If you’re anything like me, your slow cooker is your best friend. It has, on multiple occasions, saved your neck for a last minute dinner, potluck dish, or delicious goodie for the bake sale you forgot about. We love our Crockpots, and our Crockpots love us. But little did we know that our slow cookers have so much more to offer – we just need to know how to hack them to their fullest potential! Get the most out of your Crockpot with these 11 clever tips.
1. Use Baking Soda to Clean Your Cooker
Food gets caked onto slow cookers more easily than your average pot or pan; which makes sense, considering that food simmering in your Crockpot for hours on end. That being said, it’s helpful to know that regular old soap and water isn’t enough to really clean you Crockpot.
First, turn your Crockpot off. Fill it with water, then add some vinegar and baking soda. Turn your slow cooker back on, leaving it on the “LOW” setting, and let this sit overnight. In the morning, you’ll have a spotlessly clean Crockpot!
2. Gingerbread Cookies are a Slow Cooker Must
Gingerbread cookies have a delightfully sweet, zesty bite to them, a flavor that is a game changer for your Crockpot recipes. Believe it or not, adding crumbled gingerbread or gingersnap cookies to slow cooker meat dishes like beef stew, pot roast and sauerbraten is a secret way to get the most flavorful slow cooker dishes you’ve ever tasted.
3. Preheat Your Slow Cooker
Most of us are tempted to just turn our Crockpot on and throw the ingredients in, but this is not the most effective way to use this handy kitchen appliance. The best way to think about your Crockpot is as a tiny oven, and it has to be preheated to cook your food in the best way possible.
This is one of THE most overlooked steps when it comes to Crockpot cooking, so only in-the-know slow cooker-users would know to include this crucial step.
4. You Can Make More Than Food
Naturally, we consider our Crockpot the go-to appliance for easy meal-making, but did you know you can make things other than food in your slow cooker? Like candles, for instance! Using wax, wicks, a fragrance of your choice, and mason jars, you can make your own candles right in your Crockpot! Talk about an easy Christmas gift.
5. Remove overcooked vegetables from meat dishes
If you’ve ever opened up your slow cooker and found the perfectly succulent meat and horribly soggy veggies, there is a way to make the most of your culinary disaster.
Once the dish is complete, strain out the vegetables that are overcooked. You can either throw them out and serve the dish with a side of newly cooked vegetable, or puree them, then add the vegetable puree back into your sauce. If you choose to throw them out, put the remaining liquid in a saucepan and reduce it until it becomes a glaze to coat the meat.
6. Know Your Limits
Your slow cooker can do a lot…in fact, sometimes it can do too much. Over-using the “HIGH” setting can be a death sentence for your food, your veggies in particular.
If you want your vegetables to stay whole, don’t put them in the slow cooker on high for 12 hours unless they’re hard-shelled, like squashes. Softer veggies will, quite literally, melt under the pressure. When you’re slow cooking vegetables, put the slow cooker on a delayed start for about three to four hours and keep it set to low.
7. Use Room Temperature Meat
There a million and one meat dishes that can be made in your slow cooker, but one rule applies to them all: always use room temperature meat in your Crockpot. Throwing in cold meat is not only going to take longer for your Crockpot to cook, but it will rob your dish of all its flavor.
Allowing the juices to spread evenly as the meat rises to room temperature is the best way to get that rich, caramelized flavor you crave.
8. Some Foods Taste Better on the Second Day
This goes especially for soup! In many restaurants, “Soups of the Day” are really “Soups of Yesterday.” It’s not gross, it’s for flavor purposes!
Soups are always better on the second day when the flavors have had more time to develop. Also, any meat dish like chili or a brisket with all that sinewy tissue will be even better the day after you’ve made it. So factor that in when you’re planning on making certain dishes.
9. Cook Chili Meat First
Chili is one of those dishes that is best made in your Crockpot! Some of the most flavorful chili we’ve ever had came straight from our slow cookers. However, there is one way to make that Crockpot chili ever better than it already is.
Some of us may be inclined to toss your raw meat into the slow cooker – it is a little oven, after all! But the best way to get your most tender and flavorful chili is by sauteing the meat on the stove topfirst. Yes, it’s an extra step, but it’s worth it for perfect chili.
10. Only use wine that you’d want to drink
Yes, it’s tempting to use turned wine in your slow cooker recipes, but it’s a big no-no. No ingredient in your Crockpot should be spoiled, especially wine; it will essentially ruin the entire taste of your meal. We know you want to drink the good stuff, but sacrifices must be made for quality cooking.
The best wines to use for Crockpot recipes are fairly dry blends with a high alcohol content; this will add more nuance and complex flavors to a slow cooker braised dish than a sugary wine or one with a low alcohol content.
And our suggestion? Buy two bottles next time! One for you, one for the Crockpot.
11. Only use high-quality vanilla extract in slow cooker baked goods
Crockpot aren’t just good for meals, they make amazing desserts, as well! But slow-cooked baked foods tend to have a very pronounced vanilla flavor, mainly because the small amount of alcohol in the vanilla does not burn off as quickly as it would in an oven.
This causes the vanilla flavor to be more distinct, which can be a bit overpowering. To make sure this flavor isn’t overwhelming to your dish, use a high-quality vanilla for slow cooker desserts, like Nielsel-Massey’s vanilla extract.
Do you have any slow cooker tips you swear by? Share them in the comments section below.