The best slow cooker recipes and tips
There's a reason why slow cookers have been around since the 1930s. These simple appliances are a lifesaver for busy, health-conscious individuals with little time for cooking. If that's you, learning how to use a slow cooker can change the way you cook and eat for the better! Find out how to use a slow cooker and get great slow cooker recipes here.
What is a slow cooker?
Slow cookers are an electrical kitchen appliance used to cook food at a lower temperature. Slow cookers and Crock-Pots are essentially the same. Crock-Pot is a popular brand of slow cooker, it's so popular that the names have become synonymous.
Slow cooking isn't unique to the electric slow cooker, but it beats traditional methods of slow food preparation hands down. It's impossible to burn food in a slow cooker. They also use a lot less energy than traditional methods, the recipes generally need less fat and oil, and they don't need any supervision. You can put food in a slow cooker, leave for work, and have a meal ready when you return. This just isn't possible when cooking on the stove or in the oven.
What's the difference between pressure cookers and slow cookeres? Pressure cookers cook food very quickly using hot steam and high pressure. It's best suited for foods like dried beans. Unlike a slow cooker, you need to be present when you're cooking with a pressure cooker.
How far should you fill your slow cooker?
Filling your slow cooker half way to two thirds full is best. Never fill your slow cooker more than two-thirds full, especially if you're making a saucy dish like Beef Bourguignon. Excess liquid can decrease the temperature in your cooker, increase the cooking time of your recipe, and can spill over. Stick to the recommended quantities in your recipe, unless you're converting a stovetop or oven recipe into a slow cooker recipe.
You can reduce the amount of liquid when converting a recipe to a slow cooker recipe (see below for more information). Food gives off moisture when cooking, so even if it looks there's not enough liquid it may come from the existing ingredients.
Can you put frozen food in a slow cooker?
It is not recommneded to cook frozen cuts in a slow cooker. Placing frozen items directly into your appliance means it takes longer for the food to reach cooking temperature which increases the chance of food-borne illnesses. Always defrost meat in the fridge before cooking it in the slow cooker.
If you have time, it's even better to brown or sear your meat in a pan before adding it to your slow cooker. This step isn't necessary, but browning the meat on all sides gives the meat extra colour and flavour. Usually this can only be done beforehand, as slow cookers don't get hot enough to brown food, though some newer appliances have a 'sear/brown' option.
How to arrange ingredients in a slow cooker
If you're making a dish like this slow roasted greek chicken, always place hard vegetables like potatoes and carrots at the bottom of the appliance. They'll cook quicker. When adding dairy products or fresh herbs to the dish, wait until the last 30 minutes of cooking time. Dairy may separate or curdle if warmed for too long. Dry herbs become dull after some time.
Use cheaper cuts of meat
Economical types of meat are great for slow cooking. The long cooking time breaks down fat and connective tissues in the meat and makes it tender and tasty. Some good cuts to try include chuck, silverside, skirt, shank, brisket and oxtail. These cuts become melt-in-your-mouth when cooked in a slow cooker. Expensive, lean cuts may dry out during the long cooking process.
Don't stir your crockpot meals
Even when you're making something in the slow cooker that you'd usually stir - resist the temptation. Also avoid opening the lid to check how your food is coming along. Every time you open your crockpot, it releases heat which adds on cooking time. For some recipes you could be adding at least 20 minutes to the cooking time every time you open the lid!
How to convert an oven or stovetop recipe to a slow cooker recipe
Converting a slow cooked recipe from the stove or oven to a slow cooker can take trial and error, but it's worth it for the added convenience. Consider the following:
- Decrease the amount of liquid: Since the ingredients are being cooked at a lower temperature, the liquids won't reduce as much. Usually about 3/4 of the liquid required in the recipe is enough.
- Adjust herbs and spices: The lower heat of a slow cooker means about half the amount of fresh herbs and spices will be enough to flavour your meal. Dry herbs and spices should be added in the last half hour of cooking, as their flavour will dull if cooked too long.
- Take notes: It's best to try converting a recipe when you're home so you can adjust the recipe and needed and take notes on what works best.
- Adjust the time: See the chart below for approximate cooking times.
|Stovetop or Oven||Slow cooker set to low||Slow cooker set to high|
|15 - 30 mins||4 - 6 hrs||1.5 - 2.5 hrs|
|35 - 60 mins||6 - 8 hrs||2.5 - 4 hrs|
|1.5 - 2.5 hrs||9 - 12 hrs||4.5 - 6 hrs|
|3 - 5 hrs||12.5 - 18 hrs||5 - 7 hrs|
More slow cooker recipes
There are plenty of ways you can benefit from slow cooker meals when you know how to use one. If you follow these basics you can't go wrong with all kinds of slow cooker recipes. Scroll down for some of the best slow cooker recipes to save you time and money.