Whether you are tight on time or on cash, one of the best cooking tools is a slow cooker. A brand new 5-quart slow cooker can cost about $30 or you might even be able to borrow one from a friend or neighbor for free. The basic appliance hasn’t changed much in years, so even an older model from a resale shop will do.
Here are some tips for slow cooker success:
- Save time - Put all the recipe ingredients in a container the night before and place it in the refrigerator. All ingredients should be thawed prior to cooking. The next morning, just empty the container with the recipe ingredients into the crock and cook according to the recipe instructions. When you return hours later, lift the lid to check the temperature, and serve dinner!
- Don’t peak - Lifting the lid during the cooking time will release the built-up steam, which then adds to the cooking time. Make sure that your food has reached the minimum safe internal temperature before serving.
- Layer right - When cooking vegetables in the crock, put dense, tough vegetables, like potatoes, winter squash, cabbage and turnips, on the bottom where they are closest to the heating element and can tenderize. Delicate vegetables such as zucchini, broccoli, spinach and peas can’t hold up to hours of heat; so place them on top or add them later in cooking if the recipe calls for it.
- Finish fresh - Lemon juice or fresh herbs sprinkled on at the end of cooking will make the flavor of the dish really pop. Fresh herbs (except for hearty rosemary or sage) added at the beginning of cooking may lose their flavor. You can add dried herbs in at the beginning as they can withstand longer cooking times.
- Consider differences between crocks. Slow cooker cooking times in recipes are often estimates. One slow cooker may cook faster than another. If the slow cooker you are using is larger or smaller than the one specified in the recipe, the meal may cook more slowly or quickly than the recipe states. A recipe is done if the vegetables are very tender and the meat is an internal temperature of 145° Fahrenheit, 165° for poultry, 160° for ground meats, and 165° for casseroles.
- Save money on meat cuts - Inexpensive, tougher cuts of meat become moist and tender when cooked in a slow cooker. The trick is to sear or brown the meat for about 5 minutes per side in a skillet before adding it to the slow cooker. The caramelizing of the surface of the meat will result in a richer flavor and a more appealing presentation when serving. When you need shredded meat for a recipe – like for tacos or barbeque pork – the extra step of searing isn’t needed.
Check out some great slow cooker recipes!
Article copyright © 2016 American Heart Association. This recipe/article is brought to you by the American Heart Association's Simple Cooking with Heart © Program. For more articles and simple, quick and affordable recipes, visit heart.org/simplecooking.
Last reviewed 1/2015