Tips and Tricks for using a Crock Pot or Slow Cooker

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Does a slow cooker never seem to work well for you?

It can be a really easy system to use, but there are some tricks to the trade. Here are some answers to common questions.

How to Pick a Slow Cooker Size

Smaller cookers -sized 1 quart to 3.5 quart models – are perfect for cooking for singles, couples, empty nesters, or serving dips.

Medium size cooker, between 3 quarts to 5 quarts, will easily cook enough for a small family. They are also perfect for side dishes or appetizers.

Large slow cookers are great for family dinners, entertaining, and potlucks. A 6 to 7 quart model is best if you like to cook meals in advance or have leftovers.

Are Crock Pots Safe to leave Unattended?

Crock Pot slow cookers should be safe to leave unattended. The outer heating base may get hot as it cooks, but they are designed to not create a fire hazard. The heating element functions at a low wattage and is safe for countertops.

How Much Should I Fill the Crock Pot?

Slow cookers should be filled 1/2 to 3/4 for most recipes unless otherwise instructed.

Lean meats such as chicken or pork tenderloin will cook faster than meats with more connective tissue. These meats are things like beef chuck or port shoulder.

Bone-in meats will take longer than boneless cuts.

How Long does a Typical slow cooker Dish take to Cook?

A typical slow cooker dish takes approximately 7 to 8 hours to reach the simmer point on LOW and about 3 to 4 hours on HIGH.

Once the vegetables and meat start to simmer and braise, their flavors will fully blend. Meat will become fall-off-the bone tender.

According to the USDA, all bacteria are killed off at a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Should I Open the Lid?

It is important to not open the lid often, especially early in the cooking process, when heat is building up inside the unit.

If you need to open the lid to check on the food, remember to allow additional cooking time.

Large cookers (6 to 7 quarts) may benefit from a quick stir halfway through cooking. This can help distribute heat and promote even cooking.

Is the Crock Pot Oven Safe?

Yes and no.

The removable crock insert (without lid) is usually oven safe up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Slow cooker inserts are also usually microwavable without their lids. (Refer to brand manual)

Can I cook frozen Food in Crock Pot?

Frozen food or partially frozen food can be cooked in a slow cooker.

The only caveat to this is that it takes longer to cook than thawed food. It is almost always preferable to thaw frozen food prior to placing in a slow cooker.

You may also want to use a meat thermometer to ensure meat is fully cooked.

Cooking Pasta and Rice

If you are converting a recipe that calls for uncooked pasta, cook them on the stovetop first.

Cook them until slightly tender before adding to the slow cooker.

If you are using a recipe that calls for cooked rice, stir in raw rice with other ingredients.

Then, add 1/4 cup extra liquid per 1/4 cup of raw rice.

Cooking Beans

Beans must be softened completely before combining with sugar and/or acidic foods.

Sugar and acid have a hardening effect on beans and will prevent softening.

Fully cooked canned beans may be used as a substitute for dried beans.

Vegetables

Root vegetables often cook more slowly than meat.

Cut vegetables accordingly to cook at the same rate as meat, large or small, or lean versus marbled, and place near the sides or bottom of the stoneware.

Herbs

Fresh herbs add flavor and color when added at the end of the cooking cycle.

For dishes with shorter cooking times, hearty fresh herbs such as rosemary and thyme hold up well. If added at the beginning, many fresh herbs’ flavors will dissipate over the long cooking.

Ground and dried herbs work well with slow cooking and may be added at the beginning.

Use chili powders and garlic powder sparingly as these can intensify over long cooking times.

Always taste towards the end to ensure the correct seasoning!

Liquids

It is not necessary to use more than 1/2 to 1 cup liquid in more instances since juices in meats and vegetables are retained more in slow cooking than in conventional cooking.

Excess liquid can be cooked down and concentrated after slow cooking on the stovetop or by removing meat and vegetables from the stoneware, stirring in one of the following thickeners and setting the slow cooker on HIGH.

Cook on HIGH for approximately 15 minutes until juices are thickened.

Flour

All-purpose flour is often used to thicken sauce of soups or stews.

Place flour in a small bowl or cup and stir in enough cold water to make a thin, lump-free mixture. With the slow cooker on HIGH, quickly stir the flour mixture into the liquid in the slow cooker.

Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens.

Cornstarch:

Cornstarch gives sauces a clear, shiny appearance. It is used most often for sweet dessert sauces and stirfry sauces.

Place cornstarch in a small bowl or cup and stir in cold water until the cornstarch dissolves.

Quickly stir the mixture into the liquid in the slow cooker. The sauce will thicken as soon as the liquid boils.

Cornstarch breaks down with too much heat, so never add it at the beginning of the slow cooking process.

Turn off the heat as soon as the sauce thickens.

Milk

Milk, cream and sour cream break down during extended cooking.

When possible, add during the last 15 to 30 minutes of cooking, until heated thoroughly.

Condensed soups may be substituted for milk and can cook for extended times.

Fish

Fish is delicate and should be stirred in gently during the last 15 to 30 minutes of cooking time.

Cook until just cooked through and serve immediately.

Baked Goods

If you want to prepare bread, cakes or pudding cakes in a slow cooker, you may want to purchase a vented metal cake pan accessory for your slow cooker.

You can also use any straight-sided souffle dish or deep cake pan that will fit into the ceramic insert. However, they can be difficult to remove, so follow the recipe carefully.

Meat Doneness Temperatures

The best way to determine if meat is cooked properly is to test its internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer.

To use the thermometer, insert it into the thickest part of the meat taking care to not poke it all the way through and to avoid bones.

Leave the thermometer in the meat for about 20 seconds or until the temperature stops moving.

Most thermometers are not heat proof, so most cannot be left in the food while cooking.

Beef, Lamp or Veal Cooked Temperature

  • Ground Meat: 165 degrees

Whole Cuts

  • Medium-Rare: 145 degrees
  • Medium: 160 degrees
  • Well-Done: 170 degrees

Chicken, Turkey or Other Poultry

  • Ground Chicken, Turkey or other: 165 degrees
  • Boneless Chicken breasts: 165 degrees
  • Whole or Bone-in light meat: 170 degrees
  • Whole or Bone-in Dark meat: 180 degrees

Pork

  • Ground Pork: 165 degrees
  • Ham, Fully Cooked: 140 degrees
  • Ham, Uncooked: 170 degrees
  • Whole Cuts, Medium: 155 degrees
  • Whole Cuts, Well done: 170 degrees



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