I have been using a slow cooker a lot more over the past year, and I really enjoy it. Slow cookers can be very helpful in allowing you to prepare a good meal even on an extra busy day. They are very energy efficient, too. I have learned several things about using slow cookers. Here are some tips:
1. Fill your slow cooker at least half full for the best cooking results. Food tends to overcook if the pot is less than half full.
2. You can use cheaper cuts of meat in a slow cooker. The slow, moist cooking method results in tender meat, even from tougher cuts. I’m not saying you can cook a brick in there, but it doesn’t have to be prime rib, either.
3. Remember that liquids do not “cook down” in a slow cooker, so don’t add too much liquid.
4. One hour on high equals 2 hours on low. You can use this tip to adjust your cooking time. For example, if I put a meal in the cooker at 11:00, and I want to have supper at 6:00, I have 7 hours of cooking time. If the recipe calls for 8 hours on low, I would cook it for one hour on high, then 6 hours on low.
5. You can overcook food in the slow cooker. I have rarely found that anything actually needs to cook all day, as some recipes recommend. You will just have to experiment with your recipes and your slow cooker to see how long they really need. I have been told that newer cookers are hotter than older ones, so that may account for the discrepancy in recommended cooking times.
6. Do not lift the lid…at least not very often! Lifting the lid allows the heat to escape, and it takes a slow cooker about 20 minutes to recover. However, I would rather lift the lid occasionally than overcook my food. I actually burned ham in a slow cooker once by cooking it according to a recipe’s recommended time and not checking it. I quickly lift the lid and check to avoid this problem, but usually only once or twice. (And I fuss at anyone else who lifts my lid!)
7. Use slow cooker liners for easy clean up. I buy the Reynolds slow cooker liners, and they are wonderful. I get them for around $2 for a box of 4. The time and soaking water that I save is worth the 50 cents per meal to me.
I’m sure there are many other things that more experienced cooks would think of, but these are a few things that have helped me. If you don’t use a slow cooker much, I suggest giving it a try. After you accumulate some good recipes, you’ll be hooked!