As a useful kitchen appliance, the slow cooker has gained massive popularity within a short time. It isn’t too late to choose slow cooking for your own good. Inexpensive and easy to handle, a slow cooker would be your savior in the kitchen. However, to get best results, knowing how to use a slow cooker properly is very important. Just follow this detailed yet easy guide to master this appliance in no time.
A much-needed help named slow cooker
Slow cooking is a cooking method that slowly cooks food and the appliance that uses this method is called a slow cooker. “Crock-Pot” is the name of a brand. Many people call it by the brand name as their own preference.
While there are so many different types of slow cooker available, it can be confusing to recognize the suitable one for you. So, here is a detailed guide for you to understand everything about a slow cooker.
The size and shape of your slow cooker matters
While having a large slow cooker with a tiny amount of food to cook would be unnecessary, it can also mess up the cooking time. You must choose the proper size of your slow cooker that generally ranges from a ½ to 8 quarts.
- Mini slow cookers are usually of 1 to 2 quarts. Go for it if you are single. It will serve you well, and it will be easy to store.
- Medium sized slow cookers are 3 to 4 quarts and can serve 3 to 4 people.
- The next sizes are 5 to 6 quarts, and these large slow cookers are perfect for serving more than 4 people.
- If you have a more extensive family, then go for an extra-large slow cooker. They come in sizes from 7 to 8 quarts. They will be perfect if you are cooking for extra guests also.
Hold on. That’s not all. The shape of the slow cooker matters in terms of the type of food you want to cook in it. Will you buy the round one, oval-shaped one or the one with the shape of a rectangle?
- For stews, soups and side dishes, go for the round-shaped slow cooker. This shape is also perfect for slow cooker baking.
- For significant cuts of meat such as roasts, racks of ribs and small whole fish, the oval-shaped slow cooker would be best.
- The rectangular-shaped slow cooker usually comes with deep sides. You can cook massive size cuts of meats in it entirely as well as foods like soup, stews, and casseroles.
Do the type of crock/cooking pot make any difference?
Before buying, check carefully if the cooking pot of the slow cooker is made of ceramic, metal or cast aluminum.
- Ceramic pots are a little bit heavy. You can use it in the oven or microwave but not on a stove. Don't use a ceramic cooking pot under a broiler either.
- Metal pots generally come in the oval and rectangular sizes. The bottom of the metal pot heats up only(a griddle is the heat source) so all the food might not cook properly. You can’t use the cooker pot in the microwave.
- Aluminum pots are expensive than the other two types, but its non-stick surface provides an evenly cooked meal. It can be used on the stovetop and in the oven but don’t use it in the microwave.
The appliance that lets you be in control
Always check out the controls/settings while looking for slow cookers. They can be primary or programmable.
- If you want to use primary controls than choose the slow cooker with basic type controls. They come with a manual control knob and feature easy options like “off,” “low,” “medium” and “high” in regards to temperature.
- In case you want more features, go for the programmable type. These types are high-tech slow cookers and come with options to set them up for exact temperature and time. They also come with the feature “keep warm” which keeps the food warm after the cooking is done.
Finally, Consider your kitchen and counter space before buying your slow cooker.
- If you are planning to use it regularly, make an individual space for it. You need your kitchen counter to prepare your foods, and the slow cooker mustn’t hinder your mobility in the kitchen for other stuff (making snacks, smoothies, etc.)
- Always put a tea towel under the appliance so it can absorb the spilled liquids.
How to use a slow cooker
So, how does a slow cooker work? Slow cookers are easy to use and need much less electricity than an oven. If you put your ingredients in it in the morning, you will find your dinner ready for you by evening or late evening. While reading the instructions manual will help you to get some idea, these easy to follow tricks would help you get the best result out of it. Just remember that meats and veggies are the best things to make in a slow cooker.
Manage your ingredients
- Don’t throw the summer vegetables like peas, asparagus, etc. in your slow cooker at the beginning. That will turn them too soft and pulpy. Add them into your dish at the end or near the end of your cooking time.
- Hard root vegetables are great to add from the start. They would soften and stay in shape.
