Amazing fact: 80% of the American population owns a slow cooker. It doesn’t get any easier than combining food in the morning and forgetting about it until dinner time…but not so fast. Start by understanding the basics so you can tweak recipes to suit your palate and dietary interests. Crock-Pot? Forever after to be known as one of the easiest ways to make affordable food healthfully.
Slow Cooker Or Crock-Pot?
Consider: A Volkswagen is a car, but a car is not necessarily a VW. Similarly, Crock-Pot is a brand name, but not all slow cookers are Crock-Pots. With a bona fide Crock-Pot, the heating unit is designed to allow a removable, easily cleanable insert to nest in the base. The heating element not only covers the bottom, but coils part way up the sides. By contrast, a slow cooker only heats from the bottom and varies more greatly in temperature. Its dial has a range of settings, whereas the Crock-Pot offers only low and high settings, and occasionally a warm option. In this article, I’ll be talking more specifically about Crock-Pots—note that slow cookers need more tending to avoid scorched food.
Analyzing Your Model.
Like with conventional ovens, Crock-Pot thermometers all differ slightly. Pinpoint yours by putting water into the cavity, turning it to low, and letting it work for 4 hours. Take the water’s temperature with your quick read thermometer. If it reads about 200 degrees, follow the guidelines below. Adapt cooking times for the over/under temperatures. You’ll get a feel for your unit quickly.
How To Adjust “Conventional Recipes” For A Crock-Pot.
Normally, a conventional recipe calls for either a simmer (as in for chili or stew) or oven time (let's say between 350 F and 375 F). If a chili would otherwise simmer for 30 minutes on a stove, set it for about 90 minutes on "high" in a crock pot. If a chicken should be roasting in an oven at 350 F for an hour, it'd sit in that crock pot on low for 8 or 9 hours. For a conventional recipe, reinterpret 200 F to mean “low” on the Crock-Pot, and 300 F to mean “high.” Here’s a chart with rules of thumb for “translating” more traditional recipes:
|Recipe Calls For||Interpret On “Low”||Interpret On “High”|
|15 to 30 min.||4 to 6 hrs.||90 min. to 2 hrs.|
|35 to 45 min.||6 to 10 hrs.||3 to 4 hrs.|
|50 min. to 3 hrs.||8 to 18 hrs.||4 to 6 hrs.|
Rules For Crock-Pot Cooking.
- Follow the advice I’ve given in the past on reinterpreting recipes and refer to the chart above.
- Resist taking off the Crock-Pot lid for a look or a stir. The penalty is 20 to 30 minutes added to cooking time each time you lift the lid.
- Vegetables cook more quickly than meat, so they should be closer to the heat source, at the bottom of the pot. Dense vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and root vegetables should be cut small and consistently, about ¾ inch for uniform cooking.
- Liquids can be reduced to an amount that just covers ingredients, since the opposite of evaporation is occurring. Liquid condenses on the lid and rains back into the mélange.
- Herbs can be added at the beginning of cooking, whereas spices should be added during the last hour of cooking.
- Meat may be browned on the stove before you add it to the Crock-Pot. And be sure to buy the tough cuts of meat for extra money in your pocket and tender results in the pot.
- Presoak dried beans overnight. Before adding to the Crock-Pot, the beans should be boiled for at least 10 minutes (in the case of kidney beans, this is for safety reasons). Add salt and acid near the end of crock pot cooking, as they “toughen” beans.
- Prevent cross-contamination by keeping raw meat and vegetables separated until they are actually ready to cook. It takes a couple of hours for the ingredients to reach a safe temperature.
- One of my favorite sites for Crock-Pot recipes is CrockPot365.