A slow cooker, otherwise known as a “crock pot,” is a wonderful implement for a busy cook. Slow cookers are great because absolutely anyone can assemble recipe ingredients, turn the knob, and forget about preparation for several hours. Even those who don’t work outside the home and have more time to cook, find slow cookers beneficial. Besides making meals easier to prepare, slow cookers make foods more flavorful and incredibly tender – especially meats.
When searching for the perfect slow cooker, look for one that meets or exceeds capacity requirements for your family. A 6 to a 6.5-quart slow cooker is ideal for a family of six or seven. A 4 to a 5.5-quart slow cooker is perfect for a family of four or five. Slow cookers with a 1.5 quart capacity are just right for making dips and sauces. It’s obviously wiser to choose a slow cooker that’s too large rather than one that isn’t large enough. Keep in mind that slow cookers are great for pot luck dinners or family gatherings, so purchase one with a large capacity if you intend on using it for entertaining purposes.
Oval, Round, or Rectangular?
After deciding the capacity that will adequately meet your needs, it’s time to consider the shape of the slow cooker. Rectangular shaped slow cookers are great for making slow-cooked casseroles or shallow roasts. Typical rectangular shaped slow cookers are comparable in size to nine by 12-inch baking pans. A round slow cooker is ideal for soups, stews, casseroles, and round roasts or chicken. On the other hand, oddly shaped or larger rectangular shaped cuts of meat sometimes don’t fit in a round slow cooker without being modified first. Oval shaped slow cookers may be the best choice because they accommodate a wide variety of food shapes and sizes. Rectangular shaped roasts and large stewing hens fit nicely in an oval shaped slow cooker.
If you don’t want to take the time to thaw meat before putting in the slow cooker, you don’t have to. Frozen foods can be safely slow cooked as long as water is added to the crock. Before placing frozen food in the slow cooker, add enough water to adequately cover the bottom – at least one cup. This will help prevent a rapid temperature change which can cause the stoneware to crack. Never preheat a slow cooker before adding cold food. Adding cold or frozen food to a warm slow cooker may cause it to develop fine cracks or even shatter.
Food safety experts recommend cooking food until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Beef prepared in a slow cooker generally reaches a core temperature of 170 degrees Fahrenheit, and poultry generally reaches a core temperature of 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping the lid on the slow cooker during the cooking process will help foods heat up quicker and help retain safe internal temperatures. If condensation prevents viewing the contents of the slow cooker, spin the lid to move the beads of water. Lifting the lid extends cooking time as much as a half hour, so don’t be tempted to take off the lid until the food is obviously hot and simmering. Use a meat thermometer to ensure the food has reached a safe internal temperature before ending the cooking process.
Helpful Hints, Tips, and Ideas
Slow cookers generate a lot of liquid and therefore don’t enable meats to brown as it would otherwise. If you want meat to be brown, sear it in a hot skillet with a little vegetable oil, before placing it in the slow cooker. Another way to give meat a lovely brown color is with a browning and seasoning sauce. Besides making meat appear brown, these sauces also give the meat additional flavor and pizzaz.
Raw vegetables in a slow cooker generally take longer to become tender, so they should be cut into thin pieces and placed beneath the meat. Putting the vegetables in the bottom of the slow cooker will allow them to simmer in the juices of the meat so they stay moist and flavorful. If you forget to add vegetables to the slow cooker or are limited on time, you can add canned precooked vegetables just before the meat is done. Simply drain vegetables of your choice, and place them on top of the meat during the last hour of preparation.
Make a deliciously easy pot roast dinner by fully cooking a roast in your slow cooker along with instant onion soup mix, potatoes, and carrots. Place thinly sliced potatoes and carrots in the bottom of the slow cooker. Prepare the instant onion soup mix according to package directions, and add enough to cover the bottom third of the slow cooker. Top the meat with fresh sliced onions if desired. Let it simmer all day long, and you’ll have succulent perfectly seasoned pot roast and vegetables for the evening meal.
Treat your family to delicious, easy-to-prepare Italian beef sandwiches. Prepare a roast in your slow cooker until it becomes fork tender and is falling apart. Turn off the slow cooker, and place the fully cooked meat in a nine by 13-inch pan. Shred the meat into bite side pieces using two forks. Drain the liquid, and return the meat to the slow cooker. Add enough beef broth to cover the meat and keep it moist. Drain and mix in an 8-ounce jar of either hot or mild banana pepper rings. Serve the meat on crusty rolls or Italian bread.
Many people are under the impression that slow cookers are difficult to clean. If a slow cooker has a removable crock, it is just as easy to clean as any other kitchen pan. After the crock has completely cooled, add a little dishwashing liquid, about a tablespoon of dishwasher soap, and hot water. Let it soak for at least a half hour, and any stuck on food will usually come right off. Even if you don’t own a dishwasher, automatic dishwasher detergent is good to keep on hand. It safely loosens stuck on food with very little effort. Make sure the unit is unplugged, and finish clean-up by wiping and rinsing the inside and outside of the slow cooker with a dishcloth or non-abrasive kitchen sponge.