October is the official kick-off to the Crock Pot® season, but it can be used any time of year. A slow cooker helps you create delicious homemade meals with the freedom and convenience of cooking without being in the kitchen. As you plan your dishes, use these tips for flavorful and healthier slow cooker meals.
- Prep ingredients the night before. Cover and refrigerate the prepped food. In the morning, layer the ingredients in the slow cooker and turn on the heat. If you cooker has a timer, make sure to set that as well.
- Thaw frozen meat before cooking. Since the slow cooking process brings fresh or thawed meat up to temperature at a slow rate, frozen meat placed in the cooker hovers within the safety danger zone for too long, putting you and others who eat it at risk.
- Trim extra fat from meats and poultry before cooking. Choose lean cuts of beef (sirloin, round steak, and lean ground beef), pork (tenderloin and loin chops) and chicken or turkey (tenderloin, lean ground turkey or chicken, and breast) most often. For more flavor and color, brown poultry/meats before adding to the slow cooker.
- Cut meat and vegetables into uniform sized pieces. Food that is similar in size will cook at the same time. When cooking large cuts of meat, leave the vegetables in large chunks to avoid overcooking.
- Place root vegetables at the bottom of the slow cooker. Use root vegetables like beets, carrots, potatoes, parsnips and turnips. Then layer the meat and remaining ingredients.
- Use legumes for soups, stews or casseroles. Legumes, such as dried beans, split peas, and lentils are a great source of fiber and plant-based protein. Dried beans should always be soaked before adding to the slow cooker. Lentils and split peas do not need to be soaked. Choose reduced sodium canned beans or rinse and drain to lower sodium by 40 percent.
- Experiment with high fiber whole grains. Try barley, millet, quinoa, wild rice, farro or whole grain pastas.
- Don’t overfill. A slow cooker must be at least half full and no more than three-quarters full. Be sure to use a cooker that’s within the size range specified in the recipe so the food cooks to the right doneness within the recipe’s given cooking time.
- Perk up flavors. For a burst of flavor, add a squeeze of fresh lime/lemon juice, fresh chopped herbs, spicy peppers (jalapeño or chipotle peppers) or hot sauces (chili garlic sauce or sriracha) after you finish cooking the dish.
Source: Adapted from Taste of Home
Before you start cooking, it’s important to note the appropriate cook times for different meats. It varies depending on fat content of the meat as well as other ingredients added to dish including liquid, size of meat cubes, type of vegetable, size of vegetable dice and how high slow cooker is filled.
Typical slow cooker food loads and cook times
* Pork butt, pork shoulder
** Whole chicken, Bone-in turkey breast
*** If fish is stirred in after Crock-Pot® Slow Cooker has been fully heated to stabilization/simmer point, it will cook within 15-30 minutes.
Source: Adapted from crock-pot.com
Cleaning your slow cooker
Always turn your slow cooker off and unplug it from the electrical outlet. Let the stoneware cool to room temperature so it doesn’t crack when it comes in contact with water. You can remove the stoneware and wash it in the dishwasher or with hot soapy water. Don’t use abrasive cleaners or scouring pads; they can damage the surface, allowing it to stain. A cloth, sponge or rubber spatula will usually remove any residue. To remove water spots and other stains, use a non-abrasive cleaner or vinegar. If food sticks to the cooker, fill the stoneware with warm water and let it stand before you wash it. For fast, easy cleanup with no soaking or scrubbing, use a slow cooker liner.