9 Slow Cooker Tips
By JoAnn Ridout, MPH, RD, LD
November 8, 2017
Fall is here! If you're like me that means it's time to get out the slow cooker to cook up some hearty soup and stew recipes again. I love using my slow cooker because it's a great time-saver, and there's nothing better than arriving home at the end of a long day and having a hot meal ready to eat.
Check out these slow cooker tips and recipes to make the most out of this "slow cooker" season:
- Extra oven space. We still have some time but when it comes time for holiday entertaining, it’s helpful to use a slow cooker--small or large--to keep foods warm for serving or to use as extra "oven space." I frequently use my slow cooker to keep mashed potatoes warm
- Not all slow cookers are created equal. I've discovered, the hard way, that slow cooker brands and models vary in heat temperature. Don't assume that a new or different slow cooker will require the same timing as another. It is helpful to test a new slow cooker recipe for timing before you make it for a crowd.
- Look for a programmable slow cooker that has a manual setting for warm. Some slow cookers automatically change to the warm setting after a set number of cooking hours. This is a great feature, but as you know, you may have to adjust the cooking time and you don't want to be locked into cooking for longer than needed. My suggestion is to look for a programmable slow cooker that also allows you to easily switch to a lower setting if needed.
- Use a meat thermometer. A common issue with slow cookers is overcooking. The last thing you want to end up with is meat that's drier than sand. Ugh, we've all been there, right? Remember, the size of a roast or chicken makes a big difference with timing. A very helpful tool is a meat thermometer to check for doneness. Aim for 160 degrees for beef and 170 degrees for poultry. Also, try using bone-in meats in your slow cooker. I find that they turn out juicier than their boneless counterparts.
- Use your slow cooker for many of your favorite recipes. You don't have to use a specific recipe to use your slow cooker; you can adapt many of your favorite recipes to the slow cooker. One of my favorite recipes to make in my slow cooker is chili. I love our Nutritional Weight & Wellness recipe and here’s how I do that in the slow cooker: after the meat is browned, I place it and the remaining ingredients in the slow cooker and cook on low for 4-6 hours. Use this same technique for a variety of your favorite soup or stew recipes. After browning the meat or after the initial sauté step, you can use the slow cooker to complete the cooking.
One thing that makes it even easier is planning ahead, if I cut/trim meat, chop vegetables and measure spices the night before. I put everything in separate containers in the fridge and then they are all ready to be placed in the slow cooker quickly in the morning before I leave for work.
- Mouth-watering shredded pork. Another easy meat recipe to try is shredded pork. Simply place a 3-4 pound pork loin roast in your slow cooker with ½ cup water, ½ cup vinegar, salt, pepper, and tabasco sauce (to taste). After cooking on low for 7-8 hours, cut meat across the grain and shred it with a fork. Serve with coleslaw or Mediterranean Potato Salad.
- Come home to a delicious, tender chicken. You can roast a whole chicken in the slow cooker while you are at work during the day. Simply brush the outside of the bird with butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and fill the cavity with pieces of onion, celery and carrot. You can add poultry seasoning or another favorite seasoning also. Cook on low for about 8 hours. Trust me; you will love the end product!
- A tasty side dish. Winter squash or baked potatoes work well in the slow cooker. Simply poke a few holes in the skin and place the squash or potatoes in your slow cooker with about a half-cup of water. Cook on low for about 4 hours--it's that easy! Add some butter and salt to the squash; put sour cream or butter on the baked potato. Yum!
- Not sure where to start? Try these recipes. Our website includes several recipes that recommend the slow cooker. Try the Slow Cooker Squash or Baked Potatoes, Crockpot® Mexican Chicken Wraps, and the White Chicken Chili recipes. Be careful to not overfill your slow cooker. Most manufacturers recommend filling no more than two-thirds of the pot to ensure the food cooks thoroughly.
Try these tips and discover how your slow cooker can be your time-saving, go-to solution for preparing meals. Enjoy! If you’re already an avid slow cooker user, share your favorite recipes below, we’d love to hear!