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

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. 

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46 comments

Comments

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 ?.

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.

Beth says …

thanks I needed this! Tried to view the sausauge and shrimp gumbo but getting error message. Can you help?

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).

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.

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.

Lauren says …

Sausage and shrimp gumbo sounds amazing, but I can't get the link to work! Can you re-link? Thanks!

judi384 says …

These tips will help me get over my 'crock-pot' cooking phobia. Thanks.

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!!

Sonya says …

The chicken and apple stew recipe is missing! Can you add it please? Thank you!

Nancy Konen says …

I am looking for fall soup recipes for my crock pot.

Josie Weaver says …

I make mustard boneless short ribs that are excellent when cooked slowly and served with scalloped potatoes.

Aura says …

I have one, but rarely use due to my lack of knowledge! If you offer classes, would love to attend.

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!

Bill Jackson says …

The slow cooker recipe for sausage and gumbo will not open up Can you send a link please

Anne says …

Thanks for all the good slow cooker information. I appreciate it very much.

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.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

Hey Everyone! Thanks for letting us know about the broken links...they have been corrected. Enjoy!

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!

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!

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.

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.

jody kenyon says …

I love the recipes you send me keep them coming!

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.

Regina Grewen says …

None

momowawa says …

tartara bel kamoun, the need kamoun ou the need couscous ou the need chiken a ben salade tomamato good goog veri good

Mare Hull says …

In the summertime it is great for cooking corn on the cob. I use my largest slow cooker. Clean the corn. Wrap in aluminum foil. Turn cooker on high. Turn timer to two hours. Done! Perfectly cooked. Do not add water!.

George Stateson says …

Like a lot of people, I commute to&from work with an hour lunch so... basically I'm away for 11 hours. There is a desperate need for LONG cooking recipes (11-12 hours). The only two I know are pot roast and pulled pork. Can you point me towards any others (11+ hours)? Thanks!

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@GEORGE - I checked with our recipe team and unfortunately they are not aware of any recipes in our database that are longer than 9 hours. If you find any, we'd love to check them out!

Behney says …

I put in 5 small pork cutlets with barbecue sauce and water and let it cook for 8 hours. Question, after removing the cutlets can I use the liquid that is left in the pot again? I always throw it away but was thinking of putting some chicken in and cooking that up to freeze for meals later.

karen says …

Response to George Stateson. I had the same delima until I found my new Quisinart Programmable Slow Cooker (model PSC-650). When the cooking time expires, the unit automatically switches to the warm setting and continues to keep your food warm without overcooking! You can also simmer in this crock pot! I love it!

Crys says …

thanks for new recipes!

KaMaBuA says …

@ BradMa : Most recipe sites have a conversion chart for folks to make more ( or less ) of a desired recipe. Also, since I joined Epicurious.com to use their Web Clipper, I'm able to save ALL my recipes ( I can't even begin to describe what a major pain~in~the *ss it was to try & recall where I'd saved what! *G* ) in one location.

Gerald Moore says …

Great Post... Thanks

joy mcnab says …

I love Whole Foods and appreciate all you do for the community. Thank you for your effort to bring as much as possible to our tables from local organic farmers. Winter is almost here and I'm going to get my slow cooker out to use for all your wonderful receipts

Power My Life says …

So excited to finally bring out the slow cooker with this change in weather. It is definitely nice to know that stirring is unnecessary when using it! Thanks for sharing!

Claudia says …

Hi everyone, I use my slow-cooker to cook raw beans and peas: red beans, black beans, hominy, chickpeas, etc. It depends on the grain and its size. For example: for big red beans, I just put the whole bag you get at stores (usually 1 lb) in the crokpot overnight. At the next it is ready! it saves you money, there is no fuzz, no soaking time, and the most important fact: the grains are cooked with NO SALT, you just add the amount you want when you prepare other dishes with the beans or peas.

Linda says …

I saw the comment about wanting recipes for singles (for the slow cooker). Would also like to see some, especially veg-friendly (I don't do red meat) and diabetic-friendly.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@BEHNEY - The main thing you want to think about if using the liquid is food safety based on temperature control. If the liquid is taken out of the slow cooker and heated to boiling then the chicken is cooked in it. Then make sure the chicken and sauce are cooled completely before freezing, everything should be okay food safety-wise.

Diane says …

Any suggestions for slow cookers that are known not to leach lead?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@DIANE - I found this thread on a different blog that might be useful: http://www.thekitchn.com/recommendations-for-a-lead-and-cadmiumfree-slow-cooker-good-questions-196354.

Cara says …

When I was looking for a new slow cooker, I ended up buying an electric pressure cooker instead - and I swear everything you can do in the slow cooker, you can do as well or better in the pressure pot. It even has a slow cook feature if you need to leave it all day. And i still think a few things come out better slow-cooked - mostly beans though. I prefer the flavor and texture of meat i pressure cook instead of slow cook. But you can use most of the same recipes, just convert for pressure cooker methods Maybe some time you can do a series of pressure cooker recipes?

sherry luciano says …

the pictures of the food for the slow cooker, are not very appetizing, I wouldn't make any the recipes for that reason.

Pat says …

Thanks for the wonderful ideas. I never thought of making my own chicken broth in the crock pot. I can so do that. I work full time and come home to two disabled brothers and 2 grandkids that are always wanting something to eat. My granddaughter will nuke some soup or canned pasta for her and her brother but the guys won't eat that stuff as they call it so I have to really get cooking when I walk in the door. They are challenged and you can't explain that you are tired (they are too is all they say) so you just have to feed them. LOL. I am lucky to have them though. They just got done replacing some of the garage wall due to termite damage and they do all the yard work. Thanks for making my life a little easier.

Jaime Hylton says …

I have made several of these recipes, and the cinnamon pot roast is particularly good (especially with the addition of red chili flakes and another cinnamon stick). Does anyone have any new slow cooker recipes?

SarahGabriel says …

Sausage and shrimp gumbo recipe for the slow cooker please?