Slow cookers are having a renaissance right now, as more and more busy home cooks look for simple ways to prepare healthy and delicious meals in less time. The days when the Crock-Pot would only come out a few times a year for chili or stew are long gone. As the slow cooker moves from a dusty back shelf to front and center on the kitchen counter, home cooks everywhere are finding that this set-it-and-forget-it method of cooking consistently produces good results — and even better results if you follow a few expert tips.
Slow-cooking expert Stephanie O’Dea, New York Times bestselling author of 365 Slow Cooker Suppers. says that we shouldn’t be afraid to prepare a wide variety of foods in the slow cooker; meats, vegetables, and desserts can all be cooked this way. “Fish cooks perfectly in a foil or parchment packet on high for two hours, and the slow cooker bakes potatoes easily — up to 12 at a time,” says O’Dea. “You can also make falafel, crème brûlée, cheesecake, yogurt, and tapioca pudding!”
Plus, your slow cooker can save you money. According to Franco Robazetti, executive chef of Jersey City’s famous Zeppelin Hall Biergarten, “Slow cookers allow meat to be cooked at a low temperature for a long period of time, which breaks down connective tissues and leaves you with tender meat that just falls right off the bone. That means you can cook with cheaper cuts, since they will taste amazing anyway.”
Before you start experimenting with slow cooker cheesecake or even a hearty beef stew, there are a few tips and tricks to know (there’s nothing worse than coming home after hours of daydreaming about perfectly cooked meat to find dry, stringy beef or a greasy mess!). We’ve consulted the pros, and gathered their top suggestions for a great dish every time.
Don’t Drown Your Meat
According to Stephanie O’Dea, covering your meat with liquid is “old school,” and results in bland, watery flavors. Instead, focus on seasoning meat really well, and then add just a half cup of broth or water for a large beef roast. “Pork butts and whole chickens release so much liquid on their own that you don't need to add any additional liquid; instead just season the meat and place into the pot,” says O’Dea.
Add Dairy Last
If your recipe calls for dairy, hold off on adding it until the last half hour of cooking. According to Jane Nachbor, director of party strategy for tastefullysimple.com, cooking dairy too long at low temperatures may cause it to curdle, and no one wants to have a nice dinner spoiled by the taste of sour milk.