1. Choose the Right Recipe
If the recipe calls for braising or slow-roasting, consider it a good dinner omen because chances are it’ll be a slam-dunk in the Crockpot. While you can bet that almost any soup or stew will work, don’t forget that recipes for things like pulled pork, chicken thighs and even ribs, all benefit from a slow and low cook time, which means it’s perfect for the slow cooker.
2. Cooking Meat
There’s no hard and fast rule for slow cooking meat, but tough and inexpensive cuts happen to work best, since the tough fibres have time to relax and soften during a low and slow setting. To coax the best flavour out of your meat, take the time to brown it well before putting it in the Crockpot so that you seal in as much moisture and flavour as possible. That being said, meats like a well marbled pork shoulder, chicken thighs and legs, and brisket all trump boneless, skinless chicken breasts, which tend to dry out in the slow cooker.
3. Opt for Fresh
If you’ve got fresh vegetables, use them. While we love frozen vegetables for quick cook recipes, they tend to release more water and steam in the slow cooker, which can add excess liquid and make for soggy vegetables. Also remember to chop all your vegetables roughly the same size to ensure even cooking.
4. Be Mindful of Seasoning
Cooking in the slow cooker doesn’t allow aggressive seasonings and flavours time to meld and mellow the same way they do when simmering on a stove or in the oven. Be careful when using strong seasonings like paprika, chili powder and cumin, which should be used in moderation, and adjusted or added at the end. When it comes to wine, reduce it before adding it to the mix so you can properly cook off the alcohol and leave behind the concentrated flavour.
5. Know When to Add Ingredients
Leave delicate ingredients like herbs for the final 30 minutes, and starchy items like rice or pasta for the end. If the recipe calls for dairy, add it at the end of the cooking time so the fat won’t separate, and when it comes to veggies like green peppers, pop them in about 20 minutes before the timer goes off to keep them from turning bitter.
6. A Rule for Starch
If your recipe calls for cooked pasta, cook it a few minutes before the suggested time on the box, until it’s a bit firmer than your traditional al dente and then add it in near the end. For rice, try converted or long grain versions, and add an extra 1/4 cup of liquid per 1/4 cup of uncooked rice or choose parboiled rice, added about 20 minutes before the dish is done. For longer cooking recipes, add fully cooked rice just before serving.
7. Liquid Remedy
Since cooking liquid doesn’t have anywhere to escape in a slow cooker, it will simply accumulate and make recipes like chili and stew too soupy. A good rule of thumb to follow when adapting a recipe for the slow cooker is to halve all liquids. If you find it’s still too much, transfer the dish to a heavy-bottomed pot and simmer uncovered until it reduces and thickens up.
8. Time it Right
If your recipe calls for 15 to 30 minutes in the oven, it’s going to need roughly 4 to 6 hours on low or 1 1/2 to 2 hours on high. If it says cook for 35 to 45 minutes, set your Crockpot on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours. For a recipe with a longer cook time of 1 to 3 hours, set it on high for 4 to 6 hours or leave it on low overnight for 8 to 12 hours.