Using a Slow Cooker
Ah, the trusty slow cooker. Odds are, you’ve seen this piece of equipment a time or two. They’re easy to use and can make a wide variety of meals. But, did you know that you might not be using this simple machine to its full potential? Read ahead to see if you’re doing all the right steps to run your slow cooker efficiently.
Tips and Tricks
1. Do as much prep ahead as you can. For quick assembly, do some work the night before:
- Cut up all the fresh veggies and refrigerate them. If cutting potatoes, submerge them in water with a splash of vinegar before refrigerating.
- If you’re using frozen vegetables, start defrosting them in the fridge.
- Use fresh or thawed (not frozen) meat. Trim and cut up the meat. Refrigerate. If you’re using ground meat, cook it through and cool it before refrigerating.
- Open and drain your canned goods. Beans will need to be rinsed and drained a second time. Remove food from the can and store it in an airtight container.
- Measure out all your dry ingredients and set them up by the slow cooker for easy reach.
2. Choose tougher cuts of meat. They’re cheaper (and better) in the slow cooker than premium cuts. The “low and slow” cooking method breaks down all the connective tissue and leaves tough meat tender. Ground meat must always be fully cooked before adding to other ingredients in the slow cooker.
3. Root vegetables, like carrots and parsnips, are great in the slow cooker. They’re dense enough to take the long cook times. Red potatoes and new potatoes are waxy and hold their shape well. Soft veggies, like zucchini, should be added in the last 30 minutes of cooking. For best results, vegetables should be cut into 1 inch cubes or bigger.
4. Layer the ingredients. Vegetables do not cook as quickly as meat and poultry in the slow cooker. Vegetables should be placed at the bottom and up the sides of the slow cooker. Layer the meat on top.
5. If the recipe calls to brown the meat first, follow up by deglazing the frypan with a little bit of liquid. Broth or wine deglaze well. Add any leftover juice and browned bits to your slow cooker for extra flavour.
6. Some slow cooker recipes don’t call for much liquid. Most of it comes from the meat and veggies as they cook. Liquid won’t evaporate off since it’s trapped by the lid, so don’t add too much. Otherwise, it’ll be too watery. Never add more alcohol than recommended by the recipe. Too much alcohol can overpower the dish. Don’t use alcohol that has spoiled, because it’ll ruin your recipe.
7. When it comes to herbs and spices, whole dried herbs keep flavour better than ground herbs. If your recipe calls for dried herbs and you want to use fresh, add three times as much. Add fresh herbs only in the last hour of cooking.
8. Fill the slow cooker at least one-half but no more than three-quarters full.
9. Don’t lift the lid! It’ll add at least 20 more minutes to the cooking time. If the recipe calls for an ingredient to be added partway through, the heat loss has already been factored into the overall cook time.
10. Ingredients such as pasta, seafood, milk, cream, and sour cream should usually be added to the slow cooker in the last hour of cooking.
11. Want a freezing trick? Prep the ingredients for your slow cooker meal and freeze them in a large zip-lock freezer bag for another day. Try some prize-worthy freeze-ahead slow cooker meals, link below.
12. Look for slow cooker liners. A slow cooker liner is a heatproof plastic bag that goes in the cooker before the ingredients. They make for easy cleanup and stop baked-on food from sticking. They’re available at some grocery stores and online.