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The Joys of an Unwatched Pot: Slow-Cooker Recipes and Tips

By Alice K. Thompson, September 22, 2015  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Alice K. Thompson

Slow Cooker White Chili

Slow Cooker White Chili

“Convenient” may be the word most often associated with slow cookers, but “creative” should be right up there, too. Sure, it simmers and bubbles while we work, play or sleep, but I no longer look at it as a one-trick pony.

Here’s my advice on the basics, plus some suggestions for working it deliciously (and inventively!) into your everyday cooking.

Slow Cooker Lentil Stew with Polenta

Slow Cooker Lentil Stew with Polenta

Fast Facts for Slow Meals

Lower is usually better. If you have a choice between using your cooker’s low setting or high setting, you should generally opt for low. Most cookers heat more evenly on low, and most foods will be tastier with longer cooking. But there are many exceptions, so let your recipes and your schedule be the ultimate guide.

Browning first adds flavor. Many recipes suggest you brown meats or vegetables in a separate skillet before adding them to the slow cooker. While not strictly necessary, this will add a depth of flavor that makes it worth the time.

Never put frozen food into the cooker. Icy meats or vegetables can cause a dish to remain at an unsafe temperature long enough for harmful bacteria to grow, so always thaw frozen foods first.

Watch the fat. You’ll get better results with minimal amounts of fats. Most slow-cooker recipes call for little or no added fat (that’s a healthy bonus!), and you should also trim meats as well as possible before adding them to the slow cooker. If you brown meats before adding them, pour off any excess fat first. 

Don’t add excess liquid. There’s virtually no evaporation during slow-cooking, so even if your dish seems dry in the beginning it will accumulate juices during cooking.

Stirring isn’t necessary. Leaving the cooker closed throughout the cooking process is important for most recipes; stirring isn’t usually needed and may unnecessarily increase the cooking time.


Slow Cooker Cinnamon Pot Roast

Slow Cooker Cinnamon Pot Roast

6 Reasons to Plug In

Make the Most of Bargain Beef. Slow cooking is my tenderizer of choice for inexpensive cuts like chuck, round, shin and more. Think beyond stews and chili by trying a recipe like our Slow-Cooker Cinnamon Pot Roast that gives you luscious, carvable meat.

Healthy Gets More Delicious. Many of the leanest and healthiest meals can be made in a cooker for super flavor with little or no added fat. It’s a terrific way to cook heart-healthy foods like lentils in our Slow Cooker Lentil Stew with Polenta, or try it for veggie-packed soups like Borscht with Cabbage and Potatoes.

It’s a Great Option for Young Cooks. Got teens who’d like to take charge of dinner once or twice a week? Slow-cooker recipes are ideal. Slow-cooking is relatively safe, and if cooked on “high,” most recipes will be ready by dinnertime if started after school. This Chicken and Apple stew requires minimal and cooks in around 3 1/2 hours.

It’s the Best for Casual Entertaining. Everything can be cooked and served (always hot!) from the same pot, so you never have to worry about scorching or reheating. Relax and watch the game with Slow Cooker White Chili or enjoy an easy gathering with Sausage and Shrimp Gumbo.

It’s Not Just For Dinner. Slow-cooker recipes started the night before can be just the ticket for busy mornings. Work more whole grains into your day with breakfasts like our Slow Cooker Honey-Vanilla Multigrain Porridge.

Homemade Stock Is Easier than Ever. It’s simple to convert your favorite stock recipe for slow cooking: Decrease the water used by about 20 percent, make sure you don’t fill the cooker more than 2/3 full, cover and cook on low for about 8 hours. Give our Golden Chicken Broth a whirl, or try our ultimately delicious vegan Easy Mushroom Broth.

Easy Mushroom Broth

Easy Mushroom Broth

How do you use your slow cooker? Share your tips and time-saving suggestions in the comments section below.

Originally published October 15, 2013. 

