Take Your Time: 4 Tips To Using A Slow Cooker

Life may seem like a maddening rush of work, school and other obligations, but there’s one place people tend to take their time: the kitchen. According to the NPD Group, 81 percent of Americans own a slow cooker. Sometimes called crock pots, these cooking devices allow people to combine ingredients, set a timer and leave for the day, with the entire meal cooking over the span of eight or so hours. It might seem like a simple enough option, but if you don’t prepare properly, there is plenty of time for things to go wrong.

The following is a guide into the art of slow cooking – just be sure to take your time when reading it:

Opt for cheap meat
The purveying logic in cooking is to use better quality meat to ensure more flavor. However, in slow cooking, quality often doesn’t matter. Because of the duration and temperatures being used to cook, even the cheapest cuts of meat come out extra juicy and succulent. Given that, why not save a little money by buying low-cost meats like beef brisket, pork shoulder and chicken thighs? Just be sure to trim the fat off yourself. Because slow cookers don’t drain the fat away, trimming is necessary for a healthier cut of meat.

Always be prepared
Generally speaking, slow cookers are lauded for their simplicity, with phrases like “set it and forget” and “throw and go” associated with these devices. However, a little prep work before is always a good idea. For one, you should cook onions the night before, as raw onions – used in stews and soups – definitely have a much less satisfying flavor. Plus, assembling your ingredients overnight can save valuable minutes in the morning. Always remove ingredients from the fridge at least 20 minutes before cooking. That’s because slow cookers work best on ingredients that are room temperature.

Watch your heat levels
Slow cookers can be somewhat sensitive devices, which is why you need to carefully monitor how much heat is being applied. As a rule, the lowest setting of most models – 170 degrees Fahrenheit – takes about twice as long to cool than the highest setting, or 280 degrees Fahrenheit. Certain meats also do better at certain temperatures: Short ribs and pork shoulders are better at low heat, while pork tenderloin and chicken thighs can handle higher heat. Regardless of the cut, try and avoid opening the cooker’s lid. Each instance can add another 20 minutes to the total cooking time.

Careful with liquid ingredients
Wine is a great addition to most slow cooker recipes. It helps not only cook the meat all that much faster but it also adds a bit of flavor as well. However, it’s important to not use too much wine, as it can leave the meat with a decidedly harsh aftertaste. Your best bet is to use wine to deglaze a pan once the meat’s already been browned and then add it to the slow cooker, at which point any excess should burn off. The same caution should apply to milk and other dairy products. It’s often best to add these to the slow cooker in the final moments of the process.

Practice more slow cooking skills by enrolling in online cooking courses.

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