18 tips on how to make your slow cooker work for you
Your slow cooker could probably be one of the handiest applicances you own and it is definitely not just for winter. Check out our awesome tips and tricks to make sure your appliance becomes a permanent feature on your kitchen bench.
1. Prepare your ingredients the night before
When you know you will be short on time in the morning, you can prepare everything you need for your slow-cooked meal the night before and pop it in the fridge overnight. When beginning to cook ideally the dish should be as close to room temperature as possible, so get the ingredients out of the fridge first thing and bring it up to room temperature for about 20 minutes. You should not place the cooker insert in the fridge, as it won’t heat up quickly enough to stop bacteria growing.
2. Make it easy for yourself
No one wants to spend hours preparing to cook when you are low on time and one of the best things about a slow cooker is how easy it is – for many dishes, particularly soups and stews, you really can just throw all the ingredients in. So look for recipes that avoid a lot of pre-preparation. Try some of our simple ones: Slow cooker chicken soup, Slow cooker pork and sweet potato stew, Slow cooker chicken cacciatore,
3. How to minimise clean-up
When cooking meals for a long time sauces can stick to the sides of the dish. This can easily be avoided by rubbing the inside of your slow cooker’s crock pot with butter or coconut oil, much in the same way that you would a cake pan.
4. Think cheap cuts
Cheaper cuts of meat such as shoulder, brisket, chuck, or meat on the bone are perfect for cooking in a slow cooker. The slow cooking time creates tender meat by breaking down the tough connective tissue, leaving you with a juicy tender meal. You can also use less meat overall as slow cooking produces a divine, meaty flavour that infuses the whole dish, so add bulk with vegetables instead and increase your health as well as saving dollars. Try these: Beef bourguignon, Slow cooker Irish stew.
5. Cut the fat
You don’t need to add oil to a slow cooker and you don’t need a lot of fat on your meat either, so trim it off first to prevent an oil slick in your stew. This is especially important if you’re not pre-browning your meat, because normally when you fry meat, a lot of the fat drains away.
6. Go easy on the liquid
Your slow cooker has a tightly sealed lid so the liquid won’t evaporate and air circulates in the cooker creating steam, which adds more liquid. So if you’re adapting a standard recipe, it’s best to reduce the liquid quantity by roughly a third, or use about 1/2-1 cup less liquid than normal. Liquid should just cover the meat and vegetables.
7. Ensure evenly cooked food
Ideally you want to choose recipes where most, if not all, of the ingredients can be added at the beginning, leaving you free to do other things. However in most cases, pasta, rice and fresh herbs will need to be added towards the end. Root vegetables can take longer than meat and other vegetables so put these near the heat source, at the bottom of the pot and cut your ingredients into similar-sized pieces so they cook evenly.
8. Go easy with the wine or liquor
Unlike cooking on the stovetop or oven, where the heat is much higher, alcohol doesn’t boil down and reduce in a slow cooker, resulting in a harsh flavour of raw alcohol, rather than subtle wine undertones. Instead, use wine or liquor to deglaze the pan after browning the meat, then add it to the slow cooker – or simply skip the alcohol altogether.
9. How to thicken it up
Just as the liquid doesn’t reduce it also doesn’t thicken. You can roll meat in a small amount of seasoned flour before adding it to the slow cooker to help the thickening process, or use a little cornflour at the end, by mixing a teaspoon or two into a paste with a little cold water or milk. Stir into your simmering slow cooker contents, then replace the lid.
10. Don’t overfill it
To prevent your slow cooker leaking out of the top don’t overfill your slow cooker, your food won't cook as well either. Half to two-thirds full is ideal and certainly no more than three-quarters.
11. The slower the better
Use the ‘low’ setting as much as you can, as most dishes really benefit from a slow, gentle heat to bring out the flavours. Perfect for ‘setting and forgetting’ before heading to work for the day. Try this delicious Slow cooker Rogan Josh.
12. Adapt your regular dishes
You don’t have to search for only slow cooker meals, with many meals easily adapted from your favourite recipes by simply adjusting the cooking time. For example, if a dish usually takes: 15-30 mins, cook it for 1-2 hours on high or 4-6 hours on low; if it takes 30 mins-1 hour, cook it for 2-3 hours on high or 5-7 hours on low; if it takes 1-2 hours, cook it for 3-4 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low; and if it takes 2-4 hours, cook it for 4-6 hours on high or 8-12 hours on low.
13. Don't keep peeking
Slow cookers work by trapping heat over a long period of time, so don’t keep checking the contents or having a sneaky sample (hard with that delicious smell wafting through the house, we know!). Every time you remove the lid the slow cooker loses heat, and it takes a while to heat back up.
14. Think beyond stews and casseroles
While there’s no denying the slow cooker’s brilliance at producing mouth-watering stews and casseroles, that’s only one facet of its abilities. Branch out and use it for an easy midweek roast, meatloaf, or risotto instead! Try these: Slow cooker Greek lamb, Slow cooker meatloaf and Slow cooker prawn and asparagus risotto.
15. Add dairy at the end
Wait until the very end of cooking before adding dairy products, like milk, cheese, sour cream or yoghurt, otherwise they may curdle.
16. Be safe
Thaw meat, poultry or frozen vegetables before cooking, as the slow cooker takes too long to reach a safe temperature for frozen food. Remove cooked food from the slow cooker before placing in the fridge. The insert is designed to retain heat, so it won’t cool quickly enough to stop bacteria growing. Also, don’t reheat slow-cooked meals in your slow cooker – it takes too long to reach a safe temperature.
17. Try it for desserts, baking and sweets
One of the most surprising strengths of slow cookers is their ability to bake moist cakes like fruitcake and cheesecake even more effectively than an oven does, thanks to their superior moisture retention. Just lay a folded kitchen towel under the lid to keep condensation from dripping onto the cake. Or use it to make bread or even pavlova! Try these great recipes: Slow cooker pear and pecan pudding, Slow cooker pavlova, Slow cooker cheese and bacon scrolls, Slow cooker chocolate fudge.
18. Not just for winter!
Don’t put that crockpot away when winter has finished! It’s ideal to use in summer, mainly because it won’t heat up the house like an oven does. Think about things like slow-cooked shoulders of lamb and pork, that you can pull apart and use in summer-friendly meals like tacos, sandwiches, wraps, salads, fried rice and more. Try this Slow cooker shredded beef nachos recipe, Slow cooker teriyaki chicken recipe.