A slow cooker or crock-pot is a super useful little appliance that lets you prepare all kinds of tasty meals with minimal hassle. All you usually need to do is fill the pot with ingredients, turn it on, and walk away, letting the slow cooker do the rest. The process is simple, but there are still a few rules to bear in mind and common mistakes to avoid whenever you use a slow cooker.
1) Lazy Layering
A slow cooker can be a big time-saver, but you still need to spend a little bit of time placing your ingredients correctly. Layer your ingredients, rather than simply tossing them all in. Recipes should usually tell you how to do this, but if you’re unsure, the golden rule is to place root veggies at the bottom, meats in the middle, and fast-cooking veggies on top.
2) Leaving The Skin On
Chicken tastes great when left to gently simmer in a slow cooker for a few hours, but if you make the mistake of leaving the skin on, you’ll have to deal with a slimy and mushy layer on the outside of your meat. If you like crispy skin, grill or sear your chicken before adding it to the pot.
3) Adding Excess Alcohol
When you use alcoholic ingredients like wine or liquor on the stove or in the oven, they boil up and the alcohol content is reduced. In a slow cooker, since the temperatures are relatively low, this doesn’t happen. So if you add too much, you’ll end up with a really strong alcohol flavor that could ruin your meal. This doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to use any alcohol in a slow cooker, just try to keep it to a minimum
4) Forgetting To Sear
Most slow cooker recipes involving meat always tell you to sear it first, but a lot of people overlook or ignore this step, thinking it’s not all that important. However, it really does make a difference to the final flavor and quality of your dishes, so try not to forget it next time.
5) Lifting The Lid
We get it. The food smells great, you’re starting to feel hungry, and you just can’t help lifting off the lid of your crock pot to take a peek at how the dish is coming along. While it might be tempting to lift the lid, you really shouldn’t. A ton of heat can escape in a matter of seconds, and even just one little peek can add a whole half hour onto your cooking time.
6) Using Dairy
Dairy just doesn’t work too well in crock pots. Cheeses tend to get all oily and greasy, while liquid products like creams and milks start to curdle. If you do want to use dairy ingredients in a slow cooker, don’t leave them in there for too long.
7) Using Fresh Herbs
Fresh herbs are usually the best option when you want to flavor and season your recipes, but in a slow cooker, the powdered versions actually tend to work a lot better. If you do insist on adding fresh herbs, add them in the final few minutes of cooking, rather than leaving them in the pot for hours.
8) Getting The Size Wrong
Slow cookers come in different sizes, and just like with pots and pans and other items around the kitchen, you need to use the right size for the job at hand. A slow cooker that’s too small might overflow or fail to thoroughly cook your food, while one that’s too big will basically act like a big skillet. Find the right size for you and your family, or consider buying a couple of different slow cookers for different recipes.
9) Using Frozen Foods
When it comes to slow cookers, frozen ingredients should be avoided. This includes things like veggies and herbs, and it’s especially true for meats. Frozen meat, when heated very slowly in a crock pot, can be a dangerous breeding ground for bacteria. Always let the meat (and other frozen foods) thaw out or defrost before being added to the pot.
10) Using Expensive Cuts
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with using expensive cuts of meat in a slow cooker, but it is a bit wasteful. All cuts more or less taste the same when cooked in a slow cooker, as they all become very soft and tender due to the long cooking process. So there’s really no need to waste your money on the fancy filet mignons and other expensive cuts.
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