How To Use A Slow-Cooker: And Why I’m Obsessed!

Slow-cooker imageI’ve been using a simple slow cooker for several years now. It’s become hands-down my favorite way to cook- filling my home with incredible smells and leaving me with leftovers to freeze for a few weeks later. Slow cooker meals are the epitome of fall and winter eating: warm, comforting meals that help you to eat seasonally (and locally), since meat and root vegetables are perfectly suited to this method. In looking over a few online forums, I realized that there are a lot of people who aren’t sure how to use one. Read below for FAQ’s and links to a few of my favorite recipes.

What is the difference between a slow cooker and a crock pot?
None! Crock-Pot is just one brand of slow cooker.

What is the general idea?
A slow cooker is an electric appliance with three parts: the ceramic insert (the food goes in here), a glass lid, and a metal base which has the heating element. Most slow cooker recipes involve minimal prep work: chopping vegetables, measuring out spices, sometimes searing meat. The most commonly cooked items are soups/stews and large cuts of meat (roasts and whole chickens), but they are also great for breakfast items like big batches of steel cut oats (which you can cook overnight!). The ingredients are thrown into the slow cooker and cooked at a very low temperature for anywhere from 4-12 hours, depending on the recipe (and how much time you have). This method leads to incredibly tender, fall off the bone meat (great for the tougher cuts of meat with more tendons such as short ribs or pork shank) and perfectly cooked vegetables- the flavors of all the ingredients slowly marry and the result is incredible. The best part is that you just throw everything into the slow cooker in the morning, leave for work, and come home at night with a hot meal waiting.

What features should I look for when choosing a slow cooker?

First, decide on a size. How many people will you usually be feeding?  If you have a small household (1-2 people), a 3-4 Quart Slow cooker is fine. If you are normally feeding 4-5 people, and like having leftovers, you may want a larger version.

Second, decide on a shape. Round slow cookers are best for soups and stews, but if you’ll be cooking large cuts of meat an oval shape is better (and still works well for soups and stews).

Third, decide which bells and whistles you’d like. Slow cookers have a few extra options. A timer is one that I recommend because after the set time is up, it switches over to warm setting. This way, your food doesn’t get overcooked if the recipe only takes 6 hours but you’ll be at work for 8 hours.

Another fancy option is called the browning function. It gives you the ability to sear meat in the insert, rather than having to transfer over from another pan. If you will be making lots of stews with chunks of beef or lamb, this will be useful.

A Few of My Favorite Recipes:

Mexican Pulled Pork– the best pulled pork I’ve ever had for tacos. Just top with a little avocado, onion, cilantro and a dash of hot sauce. You will thank me.

Curried Vegetable and Chickpea Stew– Unless you have a very large slow cooker, cut this recipe in half. I used just a few handfuls of chickpeas, and added 1 lb of pastured beef stew chunks (sprinkled with salt and pepper and seared first). To die for!