Making the Most of Your Crock Pot

Crock pot cooking has made a comeback in recent years as a staple in everyday American cooking. Not only does it save you time, it also saves you a good deal of money, from letting you pick cheaper cuts to using less energy. But useful as it is, the crock pot takes some getting used to, especially if you’re well used to stovetop cooking. If you’re still getting the hang of recipes for crock pots, it’s easy to make mistakes and think slow cooking simply isn’t for you. But that shouldn’t have to be the case.

To make the most of your crock pot, it’s important to understand how it works. Also called slow cookers, crock pots cook your food over low heat for a long period, rather than a short burst of high heat as with the stovetop. This helps it cook more efficiently and evenly, and allows you to do other tasks while your food is cooking. For busy cooks with little time to spend for a home-cooked meal, slow cooking offers a nice healthy solution. Read on for some tips on better slow cooking and getting more out of your crock pot.

Choose the right pot.

Needless to say, it all starts with the right type of crock pot. Not all slow cookers are made the same, and these days, there are so many added features that it’s hard to make sense of the labels. When buying crock pots, the first thing you should look at is the crock itself. Most models now have a removable crock, which is a must if you plan on using (and cleaning) the pot every day. Pay attention to the material used; usually, the heavier it is, the better it can withstand regular use.

Size and shape are also important considerations when choosing a crock pot. Round, oval, and rectangular shapes are usually the most common. Experts recommend one with rounded edges, since they’re easier to clean and don’t accumulate residues as much. As for size, choose one that’s slightly bigger than you need for a typical family meal. That way, you have enough room for everyday cooking, plus a little extra for when you have friends or family over.

Know your meat cuts.

Meat and roasts are no doubt the most popular use for crock pots. The crock pot allows you to choose cheaper cuts of meat, since the slow cooking process can tenderize them and bring out the most of their flavor. That’s why beef and lamb crock pot recipes always work so well. However, you’ll want to avoid cuts that have a lot of fat, since the fat tends to melt away and make the dish thick and greasy.

Health authorities warn against putting frozen meat in the crock pot. The low heat is often not enough to kill any bacteria in the meat, and in fact can even make them multiply. To avoid this, make sure the pot reaches a safe cooking temperature of 140 degrees as soon as possible. If you need to, adjust the recipe so you can cook the meat on high for the first two hours, then set it to low for the rest of the cooking time.

Use more leftovers.

The crock pot is a great way to use up leftover ingredients. Whether it’s leftover turkey from your Thanksgiving dinner or last night’s pot roast, there’s always a way to make something of it in the crock pot. Soup crock pot recipes are one of the easiest ways to use up leftovers. Often, you can just throw in the leftover meat, add in a few veggies and some broth, and let it do the rest of the job.

When making slow-cooked soup, make sure not to overfill the crock pot. Liquids should only fill about three-quarters of the pot; otherwise it won’t cook properly. Too much liquid keeps the lid from closing properly and sealing in the heat, so you’ll end up with undercooked food. Also, don’t remove the lid to stir unless the recipe calls for it. Slow cooking relies on exact amounts of heat, so letting just a little heat escape can require an additional 20 minutes of cooking time.

Think beyond dinner.

Most people associate crock pots with heavy dinner recipes, but that’s not all there is to it. You can also use the crock pot to make appetizers, side dishes, lunches, breakfast, and even dessert. It’s especially useful for making breakfast, since you can just start it up overnight and it’ll be ready by the time you wake up. Some of the most popular crock pot breakfast recipes are oatmeal, breakfast casserole, cobbler, and soufflé-type dishes. Most of these recipes can be done with leftover ingredients, so it’s a nice way to use up extras from the previous night’s meals.

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