Category: Food & Recipes




claas_53 says ...
I have a pork hock that I wont slow cook to make stock from, would you take all the fat of first ?.
10/15/2013 10:58:36 AM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@CLAAS_53 - If you're making a stock it would be a little nicer to remove the fat beforehand. Otherwise you might have the urge to do a lot of skimming after the stock is done. It's really okay either way but overall it would alter the aesthetic of the broth in the end.
10/15/2013 3:31:19 PM CDT
Beth says ...
thanks I needed this! Tried to view the sausauge and shrimp gumbo but getting error message. Can you help?
10/16/2013 1:55:51 PM CDT
Laurie says ...
I don't know why I never thought of making chicken broth in my slow cooker! Now I won't need to clean drips and coil-over residue off of my glass cooktop (which was always so annoying).
10/16/2013 1:57:02 PM CDT
bradma says ...
I live alone and would like some ideas on smaller portions. My freezer gets filled up fast with larger meals! I have a small and a large slowcooker so ideas for the small one would be welcome. I love vegetarian low-fat choices, and a few with grass-fed beef and chicken thighs.
10/16/2013 2:06:01 PM CDT
jjl80922 says ...
I solved most of my issues by getting a combination slow/pressure cooker, Especially for a Yankee Pot Roast, Stroganoff or Ribs, I can brown and cook in the same unit. It does not waste the heat from browning, just push the button and it adjusts the temperature. Between that and the electric rotisserie, my stove is now a clock.
10/16/2013 2:33:12 PM CDT
Lauren says ...
Sausage and shrimp gumbo sounds amazing, but I can't get the link to work! Can you re-link? Thanks!
10/16/2013 3:25:09 PM CDT
judi384 says ...
These tips will help me get over my 'crock-pot' cooking phobia. Thanks.
10/16/2013 3:28:05 PM CDT
monica bell says ...
there was no recipe for Sausage and Shrimp gumbo cooked in a slow cooker when I clicked the link - can you please send it to me? thanks!!
10/16/2013 3:34:25 PM CDT
Sonya says ...
The chicken and apple stew recipe is missing! Can you add it please? Thank you!
10/16/2013 3:35:21 PM CDT
Nancy Konen says ...
I am looking for fall soup recipes for my crock pot.
10/16/2013 3:48:10 PM CDT
Josie Weaver says ...
I make mustard boneless short ribs that are excellent when cooked slowly and served with scalloped potatoes.
10/16/2013 3:52:45 PM CDT
Aura says ...
I have one, but rarely use due to my lack of knowledge! If you offer classes, would love to attend.
10/16/2013 4:09:58 PM CDT
hanksmom says ...
Hi! I'd love to see the recipe for the sausage and shrimp gumbo but the link doesn't seem to work. can you double check and perhaps post it again? Thanks!
10/16/2013 4:23:33 PM CDT
Bill Jackson says ...
The slow cooker recipe for sausage and gumbo will not open up Can you send a link please
10/16/2013 4:33:15 PM CDT
Anne says ...
Thanks for all the good slow cooker information. I appreciate it very much.
10/16/2013 4:52:13 PM CDT
Cheryl Creech says ...
As our family started to grow, I can't remember a time when we didn't have a crock pot/slow cooker as a part of our required appliances. This recipe was a part of the cookbook that came with the very first Rival Crock Pot I owned. My favorite was Stuffed Peppers. With clean peppers, topped, seeded, and deveined, I would fill them with a mixture of ground meat, onions, rice, and any other vegetable I could chop small enough and conceal in the mix so the kids couldn't identify it. With a layer of the meat mixture in the botton of the pot, I would set each pepper securely using carrot sticks to stabilize and keep them from falling over as they cooked. Using the lowest setting, the dish would slowly cook during the day so it was ready to serve with a green vegetable or salad. This recipe continues to be the topic of conversations when we get together or share cooking ideas.
10/16/2013 6:17:43 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
Hey Everyone! Thanks for letting us know about the broken links...they have been corrected. Enjoy!
10/16/2013 6:47:21 PM CDT
Fred Meyer says ...
I'm new to slow cookers. My girlfriend recommended it to cook sweet potatoes overnight. I tried them after 6 hours in the cooker. I found them to be mushy, compared to baked sweet potatoes, and not quite as flavorful. My [uneducated] guess is: That's because the starch content was converted to sugars at a lower temperature than when baking. Any insights and recommendations you can provide regarding slow-cooking sweet potatoes (and similar foodstuffs) would be most helpful. Thanks!
10/16/2013 7:00:08 PM CDT
Fred Meyer says ...
The article mentions porridge, and provides a recipe. I look forward to this opportunity to use (a) barley, which I just began incorporating into my meals, and (b) quinoa, which I haven't cooked before. Please say a word about what kind of a dish "porridge" is, generically. How is it typically eaten? At what meal of the day is it typically served? Can porridge include any of a wide range of ingredients? Thank you for your response!
10/16/2013 7:08:15 PM CDT
QueenB says ...
Love the recipes you've provided above, the seem healthily n will try them soon. Do you guys have a cookbook for slow cookers with healthy meals? If no could u recommend any? Thanks.
10/16/2013 8:07:12 PM CDT
Liz says ...
I love to make sauce in it. After years of the old fashioned way of browning and making a major mess, I put all the meat in raw starting with hot/sweet sausage & country spareribs, add my can of tomato sauce & paste, garlic, onions, basil, oregano then my raw meatballs. Cook on low 6-8 and voila! Delicious.
10/16/2013 9:55:36 PM CDT
jody kenyon says ...
I love the recipes you send me keep them coming!
10/17/2013 5:33:45 AM CDT
Amma says ...
I have never stopped using the Crock Pot I got when married in 1973. I have also bought a smaller one for meals for two. My favorite recipe is turkey thighs with barbecue sauce poured over them. Slow cooked they are wonderful, and turkey thighs or legs are usually a good bargain.
10/17/2013 6:45:27 AM CDT
Regina Grewen says ...
10/17/2013 8:04:11 AM CDT