You may see it called a crockpot in one place an a slow cooker in another, but it’s the same thing. This countertop kitchen appliance is a great accessory to have in the kitchen. They’re great for cooking soups, stews, chili, roast, and so much more. Basically the appliance maintains a relatively low temperature for many hours, which you won’t find if you’re baking, boiling, or frying your food.
You’ll find that there are many advantages to slow cooking your food. If you think about it not all foods take well to being boiled, especially cheaper cuts of meat that have lean muscle and connective tissues, as when cooked for a short time, the cuts become tough and dry. By slow cooking these cuts of meat, it will soften the tissue without toughening the muscle.
(When you boil cuts of meat with connective tissue, the tissues thickens the liquid you’re cooking in, but when you slow cook it, the meat retains the tissue, meaning you’ll need to start with a richer broth.)
You’ll also find that when cooking with a crockpot is that you are less likely to overcook your foods, whereas when baking, boiling, or cooking by other means, you can easily overcook your food, making it mushy, tough, dry, tasteless, or plain inedible.
Because you can set the temperature low and the food cooks slowly, you can turn on the slow cooker and go to work or go out for the day, come home, put a few finishing touches on dinner, and you’re done.
And, the best thing is by using a crock-pot, you only need to use the one pot, which will reduce the number of dishes you have in your sink to wash. And because the food cooks at a low temperature in addition to the inside of the pot being glazed, cleaning is pretty easy.
But no matter how many advantages there may be to using a slow cooker, there are still going to be some disadvantages.
- Vitamins and other nutrients can be lost from vegetables during the cooking process. Because the crockpot uses temperatures below the boiling point, they do not rapidly change the enzymes, the vegetables tend to lose trace nutrients. (Blanching vegetables to very hot water for a short period causes vegetables to retain more vitamins and nutrients.)
- There are a few different raw beans that contain phytohaemagglutinin, a toxin that is generally destroyed by boiling the bean for at least 10 minutes, but when you put the raw beans, such as kidney beans, in a crock-pot, you’re not killing the toxin. If you’re going to add raw beans to your dish, you want to boil them first.
- Slow cookers do not provide sufficient heat to compensate for the loss of moisture in food as it’s cooked.
- If you add ingredients to the dish while cooking, you have to make sure that you give the newly added food enough time to cook before the food can be eaten.
If the food is cooled and not reheated, toxic bacterial growth is possible.
For the most part, crock-pots are less dangerous than cooking on your stove or in your oven because of the lower temperatures and the closed lid, but when in use, they can contain several pounds of near-boiling food and liquid, which can cause serious burns if spilled.
If misused, slow cookers can cause a fire, so if the pot is cracked, melted, or deformed, don’t use it, and invest in another one.
Tips for Slow Cookers
- Never overfill the crock-pot. Make sure that when adding the water and food, that you fill the pot between half and 3/4 full. If you fill it too high, the food will not cook all the way, and if it’s too empty, the food will cook quicker and you may have an overdone meal.
- Put any fresh vegetables on the bottom of the pot because they’ll take longer to cook than your meat, and put frozen vegetables on the top since they don’t take as long to cook.
- If you brown the meat before adding it to the crockpot, the natural sugars in the meat will caramelize, making the meal look more appetizing. If you opt to try this, you can add any extra drippings from browning the meat to the pot for flavor.
- Vegetables that are more tender, such as peas and tomatoes, should not be added to the pot until the last half hour or so of cooking.
- Dairy products and food that are in your recipe, need to be added at the last minute before serving. You want to make sure that the heat will not cause the dairy product to curdle.
- Cornstarch and other thickeners need to be added in the last hour of cooking. It’s recommended to set the slow cooker on high so that the thickening properties are activated.
- If you’re added rice and pasta, add it to the pot in the last 45 minutes. You don’t want it to be mushy. It’ll definitely turn a gourmet meal sour.
- Leave the lid on the pot during cooking unless you’re adding ingredients, but try to add the ingredients at once so that you don’t have to let out too much heat because every time you remove the lid, you add about 30 minutes to your overall cooking time.
Recipes for Crockpots
I’ve seen my mom and grandmother use their slow cookers mostly for stews, roast, chicken, and soup, but you can certainly cook so much more with a crockpot than that.
You’ll find that a lot of the recipes for crockpots have been modified for slow cooking. Generally, the amount of water must be lessened because ordinary cooking at higher temperatures requires more liquid to account for evaporation, but slow cookers do not have nearly as much water loss.
There are many different cookbooks that you can purchase for great recipes for your slow cooker. You’ll find recipes for one person, two people, or an entire family. Sometimes, the manufacturer of the appliance will even provide you with a booklet of recipes to get you started.
You can make a nice gourmet meal with your slow cooker, you just have to know-how.