If you're trying to eat healthy, your slow cooker may be one of the most useful—and underused—appliances you own.
I bet you have a slow cooker stashed somewhere in the back of a cabinet or on a shelf in the basement. Maybe you got it as a wedding or graduation present or picked it up at a yard sale. And maybe, like me, you hardly ever think to use it. Well, today I have five reasons for you to haul that neglected appliance out of hiding.
Slow cookers are good for so much more than heating up Swedish meatballs for your annual holiday party. In fact, if you’re trying to eat healthy, your slow cooker may be one of the most useful—and underused--tools you have.
Reason #1: It’s one of the healthiest ways to cook meat.
It’s a sad but true fact that some of the most delicious ways to cook meat—such as grilling and flame-broiling—are also the least healthy. That delicious seared exterior comes with a cost. When we cook meat over high, direct heat, the protein and fat in the meat interact with the heat to form several harmful compounds. This may be one of the reasons why people who eat a lot of meat have a higher risk of cancer and heart disease.
See also: Does Grilled Meat Cause Cancer?
I’ve talked before about ways to reduce the formation of these compounds by using spices and marinades. And I’ve also tried to put these dangers in perspective by pointing out that the folks who have increased disease risk are eating meat two or three times a day. Those who eat meat—even grilled meat—just two or three times a month don’t have an increased risk.
But if you want to eat meat more than once a week, it’s time to make friends with your slow cooker. The slow, moist heat gently cooks meat without generating harmful compounds. As a bonus, slow moist cooking is the best way to prepare inexpensive cuts of meat, turning tough cuts into fork-tender bites.
Reason #2: It’s one of the easiest ways to cook dried beans.
Vegetarians, I haven’t forgotten about you. Beans and legumes are a staple in my repertoire and I much prefer the flavor and texture when I start with dried beans rather than canned. (Dried beans are also a lot cheaper and easier to store.) The only catch is that working with dried beans takes a few extra steps: soaking the beans overnight and then boiling them before getting on with your recipe.
But guess what? You can throw those dried beans right into your slow cooker, add water or stock and whatever other ingredients the recipe calls for, turn it on and forget about it for 8-10 hours. Alternatively, you can cover dried beans with water before you go to bed. In the morning, drain the beans, throw them in the slow cooker with more water and the rest of the ingredients.
Just one caveat: If your recipe calls for kidney beans, use canned beans or cook the beans completely before adding to the slow cooker. Kidney beans are particularly high in lectins, which can give you an upset stomach if they are not broken down by cooking. The slow cooker may not generate enough heat to do the job.
See also: Are Lectins in Beans Dangerous?
Reason #3: It won’t heat up your kitchen.
For some reason, I have always associated slow cookers with cold weather fare. I felt a little silly when someone pointed out to me that slow cookers are actually ideal for summer cooking because they don’t heat up your kitchen nearly as much as your oven or cooktop will. This realization has completely transformed my summer cooking habits! One of my favorite things to make at this time of year is a summer stew with fresh cranberry beans, butternut squash, and kale from my garden and sweet corn from the farmer’s market. I add a vegetarian chorizo but it would be great with real chorizo as well. Here's a link to my recipe.
Slow cookers are also extremely energy efficient. Even though they run for 8-10 hours, they use only about a third as much energy as it would take to cook the same dish in the oven for an hour.