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5 Rules for Crock-Pot Success

A slow cooker is a fantastic shortcut for revolutionizing your weeknight dinners. Here are 5 rules for making the tastiest dishes possible, without slaving away in front of the stove.

By
Kara Rota,
February 21, 2017
Episode #035

Welcome to the Clever Cookstr, your ultimate window into the kitchens of the world’s best cooks. I’m your host, Kara Rota.

Today, we’re talking about one of my favorite kitchen shortcuts: the crock-pot. Slow cookers went slightly out of fashion for a few decades, but they’re coming back with a vengeance, and for good reason!

Like a good no-knead bread recipe or a basic fermentation technique, slow cookers are a chef’s secret tool, allowing time and nature to do the hard work. Beginning with quality ingredients, you’ll produce a meal with flavor and texture that implies you’ve slaved away – when in truth, the hands-on time for these recipes is minimal.

See also: Domestic CEO's Crock-Pot Buffalo Ranch Chicken

 

Before we get started, let's clarify: crock-pots are a type of slow cooker that sometimes uses a metal insert instead of the slow cooker's ceramic stoneware. As always, you should consult the specific recipe you're using to determine what equipment is best for your needs.

A slow cooker can be an ideal partner in crime when it comes to tackling dishes that seem too time- and work-intensive for every day, such as French onion soup or risotto. And slow cookers are season-neutral. They’re a great alternative to keeping your oven on in the summer, but also slow-cooked meats, vegetables, soups, and stews are excellent comfort food to carry you through the end of winter. 

Here are 5 crock-pot tips and tricks to revolutionize your family's weeknight routine:

Tip #1: Choose Your Meat and Poultry Wisely

There’s not really much that won’t work in the slow cooker, but some cuts of meat are definitely better suited than others. Tougher and fattier cuts, like brisket, chuck roast, or chicken thighs and legs, do well in the slow cooker where the long-term application of heat breaks down the tissue, making those tough cuts extremely tender.

See also: Domestic CEO's Crock-Pot Chicken with Black Beans

 

And even better, those cuts tend to be much less expensive. Save your boneless, skinless chicken breasts for the stovetop or oven.

Tip #2: Sear Meat on Stovetop First

This will make sure that you seal in the juices and also optimize the flavor. You know that fantastic smell when you caramelize something in a pan? That’s called the Maillard reaction, the chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gets you that fantastic, umami, browned goodness.

It only happens at high heats, so you’re not going to get that if you put raw meat directly into the crock-pot. Sear your meat first.

Tip #3: Don’t Put Frozen Ingredients into Slow Cooker

It’s not good food safety practice because the ingredients are heated so slowly that they’ll sit in the bacteria danger zone between 400 and 1400F. Thaw your meat and vegetables before adding them to the slow cooker. And also, just like glass and ceramic baking dishes, your slow cooker stoneware can be sensitive to quick changes in temperature. If you’re reheating something you’ve refrigerated in the stoneware overnight, let it come to room temperature before putting the cooker in the preheated base.

Tip #4: Add Dairy and Herbs at the End

Milk, yogurt, sour cream, and other dairy can curdle in the slow cooker, so incorporate them in the last 15 minutes of the recipe’s cook time. And a squeeze of lemon juice or the addition of fresh, chopped herbs can do a lot to brighten your final dish, especially if you’re cooking a heavier braise or stew.

Probably the best example of this is in osso buco, in which the gremolata is added during the last minutes: a mixture of garlic, parsley, and lemon zest that gives the final product a lift.

Tip #5: Fill Your Crock-Pot Strategically

Your dish won’t cook correctly if the lid doesn’t sit firmly on top, so be sure you’re not overcrowding.  For even cooking, the ingredients should be cut into similarly-sized pieces. Firm root vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, should go on the bottom, with meat sitting on top. And if there is a sauce or other part of the recipe with multiple elements, mix it before adding it to the slow cooker, so the flavors are distributed throughout.

Have fun, experiment, and let us know what you’re cooking up on the Clever Cookstr's Facebook and Twitter

Delicious Slow Cooker Recipes on Cookstr.com

Beef

Poultry

Pork

Vegetarian

& More

What are some of your favorite crock-pot recipes or tips? Share them with us on the Clever Cookstr's Facebook and Twitter pages.

Canneloni and country stew images courtesy of Cookstr.com.

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