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Slow cooking is a great way to bring out the flavours of the food you are cooking. If that’s not the best part, there are many food varieties you can cook with it. Casseroles, pot meals, soups and a whole lot more!
Are you new to slow cooking or looking for tips on using a slow cooker more effectively? Then you’re in the right place because we have various tips on enjoying your favourite recipes with minimal effort in the healthiest way possible!
How to Use a Slow Cooker
So that you can improve your cooking process, we curated a list with the following tips and tricks on how to use a slow cooker. We wanted to add as much diversity as possible to get the most out of this article. Read on to explore our secrets to cooking with a slow cooker.
Use Fresh Ingredients
When gathering ingredients for your slow cooker recipes, ensure that you choose the freshest options. You might have seen some people using canned goods or dry dressings for convenience, but for the best results, ensure that you choose fresh vegetables for a more nutritious result and better taste.
Of course, we’re not expecting every scrap of ingredient to be wholesome and organic, as you can purchase canned chutneys, tomatoes and preserves (so long as you check the list of ingredients to ensure that there are no nasties thrown into the mix to increase the food’s shelf life).
Suppose you’re concerned about travelling to the supermarkets and having enough time to prepare food. In that case, we recommend using frozen vegetables as these still contain a high level of nutrients compared to canned goods. However, do keep in mind that the food might be a little less tasty since it’s been frozen to make it last.
Additionally, we suggest using fresh herbs when slow cooking as opposed to sticking solely to dry herbs. You’ll notice the improved flavouring and, surprisingly, many fresh herbs—such as thyme and rosemary—can retain a lot of flavour for a long time.
Dried herbs tend to lose their flavour during the simmering stage, so if you only have the option of dried herbs, you might want to consider increasing the quantity to get the full flavours still.
Don’t Overfill or Underfill Your Slow Cooker
It can be tempting to overfill your slow cooker as a way to save you cooking time, but you should fill the slow cooker to one-half or two-thirds full (check your slow cooker’s manual for the exact recommended capacity). By sticking to this amount, you’ll ensure that your food cooks thoroughly. At the same time, you don’t want to underfill your slow cooker because this won’t save you money in electricity costs.
Did you know that altitude can affect cooking time? For example, if you live at an altitude of over 4,000 feet, you’ll need to increase your cooking time by 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the recipe you’re making. Legumes, for example, might take twice as long to cook as they would if you were located at sea level.
Don’t Be Tempted to Open the Lid
If you haven’t used a slow cooker before, it can be tempting to remove the lid to peek at your food and to inspect that it’s cooking properly visually. But doing so will increase the time your food needs to cook, sometimes by up to 30 minutes. In this case, using a slow cooker doesn’t become a quicker process. Additionally, removing the lid lets out a lot of the steam and heat, thereby making your food drier because it will cook off any excess moisture.
If you’re truly concerned about how your food is cooking, consider purchasing a Crock-Pot with a glass lid, so you can see your meal’s progress a little more clearly without having to remove the lid.
Cut Ingredients Evenly
If you’re using vegetables or (especially) cuts of meat in your new slow cooker, ensure that you cut your ingredients evenly so they cook simultaneously and you don’t have some ready bits and some that are undercooked. Furthermore, we suggest researching slow cooker recipes (especially if you’re looking for a beginner’s guide) because they will tell you how to slow cook food effectively.
Above all, these recipes provide you with a step-by-step guide on the order of ingredients to add to your slow cooker. So you’ll place ingredients that require a longer time in the slow cooker in the pot first.
Generally speaking, root vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots, typically go in first at the bottom of your slow cooker, so they have enough time to cook through. However, if you prefer your vegetables to have more of a crunch, then you might consider placing them in last or at least moving the ingredients around in the slow cooker part-way through to change their position.
Remove the Fat From Cuts of Meat
The last thing you want for your meal is to have fat drippings in it. To ensure this doesn’t happen, we suggest only purchasing lean cuts (cheap cuts won’t give you good results) and ensuring that you trim any excess fat from the meat. Otherwise, the grease will gather in the food, making your entire meal very greasy.
Of course, some fat can be good as it creates a more full-bodied flavour. The choice is up to you; however, we recommend that less fat is better when using a slow cooker.
