9 Expert Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Slow Cooker This Winter

Liz Alterman | Oct 28, 2016 Food & Party

 

Who doesn't love the set-it-and-forget-it wonder of a slow cooker? It's a lifesaver on days (and nights) that we otherwise couldn't find the strength and power of will to make a meal. But are you using your slow cooker to the best of its ability? Or, are you making simple mistakes that are ruining your otherwise foolproof meals? 

We asked home cooks, chefs, and cookbook authors to share some of those all-important "dos and don'ts" that can leave you combing the take-out menus after you've assembled what should be an effortless feast.

Here are 9 things to keep in mind for the most efficient (and delicious!) meal possible.


Image via Sugar et Al

  • 1. Use a Liner

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    Part of the beauty of a slow cooker is that it's supposed to reduce the work involved in preparing a meal, but if your pot is a crusty mess by the end of it, it kind of defeats the purpose.

    Holly Clegg, author of Kitchen 101: Secrets to Cooking Confidence, suggests a simple solution.

    "Make it easy on yourself, especially cleanup, by using plastic slow cooker liners. These fit most 3½ – 6 quart oval and round slow cookers," she explains.

    Recipe: Chicken and Corn Chowder at Damn Delicious

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  • 2. Don't Peek

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    No matter how tempting it is, keep it covered!

    "Keep the lid on the slow cooker because every time you open the lid, you release heat and moisture and add 30 minutes to the cooking time," Clegg notes.

    Recipe: Slow Cooker Tortellini Soup at The Recipe Critic

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  • 3. Don't Start with Frozen Proteins

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    Sure, it might be easier to toss a hunk of meat right from the freezer, but resist the temptation.

    "The meat does not thaw quickly enough to remain safe to eat," Clegg advises. "Because vegetables cook slower than meat, cut them into uniform pieces and place them closest to the heat source."

    And speaking of proteins...

    Recipe: Slow Cooker Beef Ragu at Gimme Some Oven

  • 4. Don't Overload Your Slow Cooker

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    While it's similarly tempting to get the most out of those hours spent cooking by stuffing your Crock-Pot to the brim, Christopher M. Wilmoth, the corporate chef at Lee Kum Kee, says it's better not to.

    "The protein needs room to cook so fill your slow cooker up halfway to two-thirds of the way," he notes.

    Recipe: Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup at Little Spice Jar

  • 5. Don't Forget to Trim the Meat

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    Though you might be rushing in the morning, take time to cut the fat off your meat before placing it in your slow cooker

    "The fat will make the dish very greasy," Wilmoth explains.

    He offers the following tip: Degrease top of pot as all the fat will rise to the top.

    Recipe: Slow Cooker Philly Cheesesteak at Sarcastic Cooking

  • 6. Don't Get Rid of the Broth

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    While you want to skip the fat, don't toss the juices at the bottom of the pot.

    "You can make gravy with the liquids once your meal is done," Wilmoth suggests. "To use broth from a Crock-Pot as a gravy, you can add a cooked roux, flour, or cornstarch mixture to thicken."

    Recipe: Slow Cooker Peasant Stew at Some the Wiser

  • 7. Watch Your Seasonings

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    "By timing the herbs you will boost flavor," Clegg notes. "Add dried herbs to the slow cooker in beginning of cooking, and fresh herbs just before serving."

    While you might be tempted to salt your dish before it cooks, Wilmoth cautions against it. 

    "Season when the dish is complete otherwise the dish can be too salty," he notes.

    Recipe: Slow Cooker Thai Chicken Soup at Foodie Crush

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  • 8. Don't Waste a T-Bone Steak

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    "Expensive cuts of beef like rib eye, T-bones, and Porterhouse are not necessary for creating an unforgettable dish," advises Admir Alibasic, executive chef at Ben & Jack's steakhouse in Manhattan.

    "Try using cuts like short rib, chuck, flap, and other tougher fattier cuts. Cooking these cuts low and slow breaks down the protein leaving you with meat the shreds apart -- perfect for shredded beef sliders."

    Recipe: Crock Pot Thai Beef Sliders at Whitney Bond

  • 9. Don't Overcook Those Green Veggies

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    Remember, everything has different cook times, and more delicate veggies like broccoli, asparagus, and green beans need very little time in the pot.

    Alibasic recommends adding these green veggies to your recipe about 30 minutes before the dish is done to avoid the pigments from breaking down and turning yellow. Because who wants yellow broccoli, anyway?

    Recipe: Cheesy Vegetable Chowder at Cooking Classy

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