Meals in Minutes Using the Slow Cooker
Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your slow cooker.
Nashville, Ark. – Nothing is better than coming home after a hectic day to the aroma of a warm meal waiting for us. While most households have a slow cooker, or crockpot, many do not use it on a regular basis. Slow cookers are one of the best time saving appliances in the kitchen. All you have to do is fill it up before you leave in the morning and turn it on.
Whatever your reason for not using your slow cooker, it’s time to get it out and start cooking. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your slow cooker.
- Most new crockpots come with a removable liner. They are great because cleanup is a breeze. Older crockpots may not have a liner. Whether you have a new or older crockpot consider purchasing crockpot cooking bags, located next to the aluminum foil at your favorite store, which make cleanup even easier.
- When filling the crockpot, only fill it one half to two thirds full. The foods will not cook properly if the appliance is filed to the brim. If the food and liquid level is lower, the foods will cook too quickly.
- Remove skin from poultry, and trim excess fat from meats. Fats tend to melt with long cooking times, and will add an unpleasant texture to the finished dish.
- Foods cooked in the slow cooker need to reach 140 degrees as quickly as possible to prevent the growth of bacteria. If you are at home during the cooking times, test the food temperature after four hours of cooking on LOW – the temperature should be at least 140 degrees.
- It’s a good idea to cook on HIGH for the first hour to quickly bring the temperature up to 140 degrees. Then you can turn the dial to LOW and finish cooking.
- Do not put frozen foods in the crockpot. All foods should be defrosted before cooking so the food temperature can reach 140 degrees as soon as possible.
- Most meats require 8 hours of cooking on LOW. Brown ground beef before adding it to the crockpot for food safety reasons.
- Crockpots save money, because it is recommended to use cheaper cuts of meat when cooking. Cheaper cuts of meats typically have less fat, which makes them more suited to the crockpot. Moist, long cooking times result in very tender meats.
- Seafood should be added during the last hour of cooking time, or it will overcook and have a rubbery texture.
- Large pieces of meat, such as a roast, can be browned before cooking in the crockpot, but this step isn’t necessary. Browning adds color and helps in flavor development.
- One hour on HIGH is equal to two hours on LOW.
- Cayenne pepper and Tabasco sauce tend to become bitter if cooked for long periods of time. Use small amounts and add toward the end of the cooking time.
- Add tender vegetables like tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchini during the last 45 minutes of cooking time so they don’t overcook.
- Denser vegetables like potatoes and carrots take a long time to cook. In fact, your meat may be cooked before carrots become tender. Be sure to add these vegetables to the bottom of the crockpot at the beginning of cooking time.
- Dairy products should be added during the last 30 minutes of cooking time, unless the recipes states otherwise.
- Liquids do not boil away in the crockpot, so if you are making a recipe that wasn’t specifically developed for the crockpot, reduce the liquid by 1/3 to ½ unless you are cooking rice or making soup.
- Remove cooked food from the crockpot before storing in the refrigerator. Because the crockpot is made of such thick material, the food won’t cool down quickly enough to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
- Stir in spices for the last hour of cooking. They will lose flavor if cooked with the rest of the ingredients for the long cooking period.
- Always follow manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
- Avoid lifting the lid to stir, especially if you are cooking on the low setting. Each time you lift the lid, enough heat will escape that the cooking time should be extended by 20 minutes to half an hour.
- If the power goes out and you have not been at home, throw the food away. If you are at home, finish cooking the ingredients immediately by some other means such as on a gas stove or outdoor grill.
With our busy schedules, families are always on the lookout for quick-to-prepare meals they can enjoy at home. The crockpot is the answer.
If you would like more information about crockpot cooking, contact me at the Howard County Extension Office at 870-845-7517. I’ll be glad to send you a fact sheet, “Slow Cooker Food Safety”.
Recipe of the Week
Here is a great recipe to prepare in the crockpot for an easy weeknight meal. Put the ingredients in the crockpot before you leave in the morning and it will be ready when you come home.
Whole-Dinner Roast Beef
3 pound beef chuck roast
3 to 4 russet potatoes, washed, cut in quarters, lengthwise
1/2 bag small baby carrots
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 teaspoon basil
1 jar beef gravy
Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare vegetables and place in bottom of crockpot that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. You could also use a slow cooker liner. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add ½ teaspoon basil. Place meat on top of vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, if desired. Pour gravy over top and sprinkle with remaining basil. Cook on high 3 to 4 hours or low 6 to 7 hours.
*Note: You may brown the roast in a skillet before adding to crockpot to enhance the flavor.
By Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Media Contact: Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
421 N. Main St, Nashville AR 71852
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