
- Don’t reheat food in a slow cooker. Heat the food on the stove top, then if you aren’t going to eat right away you can put it in the slow cooker to keep it warm. However, don’t leave food cooking or on the warm setting for a long time, it will turn to mush and everything will taste the same.
- Ceramic inserts can, like glass, be broken by sudden temperature changes. Don’t put hot ingredients, like boiling liquid, into a cold ceramic insert and don’t put a hot insert on a cold surface. Put a trivet (aka pot holder) or towel under the hot insert when you remove it from the cooker and place it on a cold counter or tabletop (especially a glass one).
Here are links to some other important general food safety tips:
What kind of meat should you cook in a slow cooker?
- Tougher, fatty meats are better – like chuck roasts, stewing meat, short ribs, pork shoulder, lamb shank, and dark poultry meat, lean cuts dry out and get tougher when cooked for a long time. Connective tissue in tough, fatty meat breaks down and the meat gets juicier and more tender.
- Trim the fat off the meat before cooking. Otherwise, a sour film will form on top of the food that will ruin the taste.
- Brown red meats before slow cooking to seal in the juices and add flavor. You can brown chicken if you like but you can also cook chicken from raw.
- Before starting to cook in the slow cooker add salt and spices to the meat.
- Add water or wine to the pan after browning meat and scrape all the good caramelized tasty morsels of meat off of the pan’s surface into the liquid. Then pour the resulting sauce into the slow cooker with the meat.
- Roll meat in cornstarch to help start off the gravy.
- Cut veggies into similar sized chunks for more even cooking – keep vegetables chunky so that they retain their shape.
- Saute or roast vegetables before putting them in the cooker to add another dimension of flavor. I like to caramelize onions before adding them to the slow cooker, the resulting flavor boost is outstanding.
- Boil dried legumes, such as lentils and beans, for 10 minutes before adding to your slow cooker, or use canned ones instead. Some contain toxins that aren’t destroyed when cooked at low temperatures.
- Put root vegetables in the bottom first, they take the longest to cook. Add soft veggies, zucchini, squash, spinach, and veggies that you want to stay crisp, in the last hour of cooking before serving. Fresh herbs should be put in with the soft vegetables and into the liquid, their delicate flavor will be lost if added too early.
General Tips For Cooking In A Slow Cooker
- Don’t remove the cover while cooking. Get a slow cooker with a clear lid so you can see without lifting the lid. Every time you lift the lid you add 20 minutes more cooking time.
- Don’t under or overfill your slow cooker. 1/2 to 2/3 full is optimal. Underfilling runs the risk of overcooking and even burning food. Overfill and the heat may not be able to get through to the food in the center of the cooker resulting in dangerously undercooked food.
- Preheat – it’s a slow cooker, duh! A slow cooker is like a small oven and getting it going for that extra 20 minutes matters a lot.
- How long should you cook in a slow cooker? Here’s a handy chart comparing cooking conventional recipe cooking times to slow cooker times on high and low settings:
- Some slow cookers have the same end temperature (around 210°F) on both high and low settings. The difference on these appliances is that the high setting gets to the maximum temperature faster. Other slow cookers have different high and low temperatures. Read your owners manual for recommended temperature settings and cooking times. In general, you should use the “low” setting if possible, the slow, gentle heat brings out the flavor. Use “high” with lean cuts to cook faster to keep them from drying out or if you are truly in a hurry, in which case you are better off using the stove top
- Use 30-50% less liquid. 30% less for stews and soups, 50% less for roasts. Because of the tight fitting lid liquid is not lost by evaporation so the food will produce a lot of its own liquid.
- Don’t add wine directly into the slow cooker, use it to deglaze the pan used for browning meat or sauteing vegetables. The low heat and tightly closed lid will not evaporate the alcohol and instead of a subtle flavor, you will end up with a harsh taste. Use only a little wine, the slow cooking will infuse into the food over a long time so you don’t need a lot. After browning the meat, add the wine to deglaze the hot pan where it will break down and join the caramelized meat left in the pan then add the liquid from the pan to the slow cooker.
- Timing and order of adding food:
- root veggies on the bottom closest to the heat,
- fresh herbs, pasta, rice, and veggies that you want to stay crisp (like carrots and celery) during the last hour of cooking
- submerge herbs in the liquid so that you get the most from their flavor,
- finally add hot sauce, citrus zest, grated Parmesan, good-quality olive oil or even sauteed garlic and dairy last
- just long enough to heat up before serving
- High-altitude cooking needs an additional 30 minutes for each hour required in the recipe.
Need slow cooker recipes? Visit Crock Pot Girls Recipes website for some really great ideas.
Want to know what slow cookers are best for you? Click the image below to find out:
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