The joy of using a slow cooker or crock-pot cooking rests in the options it provides for a cook who may be pressed for time. Just imagine that you’ve just prepared a meal that will serve your entire family with limited preparation time without the need to fuss with pots, pans and serving dishes.
Walking into your home and smelling the aroma seeping from the already prepared meal is a major stress reliever and time saver. Another good thing that I love about crock- pot cooking is that you can make enough soup or chili so there is plenty left over to freeze using a vacuum sealer to pack it for the freezer.
What Size Crock-Pot Do I Need?
If you don’t already have a slow cooker then the first task at hand is to decide on the size. We recommend a 1-2 quart size if you are preparing some meals for one or appetizers such as dips or salsas. However, if you need to prepare food for a large family then its best to choosing a larger size between 4 quart – 8 quart size.
What you plan to cook should also be taken into consideration. For example, if you plan to prepare a rack of baby back ribs that fall off the bone in your crock-pot then you will need to fork over some money for a larger model.
What’s The Difference Between a Crock-Pot and a Slow Cooker?
This is a question that I get asked often. To a cook there really is no difference. Crock-pot is a trademark name held by the company Rival and it refers to their line of stand-alone products known as slow cookers. Other companies that also sell slow cookers such as Hamilton Beach and Sunbeam could just as well call their slow cookers Crock-Pots but probably won’t out of fear of copyright infringement.
So I will be using both of these terms interchangeably here just so you know.
I’m Confused about My Crock-Pot Cooking Temperatures
Another thing to consider when purchasing a crock-pot is whether you want to be able to control the temperature or just go with a push button model that only gives you the option of a preset high or low temperature and maybe a warmer setting.
If your temperature setting is not calibrated properly or your lid is not quite on all the way then your cooking temperature may drop too low below the safe level to prepare your favorite foods. Also, crock-pots are sold with side elements, bottom elements or both.
Keep in mind if your crock-pot heating element resides on the side it will require more liquid when cooking recipes so as not to run the risk of drying up your food especially over longer cooking times.
We get asked a lot of questions about the ideal cook times for some of your favorite meats when using a slow cooker. The chart below should help.
|Meat Weight||Low Cook Time||High Cook Time|
|Large Pork Roast, Pork But, PorkShoulder||6-7 lbs||9 ½ hours||7 ½ hours|
|Pork Loin||3-4 lbs||6 hours||5 hours|
|Poultry – Whole Chicken or Bone in Turkey Breast||6 lbs||7 ½ hours||6 ¼ hours|
|Beef Roast||3-4 lbs||8 hours||5 ¾ hours|
|Stew Meat||3 lbs||6 hours||4 ¾ hours|
|Fish – If your fish is added to a fully heated slow cooker that is simmering and then added your fish will cook in 15 -20 minutes||2 lbs||3 ½ hours||1 ½ hours|
Experimenting with Your Crock-Pot?
You can prepare everything from pork chops to pot roasts in a crock-pot so don’t be afraid to experiment. If you enjoy combining various recipes together then the slow cooker is the place to do it. The real plus in cooking with crock-pots is that you can easily slow cook leaner cuts of meat. The slow cooking of your favorite meats leaves them much more tender and moist with fat that is completely dissolved or quite easy to remove.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Crock-Pot Cooking
As there are rules for almost any type of cooking the same holds true for crock-pot cooking. So here is a quick list of do’s and don’ts:
- Add spices, herbs and seasonings at the beginning of cooking cycle.
- Don’t stir your food unless required to do so by the recipe.
- Leave the lid on the crock-pot for the entire cooking time as not to cause the slow cooker to lose heat. (see exception above)
- Add foods such as fish and frozen vegetables at the end of the cooking cycle.
- Be prepared to add food in stages, meats are generally first, softer vegetables second and frozen vegetables last.
- Fill the Crock-Pot at least one-half to three quarters full for optimal results.
- Don’t reheat food in your slow cooker, however most stoneware that crock-pots are made from are microwave safe and can be easily reheated in a microwave. Most food prepared in a slow cooker is more flavorful days after it was originally prepared.
- Brown your meat prior to placing it in your Crock-pot. Searing your meat in a skillet before placing it in your slow cooker will give your dish more flavor as well allow you to get rid of some fat before slow cooking.
- You can leave your Crock-Pot unattended on your countertop for extended periods of time and feel completely safe.
A crock-pot will help you enjoy delicious slow-cooked classics such as pot roast, chili, braised short ribs, a cream cheese layer dip, and a spicy paella. It can also keep your garlic-mashed potatoes warm on your Thanksgiving serving table. The crock-pot is a very veritable cooking appliance and stress reliever for the mom or dad with a busy schedule.