Ah, behold the power of the slow cooker meals! There’s really no other way to make a hearty, mouthwatering, s-l-o-w cooked, stick to your ribs and put a little love in your mouth dinner with as little prep time. Even the toughest (and hint- often most inexpensive!) cuts of meat can be turned from nightmare to melting on your fork through the transformation of slow cooking.
In most cases, crock pot meals can be thrown together in just a matter of minutes (how about Cinnamon Chipotle Roasted Pork Loin?) It is perfectly acceptable to simply put all the ingredients into the crock pot without browning. I’m a big fan of throw and go (when you follow these tips.) However, in defense of those who choose to brown meats & veggies before adding them, I will say that there does add a depth of flavor. So, I leave that choice up to you. If you have time, great, if not, don’t sweat it.
Whether you choose to take this extra step or not, you can have foolproof slow cooker meals every time with these Here are my top 5 tips:
1. Choose the Right Size Slow Cooker
Slow cookers come in everything from 1 quart size right on up to 10-12 quart commercial sized. Because you want to get the cooking time and final temperature of your food “right” it’s important that you choose the right size. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to have a smaller (1-2 quart) size for keeping small quantities of food cooked and warm (think dips & beans for parties) and a larger size (5-6 quart) to make most average meals for 4-8 servings. Stacey Hawkins recipes are all designed to go in this size (unless otherwise noted.)
2. Do NOT Overfill
Again, food safety is paramount when it comes to slow cookers. For this reason, do NOT overfill the slow cooker as the ratio of food to heating surface won’t be enough to get the food to the right temperature. This can cause disastrous results- not just with food being undercooked and having an EPIC FAIL with your recipe, but it will make a mess all over your kitchen as well.
3. Do NOT Lift the Lid
Lifting the lid can cause big problems because doing so drastically reduces the temperature and will increase the cooking time. Believe it or not, when you lift the lid, it can cause you to lose 20 minutes of cooking time! For best results, lift the lid only 30-45 minutes before the end of cooking, unless the recipe specifies otherwise.
4. Pay Attention to Cooking Time
Recipes will specify the cooking time and it’s important to pay attention to that. Most will offer you cooking times on high and times on low. Low is usually about 1.5 to 2 times longer, depending on what you’re cooking. Whether you choose a high temp version or a low temp version, program your slow cooker accordingly. Don’t have a programmable slow cooker? No worries! For $5 you can go to your local hardware store and buy a plug-in light timer (the one you use when you go on vacation ) simply program it, put it in the socket and then plug in your slow cooker. Instant upgrade!
5. Flavor is EVERYTHING
It’s critically important to make sure that you add robust seasonings to your slow cooker recipe. Bland in will equal bland out. Use rich flavors including tomatoes, onions, basil, garlic, rosemary, etc. for the best taste. Dry seasonings (like Stacey Hawkins blends) are optimal for slow cooker meals and can yield great results.
Slow cooker meals are a fantastic way to make quick, easy meals in just a matter of minutes. Simply throw in good quality ingredients, put on the lid, walk away and the results will speak for themselves. Want to try a few of my favorite recipes? How about White Chicken Chili Soup, Finger Licking BBQ chicken or Chicken with Fire Roasted Tomatoes?