Since the invention of the original Crock-Pot® in the 1970s, the “crockpot” moniker has become an icon for any slow cooker. They are programmable and feature multiple time and temperature settings, countdown timers, built-in thermometers and automatic temperature shifts for warming up a meal by the time you get home. There are slow cooker sizes and settings to fit your family’s individual needs.
When purchasing, consider the shape as well as size. One money-saving benefit of the slow cooker process is that tougher, less expensive meats become meltingly tender and juicy with slow, moist heat. When it comes to shape, larger roasts and whole chickens fit better and cook more evenly when placed in an oval-shaped slow cooker.
You can easily adjust your favorite oven or stovetop recipe for a crockpot. Regardless of yield, if your dish normally cooks in 15 to 30 minutes, you can count on 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours cooking in a crockpot on High power or 4 to 6 hours on Low. If it takes 35 to 45 minutes, you should allow 2 to 3 hours on High power or 6 to 8 hours on Low. Main dishes like roasts and stews that cook up to 3 hours will take 4 to 5 hours on High or more than 8 hours on Low. Just make sure to read the timing tips on your specific slow cooker.
Other tips for successful recipe conversion:
- To eliminate excess fat, remove the skin from poultry and trim excess fat from meats before cooking. Pre-brown meats, and drain before adding to the crockpot, especially ground meats.
- Brown chops and roasts to caramelize the outsides for a richer flavor and attractive appearance.
- Vegetables, especially roots like potatoes, rutabagas, and carrots, cook more slowly than meats, so cut pieces uniformly and add them at the beginning. (It can take 8 to 10 hours on Low for a “baked” potato to cook until tender!)
- Most stews, soups and other braised dishes require less liquid. If you end up with too much, pour it into a saucepan and reduce it until flavorful and thickened. If you need more liquid, it can be added at the end of the cooking time.
- Cheese, milk, cream and other dairy products should be added toward the end of the cooking cycle.
- Uncooked rice requires standard liquid amounts for cooking. It cooks fast, so add it to the crockpot during the last hour of cooking on High or 2 hours on Low. It is better to cook the pasta separately and add it before serving.
- Most crockpot liners are removable, allowing you to fill it up a day before cooking. Remove the stone liner and assemble the casserole in it; cover and refrigerate until you are ready to cook.
- Spices tend to lose their power during long, slow cooking; be ready to re-season toward the end.