Slow Cooking – Quick Start

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Slow cooking - quick start post cover

The best way to start learning about slow cooking is to make a simple, healthy and delicious recipe. Here is one of my favorite easy recipes, and a good place to start your slow cooker journey – beef vegetable stew. It’s a real classic and one you and your family are sure to enjoy.

Beef and Vegetables Stew

slow cooker Beef and Vegetables Stew

I like this recipe for lots of reasons. First, it’s very easy and takes next to no time to throw together. It’s also high in protein, low in fat, provides lots of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and is loaded with tasty vegetables. I also like the fact that you can cook is slow, or cook it a little faster if you like. However, the prep is quick and straightforward making it ideal for slow cooker beginners!

This recipe makes four servings.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 8-10 hours on low, 4-5 hours on high.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into ½-inch-thick slices
  • 2 small potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 2 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup loose-pack frozen peas
  • Fresh parsley sprigs for serving (optional)

Directions

In a 4-quart slow cooker, combine the beef chuck pieces, sliced carrots, cubed potatoes, and chopped onion. Sprinkle with salt and thyme. Add the bay leaf, canned tomatoes with their juices, the peas, and the water. Stir until all ingredients are combined.

Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 8 to 10 hours, or on high-heat setting for 4 to 5 hours. Do not stir during cooking as you’ll just let the heat out. Instead, leave your slow cooker to work its magic.

Remove and discard bay leaf and garnish with parsley if desired.

For this recipe I’ve used a 4 Quart Size Manual  . You can find my favorite slow cookers here and how to find the best slow cooker in terms of size, price and feature for your needs, all in detail in my article My Favorite Slow Cookers. Or you can go directly to the conclusion where I recommend the best slow cookers in terms of size and type – click here to go to my recommendations.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can use an dutch oven and place it in an oven for 2 hours at 325° temperature (more about conversations from slow cooker to the oven at Converting slow cooker recipes to the oven)

Nutrition per serving

  • 269 calories
  • 28g protein
  • 29g carbohydrate
  • 4g fiber
  • 4g fat

More Slow Cooker Recipes

I have shared many delicious slow cooker recipes, but if you are just starting with a slow cooker, I recommend you check the easy slow cooker recipes here. There are also, beef, chicken, vegetarian, weight loss and recipes for two. All recipes are here.

Slow Cooker Tips

Always fill a slow cooker between one-half and two-thirds full – any extra servings can always be stored in the fridge or frozen for another day

Keep the lid closed – avoid opening the lid as it will let some of the heat and steam escape. If you do open the lid, add an extra 10-15 minutes to the cooking time so the slow cooker can heat back up again. Most recipes do not require stirring.

Brown the meat – browning boosts the flavors of beef and pork. To do this, get a pan, add some olive oil, and heat over a medium-high flame until the oil takes on a watery consistency. Then add the meat. Brown the meat until it no longer sticks to the pan. Once unstuck, turn the meat over and cook the other side. Remember, you are just browning the meat and not trying to cook it all the way through.

Choose dried herbs over fresh – fresh herbs will go brown and limp in the long, slow cooking process. Dried herbs and spices will release their flavor more slowly and are much better for slow cooking.

For more slow cooking tips, check out my article 7 Slow Cooker Practical Tips

Simple Slow Cooker Rules 

1. Always fill your slow cooker half to three-quarters of the way up. If you have a large slow cooker, you may need to increase the amount of ingredients. Don’t worry though – you save the leftovers for tomorrow or even freeze them.

2. Always brown any meat. Browning the meat gives it a better flavor, makes it look more attractive and helps it hold its shape better. Simply pour some oil in a pan, heat it up until it takes on a watery consistency, and then lightly brown both sides of the meat. Then, when it’s browned, put it in your slow cooker with your other ingredients.

3. Never add cold liquids to a hot slow cooker. If you do this, the glaze or even the ceramic pot may crack.

4. Spray the inside of the slow cooker pot with oil to make it easier to clean. Cooked food is much less likely to stick to a greased cooking surface.

