By Dr. Mercola
Many people, especially those who follow busy schedules, prefer preparing and eating their meals as quickly as they can. But did you know that there’s an advantage — and a whole lot of flavor — when you cook your food slowly? One way to do this is to use a slow cooker.
There’s a lot you can do with a slow cooker, and there are numerous recipes out there that can help put this handy cooking equipment to good use. If you’ve got the time and the patience, here are a few slow-cooked recipes that you can try to make. They’re certainly worth the wait!
The Advantages of Using a Slow Cooker
According to The Kitchn, a slow cooker is an electric appliance that “makes use of moist heat to cook food over a long period of time.” A slow cooker comes with three parts: a heating element, a pot and a lid, usually made of glass.
To use a slow cooker, you need to put all the ingredients in the pot, set it to the correct time and leave the food to cook slowly. This is one of the best advantages of a slow cooker — since you’re dumping all of the ingredients in one pot, it cuts down on preparation time and makes cleaning up easy as well.
Another advantage is slow cooking brings out the flavor in foods. What’s more, if you’re using cheaper cuts of protein like beef chuck roast, which tends to be tougher, slow cooking can help tenderize the meat, so it becomes moist and soft. Lastly, it’s energy efficient — despite the long cooking time, the amount of electricity it uses is lower than what you’d use when you cook with an oven.
Slow cookers are often called Crock-Pots, but these terms are actually not interchangeable, as a Crock-Pot is a type of slow cooker. It was a brand name used by Rival Manufacturing Company to market their slow cooker. Today, many other brands have appeared, and the word “crockpot” has become a generic term used by many to refer to slow cookers.
A slow cooker is among the most versatile appliances you can have at home. It’s not just for making stews or soups — in fact, there are countless recipes you can make using a slow cooker. Want to make poached eggs for brunch? Here’s a handy recipe from She Knows. Want to make gluten-free slow cooker bread? It’s possible! Craving dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth? Check out this creamy lemon custard recipe — it’s low-carb and gluten-free.
Tips in Using a Slow Cooker
Of course, to fully take advantage of slow cookers, you need to know how to use them correctly — otherwise, you will end up messing up the recipe and wasting your time (and ingredients). To help you out, the University of Pennsylvania shares some helpful tips for using a slow cooker, such as:
- Meats and poultry should be thawed completely before they are cooked in a slow cooker. This helps ensure that they are cooked completely. Never place frozen meat in this appliance.
- Don’t be tempted to overload the slow cooker and don’t cook food in small quantities either, as this can affect the quality, cooking time and your safety. Ideally, the slow cooker should be no more than two-thirds full and no less than half full.
- Your slow cooker should be set on high for the first hour. Afterward, turn down the heat to low, until the food finishes cooking.
- Don’t take off the lid, as this slows down the cooking process. Lifting the lid once means losing 15 to 20 minutes of cooking time.
- Hard veggies cook slower compared to proteins, so put them in the bottom of the pan. Place the meats on top then cover with water, broth or sauce.
- Grains and pastas should be added at the end of the cooking process, so they will not be mushy. The same goes for milk and other dairy products — they tend to curdle when added too early in the cooking process.
Finally, never ever cook raw beans in a slow cooker. Aside from increasing their lectin content because of the low temperatures used, slow cooking beans can also make them toxic. According to Good Housekeeping, here’s what you should do if you need to add beans to a slow cooker recipe:
“Lots of types of dried beans, especially kidney beans, contain a toxic substance that needs to be destroyed first by cooking them at a high temperature to make them safe to eat. Most crockpots cook too gently to do this, so briskly boil the beans first for 10 minutes on the hob, drain, rinse, then add to your slow cooker.”
You can also presoak the beans overnight and then use a pressure cooker to cook them the next day.
Ready to Get Cooking? Here Are Some Recipes for You to Try
Slow Cooker Lemon Garlic Chicken Recipe
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Slow Cooker Poached Salmon With Lemons and Fresh Herbs Recipe
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Slow Cooker Stuffed Taco Peppers
Additional Safety Tips When Using a Slow Cooker
The USDA notes that it’s safe to cook food in a slow cooker, as the direct heat emanating from the pot, the steam that rises within the covered container and the prolonged cooking time all help to effectively eliminate bacteria. However, proper use is still crucial to ensure the safety of your slow cooker. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Position your slow cooker on a clean, flat and heat-safe area, like your kitchen countertop. Keep it away from flammable materials like loose papers and kitchen towels. Make sure it’s not in a place where it could be exposed to water, like beside a sink or an open window.
- If the power goes out during the slow-cooking process and you’re not at home, do not consume the food — dispose of it, even if it looks like it’s cooked. If you’re at home, you should immediately finish cooking the ingredients on a gas stove or oven or over a grill.
- Check the power cord and make sure it’s not crimped or folded. The vent hole, found on the lid, should also be facing out toward the middle of the room — and not at a wall or a cabinet.
Lastly, make sure to store leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours. Consume them as soon as you can, so you can reduce your risk of food poisoning. Leftovers should be placed in shallow containers and refrigerated two hours after they are removed from the pot.