• Don’t lift the lid (especially for the first 2 hours). Every time the lid is lifted the built up steam escapes and it adds 20 to 30 minutes to the cook time.
• The slow cooker uses moist heat to cook the food and is best for less tender cuts of meat. Look for cuts of meat with lots of connective tissue. The simmering and steam converts the collagen to gelatin and food becomes fork tender.
• Look for inexpensive cuts of meat. No need to buy the more expensive cuts. Some great cuts of meat for the slow cooker are:
- Chicken on the bone or boneless, skinless chicken thighs (chicken should only cook on LOW for 4-6 hours total). If you end up using boneless, skinless breasts (which I don’t recommend) be very careful on the cook time (3 or 4 hours). They don’t have enough collagen or fat and they dry out quickly.
- For beef look on the label look for the words “pot roast” or “simmering.” Most cuts work from the chuck or shoulder: boneless beef chuck eye (or just chuck) roast, top or bottom blade pot roast, cross rib pot roast. You can also use brisket, short rib, or lean ground beef. Many recipes call for stew meat. I prefer to make my own. Not only does it save money but you ensure that the meat is all from the same cut and so it cooks evenly. My favorite is using a chuck roast and cutting it into 1-inch cubes.
- For cuts of pork look for country style ribs, picnic roast, shoulder blade (butt) roasts or pork steaks
• If you want to reduce grease and fat make sure to trim any fat from meat before adding it to the slow cooker.
• Brown any meat and drain grease beforehand.
• If cooking meat with high fat content, place thick onion slices underneath so the meat will not sit on (and cook in) the fat or use a small rack that fits inside your cooker.
• Let food rest at the end of cook time without the lid for 10 minutes. Spoon off any grease that raises to the top.
Food becomes runny
There is no chance for liquids to condense in the slow cooker. Condensation constantly drips onto the food and makes it more runny. Some ways to thicken sauces are:
• Remove lid and cook on HIGH for the last half hour of cooking time.
• Add in 1 tablespoon of cornstarch mixed until smooth with 1 tablespoonof water and cook on HIGH without the lid for 30 minutes or so.
• Add 1-2 tablespoon of quick cooking tapioca in with the sauce at the beginning of the cook time. • Dredge any meat in a quarter cup of flour before adding it to the slow cooker.
• Lastly, you can make a roux on the stove or you can transfer the liquid to a saucepan and reduce it on the stovetop.
• Flavors become bland and muted after cooking all day. Make sure to salt and pepper to taste and add in additional spices to taste before serving!
When picking a slow cooker consider the following:
• Oval slow cooker cook more evenly and can fit odd size cuts of meat.
• Buy one with a removable insert to make clean up a cinch.
• If you’re going to be out of the house buy a slow cooker with a timer that can automatically switch to warm after the cook time is up.
• Buy a slow cooker according to the size of your family. The crock should be at least half filled for best results. When cooking soups or stews, leave a 2-inch space between the top of the crock and the food so that the recipe can come to a simmer.
— For a family of 2-3, buy a 2-4-quart
— For a family of 3-5, a 5-6-quart
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