Today I would like to take a quick minute to pay tribute to one of the saving graces of the kitchen, making working professionals everywhere happy to come home to put dinner on the table: The Crockpot (aka The Slow Cooker). This flexible wonder can save you oven space, and peace of mind while cooking all day long while not at home.
A good, quality crockpot is a fabulous investment, and one that I have gotten my money’s worth out of in just the first year of ownership. I’m actually on the verge of getting a smaller version as well, so that I can prep sauces and sides as well as the main dish while I’m out and about. My crockpot has a removable insert, which makes cleanup a dream (another option would be to use those “pot saver” inserts… I’m not super excited about cooking in plastic, so I usually skip that, but it may help you if you’ve got the non-removable type.
My Cup Is Full has a growing list of crockpot recipes, that you can find here. Here are my tips for successful crockpot cooking:
- Fill it up, but not too much! For your crockpot to cook well, you want the pot to be filled at least 50% of the way and no more than 80%.
- Leave the Lid! Resist the urge to check the food every 30 minutes… Every time you take off the lid, you lose precious heat and dramatically increase the amount of time you will need to continue cooking it.
- Read the recipe. A common mistake (AKA one I and my loved ones have made in the past) is not catching that little word “defrosted” in the ingredient list next to 1 bag frozen “fill-in-the-blank” … If you skip the defrosting step with veggies or the like, it will need to cook for much longer than the recipe calls for, and this is not something I would ever recommend doing with frozen meat, as a crockpot leaves the meat in the bacteria-danger-zone for too long if put in frozen.
- Go light on the liquid. Unlike in the oven (a very drying environment), the crockpot is a very wet one, and so when cooking large pieces of meat, you don’t necessarily have to cover anything with broth or water (unless you’re making a soup, obviously)… For a whole chicken or a couple pork tenderloins, you can get by with only a 1/4 to 1 cup of water added in.
- Consider extra prep-work for flavor. For a similar reason as the tip above, you also lose flavor because the crockpot is not as dry as an oven, your veggies and meats will not brown in a crockpot, which means flavors lost. To counteract this lack of extra flavor, many recipes rely on sodium (such as packets of taco seasoning, etc). To avoid sending your salt intake sky-high, consider browning your meat and veggies quickly in a very hot pan with some oil just to get color (aka flavor) on the outside of your ingredients before leaving them to cook through in the crockpot.