Not all slow cookers are the same...or work equally well for everyone. Check out these must have Top Slow Cooker Tips.
For myself and those of us who use slow cookers often know we have our own preferences when it comes to which slow cooker we want to use. For instance, I love my programmable slow cooker, but there are a lot of programmable slow cookers I've tried that I did not like. Why you ask? Because some go by increments of 15 or 30 minutes and some go by 4,6,8 or 10 hours.
I do not like those restrictions, but I have a family and friends who don't mind them at all! I am also pretty brand loyal when it comes to my manual slow cookers, because I've had great success with those and have had unsuccessful moments with slow cookers of other brands.
Which slow cooker is the best for your household?
- For a 2-3 person household use a 3-5 Quart Slow Cooker
- For a 4-5 person household use a 5-6 Quart Slow Cooker
- For a 6+person household use a 6 ½-7 Quart Slow Cooker
Large Slow Cooker Benefits and Disadvantages:
- You can fit a loaf pan or a baking dish into a 6 or 7 Quart, depending on the shape of your cooker. That allows you to make bread or cakes, or even smaller quantities of main dishes. Take your favorite baking dish and loaf pan along when you shop for a cooker to make sure they'll fit inside.
- You can feed large groups of people, or make large quantities of food, allowing for leftovers, or meals to freeze.
- They take up more storage room.
- They don't fit as neatly into a dishwasher.
- If your crock isn't ⅔-3/4 full, you may burn your food.
Small Slow Cooker Benefits and Disadvantages:
- They're great for lots of appetizers, for serving hot drinks, for baking cakes straight in the crock, and for dorm rooms or apartments.
- Great option for making recipes of smaller quantities.
- Food in smaller quantities tends to cook more quickly than larger amounts. so keep an eye on it.
- Chances are, you won't have many leftovers. So, if you like to have leftovers, a smaller slow cooker may not be a good option for you.
Have at least two Slow Cookers; one around 3-4 Quarts and one 6 Quarts or larger. A third would be a huge bonus and a great advantage to your cooking repertoire. The advantage of having at least a couple is you can make a larger variety of recipes. Also, you can make at least two or three dishes at once for a whole meal.
Manual vs. Programmable
If you are gone for only six to eight hours a day, a manual slow cooker might be just fine for you. If you are gone for more than eight hours during the day, I would highly recommend purchasing a programmable slow cooker that will switch to warm when the cook time you set is up. It will allow you to cook a wider variety of recipes.
The two I use most frequently are my 4 Quart manual slow cooker and my 6 ½ Quart programmable slow cooker. I like that I can make smaller portions in my 4 Quart slow cooker on days I don't need or want leftovers, but I also love how my 6 ½ Quart slow cooker can accommodate whole chickens, turkey breasts, hams, or big batches of soups. I use them both often.
Get to know your Slow Cooker...
Plan a little time to get acquainted with your slow cooker. Each slow cooker has its own personality - just like your oven. Plus, many new slow cookers cook hotter and faster than earlier models. I think that with all of the concern for food safety, the slow-cooker manufacturers have amped up their settings so that "High", "Low" and "Warm" are all higher temperatures than in older models. That means they cook hotter and therefore, faster than the first slow cookers.
The beauty of these little machines is that they are supposed to cook low and slow. We count on that when we flip the switch in the morning before we leave the house for ten hours or so. So, because none of us knows what kind of temperament our slow cooker has until we try it out, nor how hot it cooks - don't assume anything.
Save yourself a disappointment and make the first recipe in your new slow cooker on a day when you're at home. Cook it for the shortest amount of time the recipe calls for. Then, check the food to see if it's done. Or if you start smelling food that seems to be finished, turn off the cooker and rescue your food.
Also, all slow cookers seem to have a "Hot Spot", which is of great importance to know, especially when baking with your slow cooker. This spot may tend to burn food in that area if you're not careful. If you're baking directly in your slow cooker, I recommend covering the "Hot Spot" with some foil.
