The beauty of using a slow cooker or crock pot is that it’s pretty darn simple. Prep your ingredients, add them to the slow
cooker and press Start.
But there is a difference between a good slow-cooker meal and a great slow-cooker meal. Here are some tips to keep in mind
when you’re using your slow cooker or crock pot:
Tip 1) Use the Right Size
Slow cookers are available in a range of sizes, from 1 quart to 8 1/2 quarts. Use the size cooker recommended in each recipe.
This helps ensure that the slow cooker isn’t overflowing or underfilled, so that your meal can cook properly. Our slow-cooker
recipes work best in a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker.
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Tip 2) Don’t Overfill Your Slow Cooker
To make sure your meal is finished in the time listed on your recipe, and to avoid potential food-safety hazards, don’t
overfill your slow cooker. Most manufacturers recommend filling them no more than two-thirds full, but it differs among
brands, so check your owner’s manual.
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Tip 3) Keep a Lid on It
Resist the urge to take off the lid and peek at your meal. Opening the slow cooker lets heat escape and slows cooking. Only
open it 30 to 45 minutes before the low end of the cooking range to check doneness.
Tip 4) Plan Your Meals Ahead
If you want to turn your slow cooker on first thing in the morning, a little planning goes a long way.
• The night before: Cut and trim any meat, chop any vegetables, measure out dry ingredients
and prepare any sauce; refrigerate the components in separate containers. (Do not refrigerate components in the slow-cooker
insert; a cold insert takes too long to heat up and affects cooking time and food safety.)
• In the morning: Add ingredients to the cooker according to the recipe; reheat any sauce to a
simmer before adding. If you won’t be home close to the end of the cooking time, make sure you have a slow cooker that can
switch to the Warm setting when cooking is done.
Tip 5) Maximize Flavor
If you’re in a hurry or really prefer to just dump your ingredients in the cooker and go, then you can skip this tip—it’s by
no means necessary. But when I have a little extra time, I like to brown my meat and/or vegetables in a skillet before I add
it to the cooker. Then I “deglaze” the pan with my liquid to get all the brown, caramelized bits from the sauté pan into the
cooker. You’ll end up with a richer flavor that can’t be achieved by slow-cooking alone.
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Tip 6) Keep Temperature in Mind
A slow cooker is certainly convenient, but if not used correctly there is the potential for food-safety hazards. Temperatures
between 40° and 140°F fall into the so-called “Danger Zone,” since bacteria thrive in these temperatures. When using a slow
cooker be sure to take precautions that keep food from being in the Danger Zone for too long. To avoid the Danger Zone, never
add frozen ingredients to your cooker, refrigerate any ingredients you’ve prepped ahead in separate storage containers and
bring liquids to a simmer if you’re cooking on Low before adding them to your cooker to give the heating process a
jump-start. Never attempt to cook a whole chicken or roast in your slow cooker: large hunks of meat won’t cook thoroughly
enough in the slow cooker. So when cooking with meat, make sure it’s cut into smaller pieces that will cook throughout.
Tip 7) Make Sure You Have the Best crock pot
You may have a 20-year-old slow cooker that still works great, but it’s probably a basic cooker for which you need to time
your cooking manually and then be there to turn it off. A programmable slow cooker cooks your meal for a predetermined time
and then switches to a setting that keeps the food at a safe temperature until you’re ready to eat. Our favorite is the crock
pot 5.5 Quart Smart-Pot (you can get one for around $50). Its digital touchpad allows the user to control the heat settings
and time the cooking in increments of 30 minutes up to 20 hours. Find one at crockpot.com.