5. Do not remove the lid during cooking as you’ll allow heat to escape. Heat builds slowly in a slow cooker, so if you DO remove the lid, you’ll need to add 15-30 minutes to the cooking time.

6. Don’t use expensive cuts of meat. Cheap cuts cook better in a slow cooker and taste better too. Best cheap beef cuts and cheap pork cuts to use on your slow cooker and save money.

7. Add dairy products like milk, cream, yogurt, and cheese toward the end of the cooking process, say with an hour or so to go. Adding them earlier could lead to curdling or souring.

8. When using herbs, dried is best. Fresh herbs can go soggy and brown and lose much of their taste. Dried herbs improve in flavor in a slow cooker. They’re usually cheaper too. If you do use fresh herbs, add them near the end of cooking.

 

Frequent Questions & Answers

In the beginning of my slow cooking journey I got a lot of questions so I searched and did my best to clear all my doubts to be sure I was using my slow cooker in the right and best possible way. I share these questions here, as you probably have the same doubts.

Q1. How does a slow cooker work?

Slowly! Just kidding. Slow cookers have a heating element which gently heats a ceramic crockpot that rests above it. This low level of heat cooks your food gently (and slowly) as the heat is retained within the pot and held in by the lid. Slow cooking takes much longer than oven cooking because slow cookers work at around 25-50% of usual oven temperatures.

2. Can you put raw meat in a crock pot?

You certainly can! In fact, raw meat is best as the slow cooker is going to be working for a long time and you don’t want tough, overcooked meat. But, most meats cook best if they are slightly browned first. This gives the meat a better flavor and helps it keep its shape. Did you know that some slow cookers even have a browning function? This is a very useful feature.

3. When can I open the lid?

Do your best to leave the lid on the pot for the entire duration of the cooking. Only remove the lid when you want to serve your food. The heat in a slow cooker builds up gradually, and removing the lid lets that precious heat escape. If you DO have to remove the lid early, for stirring or adding extra ingredients, add an extra 15 minutes to the total cooking time to allow the slow cooker to heat back up.

4. Do you have to brown the meat for a slow cooker?

You don’t HAVE to brown the meat and, if you are in a hurry, you can just toss the raw meat into your slow cooker with all the other ingredients. It’ll taste fine, and your meal will be nice enough. But, if you have a couple of extra minutes, I highly recommend you brown beef, lamb, and pork but you don’t need to brown chicken unless you really want to. Browning the meat seals in the juices, makes the meat look attractive and boosts the flavor.

5. How long does it take to cook a roast in a slow cooker?

It really depends on the size and how “done” you like your meat but, on average, it takes 6-8 hours on low or 3-4 hours on high. You can take the guesswork out of cooking a roast by using a slow cooker with a built-in meat probe that will adjust the time or temperature to ensure your roast comes out perfectly done.

6. How long do you cook beef in the slow cooker?

The answer to this question depends on the recipe you are cooking. Some recipes are done using the high setting while others use the low setting. Cooking times range between 4 to 8 hours. If you are unsure if your beef is ready, remove a piece, cut it in half, and see if the inside is cooked. Also, note that smaller cuts of beef and ground beef will cook faster than large pieces and joints.

7. Do you have to put water in a crock pot?

Most recipes use some sort of fluid as slow cooker meals are usually cooked by simmering and heating your slow cooker when it contains nothing but dry ingredients could cause the ceramic crock pot to crack. If your recipe does call for water, add it at the beginning and before the cooker heats up to avoid pouring cold water into a hot cooker. Some recipes may include milk or stock so make sure you read the recipe carefully to see what liquid you need.

8. What’s the difference between a slow cooker and an instant pot?

An instant pot, also called a pressure cooker, is the opposite of a slow cooker. Where a slow cooker uses a low temperature, instant pots use much higher temperatures and high pressure to speed up the cooking process. Instant cookers are often able to take on a wide variety of cooking processes including steaming, roasting, and cooking rice. However, in my experience, the taste of food cooked in a slow cooker is better than food cooked in an instant pot.