Don't be afraid to make notes in your cookbook. It's yours! Chances are, it will eventually get passed down to someone in your family, and they will love and appreciate all of your comments. Take note of which slow cooker you used and exactly how long it took to cook the recipe.
The next time you make it, you won't need to try to remember. Apply what you learned to the next recipes you make in your cooker. If another recipe says it needs to cook 7-9 hours, and you've discovered your slow cooker cooks on the faster side, cook that recipe for 6-6 ½ hours and then check it. You can always cook a recipe longer, but you can't reverse things if it's overdone.
If you know your morning is going to be hectic, prepare everything the night before, take it out so the crock warms up to room temperature when you first get up in the morning, then plug it in and turn it on as you're leaving the house.
If you want to make something that has a short cook time and you're going to be gone longer than that, cook it the night before and refrigerate it for the next day. Warm it up when you get home. Or, cook those recipes on the weekend when you know you'll be home and eat them later in the week.
Slow Cooking Tips and Tricks and Other Things You May Not Know
- Slow Cookers tend to work best when they're ⅔ to ¾ of the way full. You may need to increase the cooking time if you've exceeded that amount, or reduce it if you've put in less than that. If you're going to exceed that limit, it would be best to reduce the recipe, or split it between two slow cookers.
- Keep your veggies on the bottom. That puts them in more direct contact with the heat. The fuller your slow cooker, the longer it will take its contents to cook. Also, the more densely packed the cooker's contents are, the longer they will take to cook. And finally, the larger the chunks of meat or vegetables, the more time they will need to cook.
- Keep the lid on! Every time you take a peek, you lose 20 minutes of cooking time. Please take this into consideration each time you lift the lid! I know, some of you can't help yourself and are going to lift anyway. Just don't forget to tack on 20 minutes to your cook time for each time you peeked.
- Sometimes it's beneficial to remove the lid. If you'd like your dish to thicken a bit, take the lid off during the last half hour to hour of cooking time.
- If you have a big slow cooker (7-8 quart), you can cook a small batch in it by putting the recipe ingredients into an oven-safe baking dish or baking pan and then placing that into the cooker's crock. First, put a trivet or some metal jar rings on the bottom of the crock, and then set your dish or pan on top of them. Or a loaf pan may "hook on to" the top ridges of the crock belonging to a large oval cooker and hang there straight and securely, "baking" a cake or quick bread. Cover the cooker and flip it on.
- The outside of your slow cooker will be hot! Please remember to keep it out of reach of children and keep that in mind for yourself as well.
- Get yourself a quick-read meat thermometer and use it! This helps remove the question of whether or not your meat is fully cooked, and helps prevent you from overcooking your meat as well.
Internal Cooking Temperatures:
- Beef - 125-130 Degrees F (Rare); 140-145 Degrees F (Medium); 160 Degrees F (Well Done)
- Pork - 140-145 Degrees F (Rare); 145-150 Degrees F (Medium); 160 Degrees F (Well Done)
- Turkey and Chicken - 165 Degrees F
- Frozen meat: The basic rule of thumb is, don't put frozen meat into the slow cooker. The meat does not reach the proper internal temperature in time. This especially applies to thick cuts of meat! Proceed with caution!
- Add fresh herbs 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time to maximize their flavor.
- If your recipe calls for cooked pasta, add it 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time if the cooker is on High; 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time if it's on Low. Then the pasta won't get mushy.
- If your recipe calls for sour cream or cream, stir it in 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time. You want it to heat but not boil or simmer.
Approximate Slow Cooker Temperatures - Remember, each slow cooker is different...
- High - 212 Degrees F- 300 Degrees F
- Low - 170 Degrees F- 200 Degrees F
- Simmer - 185 Degrees F
- Warm - 165 Degrees F
Cooked and Dried Beans Measurements:
16 ounce can, drained = about 1 ¾ cups beans
19 ounce can, drained = about 2 cups beans
1 Lb dried beans (About 2 12 cups)= 5 cups of cooked beans
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