How to Use a Crock Pot
As our lives are getting increasingly busier, we have less and less time to cook our favorite meals at home, right? Well, not quite: if you own a crock pot, then you know that you can turn it on before you leave for work, and you’ll have a nice, warm meal waiting for you when you come back. Just like magic. If you don’t own one, perhaps you’re giving it a thought right now. We’ll help you decide by walking you through each step of how to use a crock pot.
Buying a Crock Pot
Before learning how to use a crock pot, you should know that crock pots are somewhat different from ordinary slow cookers. Original slow cooker models had an external source of heat beneath the actual pot, unlike crock pot slow cookers which generate heat all around the pot in a uniform way.
If you don’t have a crock pot, the first thing you need to do is to buy one, obviously. Crock pot prices can range from 20 to several hundred dollars. Most models have a “Low” and a “High” setting, which reach the same maximum temperature (around 210° F), the only difference being the time it takes to reach it. Other, more expensive models can have multiple settings (for example, “Keep Warm”, “Simmer”, “Low”, and “High”), each one reaching a different maximum temperature.
Let’s move on to how to use a crock pot, now that you have one. First things first, clear your countertop to make some space for the slow cooker. It can generate some heat from the sides, so it is best to keep a safe distance to other items in the kitchen. That way, you can leave it unattended and not worry about it. Crock pots are quite safe to set directly on the counter, but you can put a base or rack under it if you are unsure.
Some people like to use the crock pot with a liner on the inside, which is a plastic bag you cover the pot with before adding the food. This means you won’t have trouble washing the pot after you’re finished, and also makes it easy to store the leftovers later. However, others avoid using them to prevent potential chemicals from seeping into the food or just because they don’t like to use plastic liners, full stop. Ultimately, the decision is yours.
Another thing you should know about using a crock pot is that the secret of slow cooking is to prevent heat from dissipating through the lid as much as possible. So, if you notice any gaps between the lid and the pot, possibly from extended use, you can place aluminum foil around the lid to ensure a snug fit.
Prepping the Food
Learning how to use a crock pot includes knowing how to prepare your ingredients. If your dish includes vegetables, you may opt to finely slice them or leave bigger chunks, depending on the recipe. With a slow cooker, vegetables don’t need to be cut in very small pieces to cook properly because they are going to be cooking for quite some time.
Now for the meat. When choosing the type of meat, you don’t need to go for the most expensive cuts. Since the meat will be cooked for a long time it will be very tender as a result, so a cheaper cut will do just fine. Having said that, don’t use meats that are too fatty, because all that fat will melt, and you may end up with a very oily stew.
So, if your meat has big chunks of fat, begin by removing those with a knife. Also, remove the skin if you are cooking poultry. Then, season the meat and vegetables according to your liking. If you want to have a thicker broth at the end, you can roll the meat in some flour before adding it to the pot.
Now, if you have the time and patience, you can sear the meat in a frying pan prior to adding it to the cooker, although it is fine if you don’t. Searing the meat will keep a lot of the flavor inside, which means you’ll end up with a better tasting stew. You can also sear the vegetables in the same pan after doing the meat.
Filling the Crock Pot
Continuing this guide on how to use a crock pot, we’ll see how the food should be placed inside the cooker. Let’s leave seafood, rice, pasta and fresh herbs for later since they won’t be added in the beginning. Insert the vegetables and meat into the cooker, leaving the vegetables at the bottom. Bottom ingredients will cook faster than the top ones since they will be immersed in the liquid. If you’re adding some dry herbs, make sure they also stay at the bottom so they add the most flavor possible to the stew.
If you’re adding some water or broth, remember that a crock pot will let almost no water escape during cooking, so you should keep the quantity to a minimum. As a rule, you should add a third less liquid than you would with a conventional pot. Moreover, the cooker should not be more than half to three quarters full after this step. Finally, put the lid over the pot.
Cooking the Meal
And now, the easiest part of using a crock pot. You turn on the pot, choosing the temperature setting according to the recipe. Generally, the “Low” setting will have a cooking time of 8 to 10 hours, while “High” will cook your food in about 4 to 6 hours. If no specific setting is recommended, then choose one depending on the time you’ll be away.
The best part about slow cookers is that you can leave them unattended, and they’ll do the job for you. Therefore, when you use a crock pot you don’t have to lift the lid to check or stir the food. In fact, if you do, you’ll let some of the heat escape, which will only add to the cooking time.
Ideally, when using a crock pot, you can just set it and forget it. However, certain ingredients must be added a short time before the meal is finished. Seafood should be added about one hour before the end, otherwise, it will end up feeling rubbery. Rice, pasta, and fresh herbs should go into the cooker about thirty minutes before turning it off. If the broth still needs thickening, mix some cornflower with cold water and add it to the mixture.
Enjoying the Meal
Turn off the cooker, lift the lid and enjoy the nice smell coming from within. Congratulations! You’ve just used a crock pot to cook a delicious meal with minimal effort. Eat heartily!