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Are you looking to try out slow cooker recipes, but you are unsure where to get started? Slow cookers are affordable appliances that can be used to prepare anything from small, simple dishes to full-size meals for the whole family. Still, you need to know something before you dive into the kitchen.
To get you started on slow cooking, here is a proper beginner’s guide on how to use a slow cooker.
What Is a Slow Cooker?
Before we dive deeper into using a slow cooker, let us better understand what it is and what it does. A slow cooker is a cooking pot made of ceramic, metal, porcelain, or any other heat retaining material.
This pot is then encased in an electrical unit that comes hooked up to a heating element. This element is placed either on the side or the bottom of the slow cooker.
This cooker comes with a lid made of heat-resistant material like thick glass, ceramic, or metal. These lids are made to ensure that there is low pressure inside the pot. This creates a seal that traps all the moisture inside.
How Does a Slow Cooker Work?
As the name suggests, slow cookers cook food slowly and over an extended period of time. These cookers use their lids to trap moisture inside, making evaporation slow and maintaining constant heat. This allows for meals to be cooked mainly through steam and low temperatures rather than high heat.
Any slow cooker meal will be moist. This makes slow cookers great for casseroles, soups, and sauces. Depending on what you are cooking, the cooking process, and temperature settings, the slow cooker timings can range between 3 to 12 hours; a higher temperature will reduce cooking times but will still take a few hours to cook. Many slow cooker recipes dictate the cooking time. However, you have to be patient since slow cookers are designed to cook your meal slowly.
Basics of Using a Slow Cooker
Like most gadgets and tools today, using a slow cooker is simple. In addition, most slow cookers on the market today are plug-and-play. This means that all you must do is plug in your slow cooker, add all your ingredients, and start slow cooking your food.
You can use a slow cooker for cooking a range of different foods. However, if you want to make something dry or crispy, you’re better off cooking it in the oven.
So, if you are stuck with frozen vegetables and don’t know what to do with them, a slow cooker will come in handy. Pantry staples, cheap cuts of meat, and typical stovetop meals are no exception.
Here is a simple breakdown of how to use a slow cooker.
- Prepare all your cooking ingredients ahead. This includes frozen and fresh ingredients. Then, place the prepared ingredients into the slow cooker, making sure everything is distributed evenly.
- Ensure that you do not fill it too much; most manufacturers recommend filling it no more than three quarters to the top.
- Cover your slow cooker with the lid and ensure it is properly placed. Avoid lifting the lid every so often; if possible, do not lift the lid at all during cooking. This is to avoid the hot air and steam escaping from the cooker and reducing the temperature within.
- Select a heating temperature based on your desired cooking time. A high temperature can cook a dish in 3-5 hours. However, a low temperature will take significantly longer. You can turn down the temperature in the last hour to let it simmer.
- Once everything is cooked, you can serve it straight from the pot! Just be careful as it can get hot.
Some popular recipes that can be made using these cookers include chili, chicken breasts, pork chops, casseroles, and soups. A slow cooker can be used to prepare anything from a simple standard recipe to large roasts, and there are lots of places online where you can look for inspiration.
Where to Place a Slow Cooker During Use
During cooking, these cookers are usually under 300 degrees. This means they are not likely to cause fires. You should still be conscious of where you’re placing them.
It is safe to say that you can place your slow cooker on a clean and dry countertop when it is in use. Do not cover it with a tea towel, though, as you wouldn’t want it to overheat.
Never place your slow cooker on the stove. If you can avoid using an extension cord with your cooker, then please do. However, if you must use an extension cord, make sure it is at least 12 Amps and 120 Volts.
How to Clean a Slow Cooker
Seeing that food sits cooking in the slow cooker for a long time, food is bound to get into nooks and crannies. This makes cleaning a slow cooker a daunting task. But don’t worry. Most of them will have a removable bowl that is often dishwasher-safe for your convenience.
However, if your food burns, you may need to leave it to soak in water. Also, if it is stubborn, you can make a paste with baking powder and water and apply it directly to the area.
The circular shape of slow cookers and crock pots makes it easy to clean as you don’t have to contend with any corners or sharp edges. After leaving your crockpot to soak, wipe it down with some soap and a soft cloth or a non-abrasive sponge.
Make sure you wipe down the exterior, too, with a damp cloth.
If you get a new slow cooker, we recommend giving it a clean before cooking in it.
Slow Cooker Tips and Tricks
If it is your first time using a slow cooker, you may need a few tips and tricks to get you on the right track. These tips and tricks focus mainly on the dos and don’t of slow cookers.
Before you turn on your cooker, make sure all your ingredients are prepared. Wash and cut everything into the right sizes. Anything too big will take a lot longer to cook, and anything too small, and you may find it gets lost in the dish.
When placing the ingredients in the cooker, remember to layer the ingredients. For example, you can have firm vegetables like potatoes at the bottom, cuts of meat at the centre, and lighter vegetables at the top.
You do not need to defrost frozen vegetables before putting them in. You can rest assure they will cook well during their time in the slow cooker.
When using your cooker, remember to place the correct amount of food and liquid in the pot. This is because overfilling or underfilling your cooker can prove to be catastrophic. Your food will either not cook properly or burn and dry out, which will create a mess.
Do not fill your cooker more than three quarters to its capacity. However, remember, with slow cookers, there is very little evaporation, so large quantities of liquid will not reduce or thicken.
This means that the more liquid you put, the odds are you will get almost the same amount. Always use cold or lukewarm water to fill your slow cooker.
Once you place everything in the cooker, replace the lid, and the slow cooker is good to go. The lid is key in ensuring that the set temperature is maintained. It does this by trapping the steam and slowing down evaporation.
Do not be tempted to open the lid for tasting or check on your food’s progress.
Covering your cooker also allows for all the strong spices and fresh herbs to properly infuse other ingredients.
Dairy and Fat
If your slow cooker recipe calls for dairy products, add these products at the end. Do this to avoid curdling. For fatty meats, always trim off the fat before adding the meat into the slow cooker. Failure to do this will see you end up with fat pooled in your meal.
If you want your delicacy to have some colour to it, you can sear or sauté your ingredients before using your slow cooker. You can brown meat and sauté your onions for a better taste. This adds flavour and texture to your cooked meal and makes it look a little more appealing.
An Asset to Your Kitchen
If you are not in a hurry, you can use a slow cooker for almost all your meals. Slow cookers give you the freedom of cooking as you get other jobs or chores done. The lack of restrictions of having to watch your food cook is satisfying, to stay the least.
Whether you work 9-5 or constantly run around with the kids (or both), cooking with a slow cooker comes in handy. Fortunately, you can spend less time in the kitchen with a slow cooker and more time doing everything else. Moreover, slow cookers require minimal effort, and most of your favourite recipes can be adapted for an easy, slow-cooked meal.