9. Can you put rice in a slow cooker?

Yes, you can, but I recommend that you use par-boiled rice as it is less likely to clump together. The other thing to consider is quantities; unless you have a very small slow cooker, you will need to make a lot of rice if you are going to fill your pot up to the recommended halfway point.

10. What is the difference between a slow cooker and a crock pot?

Where a slow cooker is an electrically heated, self-contained cooking appliance, a crock pot is just a pot with a lid you can place on the stovetop or in the oven. However, you can use a crock pot for a host of cooking duties including browning, braising, stewing, and roasting. Crock pots can be made of ceramic and stoneware, but some are made from cast-iron. Many slow cooker recipes can be made in a crock pot but the cooking time is usually much less.

11. Can you put frozen chicken in a slow cooker?

It’s a very bad idea to put frozen chicken in a slow cooker. Slow cookers heat food gradually and don’t get that hot which means any bacteria, and chicken often contains lots of bacteria, can grow and reproduce which could lead to food poisoning. It’s perfectly safe to cook fresh or defrosted chicken in a slow cooker but never use frozen chicken.

12. Can you cook a roast that is frozen?

According to the FDA, you should not cook meat from frozen in a slow cooker – and that includes pork, lamb, or beef. Frozen meat may contain bacteria that is not destroyed during the slow cooking process. The meat stays warm for quite a long time, and warm meat can harbor potentially harmful bacteria such as e-coli. For best food safety, always cook your meat from thawed or fresh.

13. Can you add frozen ingredients?

In theory, there is nothing to stop you adding frozen vegetables, frozen herbs, frozen beans, or any other frozen ingredient other than meat, chicken or fish but, personally, I wouldn’t do it. Frozen food will slow the cooking time right down, and there is still a small risk of harmful bacteria. Instead, thaw your ingredients the night before or in a microwave. Otherwise, run them under warm water until they are defrosted.

14. Why can’t you reheat leftovers?

When you cook a meal and then allow it to cool down, any bacteria that was present can grow and reproduce. Then, when you put your meal into a slow cooker, the gentle heat provides the perfect breeding ground for even more bacteria to grow. In short, you could end up with a very dangerous meal that could make you seriously sick. If you have leftovers, reheat them in a microwave or on the stovetop so that the higher level of heat can kill all those harmful bacteria.

15. Are slow cookers economical? 

Slow cookers are VERY economical. The heating element is small, and the heat it produces is held within the insulated pot. Also, slow cookers have thermostats, so the cooker turns off when the pot is warm enough and only works intermittently to keep the cooker at the right temperature. Slow cookers are definitely more economical than putting a crock pot in an oven. For a start, think about how much bigger an oven is compared to the size of a crock pot. You’ll need to use a lot more energy to heat the whole oven AND the crock pot compared to a smaller and more compact slow cooker.

16. Does it matter if I leave my slow cooker working for longer than the recipe calls for? 

Contrary to popular opinion, even though slow cookers cook slowly, it’s still possible to overcook your food. However, you do have more leeway than with oven cooking or stovetop cooking. You can probably overcook your meal by 30-60 minutes with no real problem but, after that, you may find your meal dries out and begins to stick. Your best option would be to buy a programmable slow cooker that will switch to “warm” at the end of the cooking time and make sure your meal turns out just right.

Ask me your question

Got a burning question about slow cookers? Please let me know, and I’ll do my best to answer it for you. Remember, it’s only by asking questions that we learn! Write your questions on the comment section bellow or send me an email using the contact page. Thanks

 

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Start your slow cooking experience, with or without a slow cooker you can do your first  slow cooking recipe. Give it a go, enjoy the taste of cooking slowly.

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Hi, my name is Sarah and I’m so happy that you’re here! I've shared my story here

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