Slow cooking is seriously simple and an easy way to produce healthy, tasty meals with very little effort. However, to get the most from your slow cooker, here are some rules to follow. Stick to these rules, and I guarantee your food will taste even better!
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. Check out my articles The Best Pork cuts for slow cooking and The Best Beef cuts for slow cooking for details.
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.
9. Vegetables with a high water content such as zucchini, squash, and pumpkins should be added toward the end of the cooking time to avoid overcooking.
10. If you are using frozen instead of fresh vegetables, thaw them before putting them in your slow cooker by running them under warm water for a few minutes. Otherwise, you’ll need to add up to an hour to your cooking time.
11. The best rice for use in a slow cooker is par-boiled rice. The grains will not clump together during cooking. You can get par-boiled white, brown, and risotto rice.
12. Use Durham wheat pasta rather than egg pasta because it holds its shape better during cooking. Egg pasta tends to turn to mush in a slow cooker.
13. Root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and turnips take longer to cook than meat in a slow cooker. Get around this problem by cutting your meat into larger chunks and your vegetables into smaller chunks. Place vegetables at the bottom of the pot where the temperature is highest.
14. When your meal is cooked, and it’s time to remove the lid, do so carefully to avoid letting the water that condenses on the inside of the lid falling into your food. The last thing you want is a watery meal!
15. If you add alcohol to your meals, e.g. wine, use less than for a conventionally-cooked meal as the lower temperature means less alcohol will evaporate and could leave your food with a harsh, unpleasant taste.
16. Remove the skin from chicken. Slow cooked chicken skin takes on a very rubbery texture and is not very nice. Remove the skin for better tasting and lower calorie chicken.
17. Make sure your ingredients are fully submerged under liquid so that everything cooks properly.
18. Don’t use your slow cooker for reheating – it doesn’t get hot enough to kill all the bacteria.
19. Use less salt; slow cooking releases all the flavor of the ingredients which makes the food taste great without the need for lots of salt. This is good news for your blood pressure!
20. Experiment with high and low heat settings. A recipe might call for four hours on high or eight hours on low. Both options will produce different results. Try both to see which one works best for you.
If you put these rules into action, I know you’ll get even more from your slow cooker. They make life easier, and your food will taste better. Follow the rules and enjoy even better-tasting food!