Learn How to Thicken Up Your Sauce
You will need to add liquid to the pot for slow cooking, but you may soon realise that the moisture in a Crock-Pot slow cooker doesn’t quite thicken as much as with other cooking methods. So you’ll need to try different methods to thicken a sauce in the slow cooker.
For example, you can coat meat with flour before adding it to your slow cooker. Another way to thicken up the sauce in a slow cooker is by mixing part cornstarch with water to paste which you can then mix into your slow cooker. As your dish cooks, the mixture will begin to thicken.
Additionally, you can grate a potato into your slow cooker. You can also purchase potato flakes and keep increasing the amount until you have the consistency you’re looking for.
We recommend slowly and gradually adding the grated potato or cornstarch mix to your food, as you can always increase the amount but not remove it.
Prepare Your Ingredients Ahead of Time
Avoid a mid-morning rush by preparing ingredients the night before. You can do this by cutting your ingredients and placing them in the slow cooker the night before. However, we don’t suggest that you do this with brown meat or dairy because these need to be stored in the fridge at a low temperature.
Alternatively, you can add your meat and dairy products to the slow cooker and then place the appliance in the fridge with everything inside. Then, when you awake the following morning, remove the slow cooker from the fridge around 20 to 30 minutes before you intend to switch it on, so there’s enough time for the ingredients to adjust to room temperature.
Don’t Add Frozen Food to Your Slow Cooker
We appreciate the logic behind adding frozen goods to slow cookers but doing this can increase the cooking time, and it means that the appliance won’t be able to cook faster like it ordinarily would. Plus, it’s important to defrost any frozen ingredients before adding them to multi-cookers to prevent any risk of foodborne illnesses.
Various Slow Cooker Settings to Know About
Slow cookers offer a host of different recipes so that you can use your slow cooker for a variety of dishes. Most slow cookers feature three temperature settings: low, warm and high. As a general rule of thumb, slow cookers typically range from 79 to 101°C. Opt for a higher temperature to cook dishes quickly or low temperatures to cook your meal slowly throughout the day while you’re out at work, for example.
The cooking times and settings you choose will depend on what you’re cooking, so here are some examples of a slow cooker temperature to choose from based on what you’re cooking:
- Large roasts: Low or high setting
- Meats: Low setting
- Soups: High setting
- Warm: Keeps dishes warm while you’re hosting a party or use it to reheat meals
Cleaning Your Slow Cooker
Before we get into cleaning your slow cooker once you’ve finished cooking, consider using a cooking spray, to begin with, to help prevent any ingredients from sticking to the base.
After you’ve removed the ingredients and there aren’t any leftovers in the appliance, here are some easy-to-follow steps for keeping your appliance in tip-top condition:
- Fill it with water around three-quarters full.
- Add 64g of white vinegar or more if you have a 3-quart+ slow cooker.
- Add 64g of baking soda. You’ll notice a bubbling action, which is a good thing. Allow the bubbles to die down before continuing.
- Set your appliance to a low setting for one hour to absorb the liquid and easily clean the appliance.
- Switch off the slow cooker. Remove the lid and wipe down the interior with a soft cloth. You may need a brush to remove any stubborn food.
- Soak the slow cooker in soapy, warm water and let it sit for the last hour. Drain away the water.
- If your appliance is dishwasher safe, you can finish up with this step for further cleaning.
What Tips Do You Have For Using Slow Cookers?
We hope that this article has inspired you to use a slow cooker more often. If you have any tips on saving money when cooking or have go-to slow-cooked meals that you’d like to share, please do. We love to hear from you, so share your tips in the comments to inspire other readers, too.
Amy is a U.K.-based writer and editor with a penchant for helping consumers find the best home products for their needs, as well as providing easily digestible guides for living better at home. Her dedication to her work means she can usually be found elbow-deep in research or hunting down samples of the latest and greatest on behalf of her readers.
An avid DIYer herself, Amy’s passion lies in teaching others how they too can achieve their dream homes by tackling some of those pesky projects themselves! Whether it’s building furniture from scratch or turning an old dresser into a coffee table, Amy is always happy to share what she knows about making your house feel like home without spending a fortune.