Slow cookers have a reputation as an appliance where you make huge batches of chili or stew for a tailgate or on a night when you have to take your kids to hockey, but slow cookers can be an invaluable tool for everyday meals, dishes for entertaining and even bread baking.
What is a Slow Cooker?
A Slow cooker is a very simple appliance that consists of a few parts: A heating element, a removable ceramic vessel, and a lid. Usually there are a few temperature settings on a slow cooker, and some very expensive models are programmable, and can even connect to smart phones. (It’s important to know that you don’t need those accessories to create great dishes, though.)
Slow Cookers cook at a minimal temperature for long periods of time, which has strategic advantages:
- You can set up your slow cooker in the morning and return to a fully cooked meal
- You can cook with tougher, cheaper cuts of meat, because the long cooking time and low temperature will ensure the meat is tender
- You can develop deep flavors that only time can help you develop, but aren’t easily done in an oven or on a stovetop
Slow Cookers can’t do everything, however, and it’s important you realize its limitations:
- Slow Cookers cannot brown meat
- Slow Cookers cannot reduce liquid without taking the lid off for a very long time (not recommended)
- Slow cookers don’t work well on very lean cuts of meat due to the length of time required to get the meat to temperature.
How to Get Started With a Crock Pot
The easiest dish to start on with a crock pot is a pot roast (beef, pork, or fatty game). This will allow you to get a sense of how to budget your time for cooking, when to figure out the doneness of the meat, and to get used to the steps involved in prepping a Slow Cooker meal.
To Prep a Pot Roast
Dry brine a cut of meat for at least an hour in a thin layer of kosher salt. Cut up aromatic vegetables (onions, garlic, and shallots) into 1.5 inch sized pieces (leave garlic whole.) Cut up root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, sweet potatoes, etc) into 3 inch pieces. Place all vegetables in the bottom of the Slow Cooker. In a hot frying pan, brown meat on all sides to desired doneness (remember, the meat will not brown any more in the Slow Cooker. Place meat on top of vegetables and add stock to the bottom of the Slow Cooker, about 1 inch from the bottom of the Slow Cooker. Add any other spices to the stock. Put in a Slow Cooker on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-6 hours, depending on your manufacturer’s guidelines.
It’s very simple to make great meals in Slow Cookers with minimal prep. You just need to know the rules and have an appetite for experimentation.