Slow cookers are the greatest invention of all time. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but there really is no better way to prepare delicious, flavorful meals with so little effort.
In addition, with a slow cooker, you can save money by buying cheaper cuts of meat because when cooked over 6-8 hours they will become tender and release their rich flavors.
Choosing a Slow Cooker
There are many styles and sizes of slow cookers available today. They range in size from very small, which hold 1 1/2 to 2 quarts, to large, which hold up to 7 quarts. The most versatile and common size for a slow cooker is a 6-quart model and that is the size used for the recipes in this book. However, they can be adapted to a smaller or larger cooker size.
They come in variety of shapes as well—round, oval, even rectangular. An oval shape is recommended over a round one, because they tend to have less hot spots.
Some slow cooker models feature a stove top safe insert, and if you are in the market for a new slow cooker then it is highly recommended that you choose this option. Many recipes require that you saute or brown the meats and vegetables before adding them to the slow cooker and with these models there is no need to dirty another pan.
Another feature to look for is program ability. While manual slow cookers are cheaper, the ability to automatically switch to warm after a certain period of time can be a big plus if you work long days and don’t want to come home and find an overcooked meal waiting for you.
Tips for Using Your Slow Cooker
Do not overfill your slow cooker. Only fill about two-thirds full.
Do not add frozen ingredients directly to slow cooker. This can cause food to spend too much time in the food safety “danger zone” and potentially increase the chances of food- borne illnesses. Always thaw ingredients before adding to slow cooker.
Cook meat and poultry to the FDA minimum internal temperature recommendations
(see table). Use an instant-read thermometer to test done sens.
Do not lift cover while cooking more than absolutely necessary. Doing so will cause the temperature to drop to potentially unsafe levels.
Never reheat foods using the slow cooker.
Brown meats before adding to slow cooker. Although it is nice to just throw all the ingredients in the slow cooker and let it cook, the majority of recipes will be enhanced by first browning the meats on the stove top. Taking this extra step will lead to more flavorful dishes.
Sauteing onions and garlic in oil for a couple of minutes before adding them to the slow cooker will likewise increase the richness and flavor of the dish.
Choose the right cut of meat. Many people believe that the leanest cuts of meat are the best. However, when cooking in the slow cooker the opposite is true. When lean meats are cooked for a long time they can end up dry and tough. This is why slow cookers are ideal for more inexpensive, tougher, and fattier cuts of meat. The slow cooking breaks them down and leaves a tender, juicy piece of meat.
Don’t add too much liquid. Since you are cooking with the lid on, very little liquid will evaporate during cooking. If too much liquid is added, you will have a thin, watery sauce.