- Adopt some easy techniques to give your dish a boost of flavor. Throwing raw onions into your stew at the beginning is ok, but putting onions after giving them a little sizzle would make the stew taste better. Likewise, brown your meat before putting them in the slow cooker. This meat ends up with a deeper flavor than the ones that are not fried beforehand.
For your meat cravings
Get a meatilicious meal by avoiding these common mistakes.
- Don’t cook your meat/poultry with the skin on. The reason is skin-on cuts of meat or chicken pieces needs to be roasted or grilled on dry heat. It crisps them up. In the slow cooker, the skin will turn into a flubber and look off-putting.
- Put the tougher cuts of meat first. Being placed closer to the heating elements will ensure that they will be fully cooked.
- Trim the fat off of your meat. Adding oil to your slow cooker recipe isn’t always needed. The moisture inside the pot usually tenderizes the meat. Leaving your fat on your meat will make your dish oily.
- Like summer veggies, add seafood for the last hour. Except for squid and octopus. Slow cooking will tenderize them more.
- Avoid adding pasta and rice in your slow cooker. These food items are much starchy, and they cook very quickly.
- Use the proper amount of liquid. Slow cooker recipes usually contain different amounts of liquid/water. Otherwise, your meat and veggies might dry out. On the other hand, too much liquid can cause spillage. So, be mindful of the amount of broth, wine, sauce, stock or pure boiling water that you want to add.
Get into the art of food prepping
Now, let's be honest. Do you have sufficient time in the morning to prep your ingredients for your slow cooker? Cause we don’t. So, follow these easy tricks to avoid the morning hassles.
- Dishes like soups and stews don’t need much pre-preparations. Just put the ingredients in the slow cooker and let it work.
- Prepare the ingredients the night before. Just cut the veggies and meat in the shape of your liking and put them in proper containers. Store them in your fridge.
- You can up your food prep game with prepping your ingredients for more than the next day. Prepping for 5-7 days would make your morning routine easier. Just put them in appropriate containers and label them with the date.
- In the morning, the ingredients need to be as close to the room temperature as possible. That’s why get the foods out of the fridge after you wake up. Leave them in room temperature for 20 minutes before you turn your slow cooker on.
- Store different ingredients in separate containers. This will help if you want to heat any food item(onions, meat, etc.) before throwing them in the slow cooker.
- Your slow cooker will work best when it is about two-thirds to three-quarters full. If not, it will still work, but your food will cook a lot faster. So, adjust the timing accordingly.
- Use dried herb and spices. Slow cooking will turn the fresh herbs brown and limp. Dried ones release their flavor over the extra time.
Turn your slow cooker on
After putting all the ingredients correctly, it’s time to let your slow cooker do the work. Set your temperature of the slow cooker on low for more extended or high for a shorter period of cooking time. You can also use the timer as your recipe demands.
For your better understanding, follow this easy slow cooker temperature guide suggested in A Spicy Perspective written by Sommer Collier.
- A recipe that requires 15-30 mins of cooking time on a stovetop, in a slow cooker it will need 1-2 hours on high temperature or 4-6 hours on low heat.
- Recipe requiring stovetop time from 30 minutes to 1 hour will need from 2-3 hours on high heat or 5-7 hours on low heat in the slow cooker.
- Meals that needs to be cooked for 1-2 hours on the stovetop will have to be prepared for 3-4 hours on the high heat or 6-8 hours on the low temperature in your slow cooker.
- Foods that need the cooking time from 2-3 hours on a stovetop will need the cooking time from 4-6 hours on the high temperature or 8-12 hours on the low heat.
Take care of your slow cooker
Just like any other kitchen appliance, slow cooker needs a certain amount of attention.
- Clean the pot after the cooking. Remove it from the device and fill it with warm soapy water. Leave it to soak, then dry it.
- Don’t let your leftovers cool into the slow cooker. During the cooling process, bacteria can build up into the pot.
Mastering the slow cooker isn’t tough. You just have to be mindful while using it. Knowing how to use a slow cooker properly will turn your kitchen tasks more manageable. So, keep calm, follow this guide and let the slow cooker earn its rightful place on your kitchen counter.