Fall is in full effect, and so is the time for errands, errands and more errands! When it may seem nearly impossible to take a deep breath, let alone whip up a family meal, enter the slow cooker.
This nifty appliance is a fabulous timesaver for those who love a home cooked meal at the end of a tiring day. All that’s needed is a little prep work in the morning or the night before, and you’ll return to a house with a delicious, ready-to-eat dinner waiting for you.
Choosing a Slow Cooker
When looking at slow cookers, consider the size of your family. A 4- or 5-quart cooker is usually a good size for most recipes and families. Check for one with a removable ceramic crock, as they are much easier to clean. This option will also allow you to prep and assemble your meal directly in the crock the night before. Simply keep the prepped crock in the fridge overnight and place into the cooker in the morning!
Cleanup Tip: Once your meal is served, throw the ceramic crock into the dishwasher with Cascade Platinum Pacs. It scrubs away tough, 24-hour stuck-on food with no pre-wash needed!
Using Your Slow Cooker
Slow cookers are wonderful for making casseroles or meals you might normally prepare on the stovetop. There are, however, a few things to keep in mind when using your slow cooker for your favorite recipes:
- Vegetables take longer to cook, so place them in the slow cooker first
- Meat should be trimmed of fat and cut into smaller pieces. Additionally, poultry should have its skin completely removed
- Liquid should only be added in small quantities (about 1/2 cup at most) because the slow cooking process will produce a considerable amount of liquid on its own
- If you want to add pasta or instant rice, wait until the last 30 minutes of cooking time
- Add seasoning and herbs toward the end of cooking time, as slow cookers have a tendency to dilute flavors added early
- Keep the lid closed to avoid prolonging cooking times
Before you begin, the slow cooker should be approximately 2/3 full. Having too little can cause foods to dry out and even burn, while too much food can result in an overflow from the food expanding during cooking.
Also, be aware that slow cookers have a high and a low setting. The low setting takes twice as long as the high setting. High allows you to cook meals in, say, three to four hours. If you’ll be gone for a while, the low setting cooks in six to eight hours.
Test for Food Safety
Slow cookers are designed to cook food slow enough to remain unattended for several hours, but fast enough to keep food at a safe cooking temperature. Run this test at home to be sure your slow cooker is working at a safe temperature.
- Fill slow cooker with 2 quarts of lukewarm water
- Heat on low for eight hours
- Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the water. Do this quickly as the temperature can drop dramatically when the lid is removed
- The water temperature should be 185 degrees F
If the temperature of the water gets higher than 185 degrees, a meal cooked for eight hours without stirring would be overdone. Conversely, if the water temperature registers below 185 degrees, this could indicate that your slow cooker does not heat food to an adequate temperature, which could mean that there is potential for food safety problems.
Slow Cooker Recipes
Here are some tried-and-true slow cooker recipes that are sure to please your family, friends and dinner guests!