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Tips for making the crock-pot your new best friend!

March 29, 2011

I’m doing my best this week to show you why the crock-pot deserves more time on your counter and less time collecting dust in your pantry.  Now that you are armed with delicious recipes and my incredibly insightful cooking tips, how do you use the darn thing?  Well here are some helpful (hopefully) words of advice to make you the next slow-cooking champion in your house.

  • Be thoughtful in how you choose to layer ingredients.  Foods on the very bottom of the crock pot will cook faster so choose ingredients that need longer cooking times.  For example, onions or root vegetables.
  • Minimize the fat going in and maximize the taste coming out.  Fat has a tendency to cook off the meat quickly and will interfere with the flavor of any sauce or cooking liquid you are using.  Trim excess fat off any roasts and remove skin from poultry.
  • Browning is your friend.  Often times it helps seal in the juices of the meat if you brown your meat before adding it to the slow-cooker.  Browning is especially important for ground meats.
  • Sometimes spices can get lost in the shuffle.  Herbs and spices will break down due to the long cooking times, so choose whole or chopped dry leaves to add at the beginning.  Add ground herbs in the last hour of cooking and save fresh herbs for garnish.
  • Resist the urge to take a peek!  I know it’s hard when something smells delicious and you want to see what is cooking, but be strong.  If you find yourself lacking will power, add 20-30 minutes of cooking time for each indiscretion.  And don’t worry, it is not necessary to lift the lid and give a stir. 
  • Frozen is a no-no.  Crock-pots really would be the greatest invention in the world if you could just pull a frozen roast from the fridge, toss it in, and call it a day.  Alas, I must recommend you thaw your meat ahead of time for food safety reasons.  You want to make sure your meat comes up to temperature quickly enough to avoid contamination and blocks of ice won’t help.
  • It’s a crock pot, not a swimming pool.  Don’t overdo it in the liquid department.  The crock-pot should only be filled half to two-thirds, even when cooking soup.
  • The name of the game is low and slow.  Whenever possible choose to cook on low.  Although cooking times will be twice as long on low, flavor is doubled.

There you have it! These are my tips and techniques that will hopefully serve you well.  Feel free to post any additional questions you may have in the comments section and I will do my best to answer!

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