You bought a slow cooker because you want perfect meals without fuss. Our insider advice covers everything from choosing meat to cleaning up, and will get you slow cooking in pro style.
1. Choose the Right Cut of Meat
Braising and stewing meat, like the beef chuck in our Sicilian-Style Beef Stew, pork shoulder, and chicken thighs work best. Slow cookers excel at transforming these tougher, inexpensive cuts into tender bites. Steer clear of pricier, lean meats such as filet mignon, tenderloin, and chicken breast, which turn stringy in the slow cooker.
Pro Tip: Buy meat with the bone-in, it adds flavor and body.
2. Get a Head Start
Cooking is as easy as pressing a button if you prep and refrigerate ingredients the night before. Either combine them in an airtight container and scrape into the insert to cook or twist them shut in a slow cooker liner which you slid over the insert to cook or refrigerate them directly in the insert and increase cooking time 60 to 90 minutes to allow the insert to heat up too.
3. Don't Skip Browning
There's more to slow cooking than throwing the ingredients into the slow cooker. Don't skip; browning the meat; this adds rich caramelized flavor and makes the difference between a good dish and an amazing one.
4. Avoid a Messy Clean Up
Minimize mess by lightly greasing the insert with oil before adding ingredients. Or make clean up a breeze by using a Reynolds KITCHENS TM Slow Cooker Liner, just remove and discard the liner after serving.
5. Use Just Enough Liquid
Slow cooker recipes use about half the amount of liquid required for other cooking methods, since the lid seals moisture in. Ingredients that absorb liquid are exceptions, such as dried beans, rice, and pasta. Follow the directions in the slow cooker recipe and don't worry if it doesn't seem like enough liquid, it probably is; in Slow-Cooker Marmalade-and-Vinegar Pork recipe, 1/4 cup vinegar is the only liquid added but the finished dish has a delicious sauce.
Pro tip: If the final sauce is watery, pour or scrape it into a saucepan and boil until thickened.
6. Adjust the Volume
Considering doubling or halving a recipe? Remember that your slow cooker should be at least one-half full and no more than two-thirds to prevent burning while ensuring that all the food cooks through.
7. Know When to Add Ingredients
Not all ingredients are added in step one; stir in pasta, grains, and delicate vegetables like peas, in the last hour of cooking. The food processor-chutney for Slow-Cooker Cilantro-Chutney Chicken, is added to the dish 30 minutes before it finishes cooking. Add dairy products at the end, they are not suited to long slow heat. And zesty ingredients, like herbs and vinegar, or crunchy toppings, like the peanuts in the cilantro-chutney chicken recipe, should be added just before serving.
8. Embrace the 'Set It and Forget It' Mentality
Curious what's happening under that lid? Trust the process and don't peak. The loss of slowly built up heat can add up to 30 minutes to the overall cooking time. Exception: In the last hour it's okay to stir ingredients in. Be speedy and don't forget to re-cover.
9. Clean Well
Wash the insert with soap and a sponge or place it in the dishwasher, if your model is dishwasher safe. For baked on messes, fill the insert with water, add some baking soda and vinegar, and cook on low for a few hours. Then scrub the loosened bits off and clean.