On a cold winter’s day, what could be better than coming home to a hot meal that’s been cooking all day in your slow cooker and is ready to eat? And using a slow cooker in the summer instead of your oven can save you heat and energy. Read on for how a slow cooker can make your life in the kitchen just a little bit easier.
What is a slow cooker?
A slow cooker, or crock-pot, is a countertop kitchen appliance that cooks food on low heat over several hours (much longer than cooking methods like baking, broiling or frying). Most importantly, a slow cooker is designed to cook while you aren’t in the kitchen. When using a slow cooker to prepare meals, you can just leave it to cook safely while you do other things. It’s that easy!
There are three parts to a slow cooker:
a porcelain or ceramic pot
the heating element
Slow cookers come in different sizes and have different settings. Some allow you to program the cooking time, while others have pre-determined time and temperature settings.
What can the slow cooker do for you?
Time saver: You do not have to watch the meal while it cooks. Prepare your ingredients the night before and place the filled slow cooker in the fridge overnight. Plug it in the next day. Great for busy families!
Energy saver: The slow cooker uses less energy than the oven and gives off less heat (good for the summer!).
Money saver: You can enjoy cheaper cuts of meat (like chuck, rump and flank). The long cooking time breaks down tough meat making it soft and tender.
Flavour saver: It will make your dishes extra tasty because the long cooking time brings out the flavours of the ingredients.
Stress saver: It makes cooking easy. Most recipes won’t require any extra preparation steps. Just place the ingredients in the appliance and plug it in.
Slow cooker safety
Cooking in a slow cooker is safe as long as you follow proper food safety rules. Here are some guidelines to help you:
Defrost meat or poultry (in the refrigerator) before putting it in the slow cooker.
Fill the cooker at least 1/2 full and no more than 2/3 full. Liquid should almost cover all the ingredients.
Cut foods into small pieces to heat up faster. Don't use the slow cooker for large pieces of food like a roast or whole chicken because they will cook too slowly, allowing bacteria to grow.
Always add the vegetables first, then the meat and liquid (broth, water, sauce). Vegetables take longest to cook so place them around the bottom and sides since those are the hottest parts of the appliance.
Keep the slow cooker’s lid on unless you need to stir or check if the food is done. Removing the lid lowers the temperature and increases cooking time.
Check that meat and poultry dishes have reached a safe internal temperature with a food thermometer.
Check the manufacturer’s instructions for how long food can be left on the “warm” setting, if you have this option. Otherwise, cooked food should not be left in the slow cooker to be cooled.
Leftovers should never be reheated in the slow cooker.
Follow the manufacturer's instructions for commercially frozen slow cooker meals
Meal preparation tips
Here are some tips to help you adapt your favourite meals to the slow cooker. These are some general rules – experiment with your recipes to see what works best in your appliance.
Pasta: Cook pasta noodles (until just tender) before adding to the slow cooker.
Rice: Cook rice by adding ¼ cup of liquid for every ¼ cup of rice.
Fresh Herbs and Spices: These will become stronger as they cook. Depending on how much flavour you want, try cutting the amount you normally use by half.
Dried Herbs and Spices: Add these during the last hour of cooking as their flavour will reduce the longer they are cooked.
Milk and milk products: Add during the last hour of cooking.
Soups: Add enough liquid to cover the ingredients.
Liquids: Use less than you normally would when cooking on the stove. Liquids do not boil away in the slow cooker so you will usually have more liquid at the end of cooking, not less.
You can use a slow cooker to prepare almost any type of dish. Look for cookbooks with slow cooker recipes at your local library or bookstore. You can also find recipes online.
The most popular meals are soups, stews and casseroles but you can experiment with any of your favourite recipes. Here are some ideas:
Chicken and Corn Chowder
Crowd-Pleasing Vegetarian Chili, Dietitians of Canada
Last Update – October 9, 2016