Make the best slow cooker meals even better with these tips I've learned over many years of slow cooking!
Slow Cooker Tips and Tricks
Have I mentioned lately I love my slow cooker (aka Mrs. Potts?) 🙂 Y'all know I do ~ seriously one of my favorite things ever to use in my kitchen.
If you don't use a slow cooker very often though, there are a few secrets you'll want to know before slow cooking to help the process go more smoothly. Here are the things I stick to when I slow cook . . .
1. A slow cooker and crock pot are the same thing.
Crock Pot is a specific brand of slow cooker, so if you find a recipes for a slow cooker or crockpot, they'll all work in your slow cooker (or crock pot.) 🙂
2. Find the right size slow cooker.
Slow cookers come in all different sizes, and depending on the size of your family you'll want to make sure you use the right size. I use a 6 quart slow cooker for our family for most recipes, but also have an 8-Qt Size for making larger recipes (I sometimes use it to cook 2 whole chickens at once.)
- A 4 Qt slow cooker is awesome for 2 people, or for keeping smaller dishes hot for parties or buffet-style dinners (i.e. meatballs, soup, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese)
- It's kind of nice to have a little baby slow cooker on hand as well – for keeping hot dips hot for Super Bowl Parties! This 8qt slow cooker comes with a little dipper included!
Depending on the size of your family, you'll want to get one that's big enough, but not too big so things cook correctly.
3. Pick the right cut of meat.
While I cook just about everything in the slow cooker, there are certain cuts of meat that seem to do better for me. Here are my “proven winners”:
- Beef shoulder roasts (also chuck roasts, but I think shoulder roasts tend to be less fatty)
- Boneless skinless chicken breast
- short ribs
- pork shoulder
- pork tenderloin
These usually get nice and tender without turning rubbery.
4. Plan ahead.
Be sure to plan slow cooker meals ahead of time, especially if you're heading out the door early in the morning.
Chop your veggies, set out your ingredients, and make sure to have your meat ready to go. If a recipe requires the meat to be pre-cooked, take care of that the night before too.
5. Most recipes that tell you to brown the meat ahead of time are okay without the extra browning step.
If you're in a hurry and a recipe (typically for pork or beef) tells you to brown the meat ahead of time, skip this step in a pinch. The recipe may be a little more flavorful if you have a few minutes to saute the meat, but most recipes will be fine even without that extra step.
6. Fill your slow cooker no more than 3/4 way full.
Also, you don't want your slow cooker too empty or the food will dry out, so make sure it's at least half full.
7. Know where the heat comes from.
The heat in your slow cooker comes from below the crockpot, so you want to place items that take longest to cook (typically veggies like potatoes and carrots) on the bottom.
8. Layer your ingredients.
Most recipes recommend putting veggies in the bottom before adding meat on top. Here's a general guideline:
- Layer root veggies (carrots, potatoes) first (make sure these and all veggies are cubed before adding to crockpot)
- Then add in other vegetables
- Next add in meat or poultry
- Lastly add on additional seasonings or sauces
9. Keep the lid on.
To keep the heat in and make sure your meal cooks properly, keep the lid on your slow cooker throughout the day.
10. Most crockpot recipes (other than soups) don't require much liquid.
It's easy to want to ad quite a bit of liquid to recipes, however because liquids don't evaporate easily in the slow cooker, most of the moisture cooked out of your meat will keep it moist. Add the recommended liquids in the recipe, but don't overdo it.
11. Newer slow cooker cook much more quickly than older models.
If you've purchased a slow cooker in the last few years, you'll notice it cooks much faster than an older version. If you get a new slow cooker, I recommend trying it out the first few times while you're at home to gauge how quickly it cooks.
(For example, my newer slow cooker easily cooks boneless, skinless chicken breast in four hours on low.)
12. As a rule, meat needs to be cooked to 140° or above.
- Poultry cooked to 180°
- Meat cooked to 165°
13. To prevent food from sticking to your slow cooker, spray with cooking spray prior to cooking.
I've also heard you can add bacon to the bottom of your slow cooker to prevent food from sticking and add extra flavor. I haven't tried it myself, but yum. 🙂
You can also purchase Reynolds Slow Cooker liners for a super simple cleanup option!
14. Many recipes can be changed to slow cooker recipes by changing the cooking times.
Typically, when cooking on the “low” setting on your slow cooker it should be cooking around 200°, and the “high” setting cooks around 300°.
Here's a general idea of how to swap things out . . .
15. Some things don't cook well in the slow cooker.
While you can cook many (many) things in the slow cooker, not everything will work. Here are a few things I generally avoid cooking in Mrs. Potts.
- pasta – you definitely CAN cook pasta in a slow cooker, but it's pretty easy to overcook it and end up with mush. Instead cook on stove top and add it to the crock pot for the last 30 minutes of cooking if you're making a recipe that requires cooked pasta (note – I have made macaroni and cheese in the slow cooker, I still cook the pasta ahead of time, and the entire recipe cooks for just 2 hours)
- tender veggies (think peas and asparagus)
- most dairy products – if a recipe calls for dairy, make sure to add it in add the end of the cooking time to keep it from curdling
Looking for a great slow cooker? Here are a few I recommend . . .
- Best Slow Cooker Roast
- Slow Cooked Italian Beef Sliders
- Slow Cooked Chicken & Dumplings
- Slow Cooked Italian Beef
- Slow Cooked French Dip Sliders
- Slow Cooked Chicken Tortilla Soup
- Slow Cooked Creamy Italian Chicken
- Ranch House Slow Cooked Pork Chops
- Slow Cooked Chicken & Dressing
- Rotisserie Style Chicken
- Open Faced Sirloin Sandwich
- Perfect Slow Cooked Pot Roast
- How To Cook Taco Meat in the Slow Cooker
- Slow Cooker Broccoli Cheese Soup
- Slow Cooker Chicken Cacciatore
- Simple Slow Cooker Roast
Can't get enough of your slow cooker? Here are 5 Reasons You Need to Use Your Slow Cooker Every Single Week + a few more recipes to get you started.
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