Slow Cooker Recipes & Slow Cooker Tips

Easy tips and recipes for how to best use your slow cooker.

Ingredients for the Slow Cooker

Dried beans should always be soaked before adding to a slow cooker recipe. Sugar, salt and acidic ingredients, such as vinegar, have a hardening effect on beans and will prevent them from becoming tender. So it's best not to cook beans with these flavorings, but to add them only after the beans are fully cooked. Lentils and split peas do not need to be soaked.

Condensed Soups
Condensed soups can be cooked in slow cookers for extended periods of time with minimal curdling concerns.

Instead of cooking couscous in a slow cooker, prepare it separately on the stovetop for better results.

Milk-based products may break down when cooked in a slow cooker. When practical, add those ingredients toward the end of the cooking time.

When preparing meat or poultry for the slow cooker, trim off excess fat. It retains heat and large amounts of fat could raise the temperature of the cooking liquid, causing the meat to overcook.

Since fish cooks quickly in a slow cooker, it is often added toward the end of the cooking time.

Frozen Foods
Frozen meats should be completely thawed before placing in a slow cooker.

It is not always necessary to brown meats before placing them in a slow cooker. However, browning may improve color of the meat and produce a richer flavor.

Quick-cooking and old-fashioned oats are often interchangeable in recipes. However, old-fashioned oats hold up better when cooked in a slow cooker.

To prevent orzo or other small pastas from becoming mushy, add them to a slow cooker during the last hour of cooking.

Avoid adding dry pasta to a slow cooker since it becomes sticky. It is better to cook it according to package directions and stir it into the slow cooker just before serving.

Converted rice is ideal for all-day cooking in a slow cooker. If using instant rice, add it during the last 30 minutes of cooking.

When cooking a roast over 3 pounds in a slow cooker, be sure to cut it in half before placing it in the slow cooker. This ensures thorough cooking.

Seafood tends to break down when cooked in a slow cooker. If used, add seafood toward the end of the cooking time.

Vegetables, especially potatoes and root vegetables (such as carrots), tend to cook slower than meat. Place these vegetables on the bottom and around the sides of the slow cooker and put meat on top of the vegetables. Add tender vegetables, like peas and zucchini, or those you'd prefer to be crisp-tender, during the last 15 to 60 minutes.

Tips for Using Your Slow Cooker

To cook food properly and safely, manufacturers and the USDA recommend that the slow cooker be filled at least half full, but never more than two-thirds full.

Slow cookers should not be used to reheat leftovers. Use a microwave, stovetop, or conventional oven to reheat foods to 165°.

Each time you remove the lid from your slow cooker when unnecessary, you should increase the cooking time by 20-30 minutes.

Old vs. New Slow Cookers
Some newer slow cookers seem to heat up more quickly than older ones. If you have an older model and your recipe directs to cook on low, you may want to set it on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking to ensure food safety.

Power Outage
Following a power outage of less than two hours, you can finish cooking your food with your stove or microwave. If it's been more than two hours or you are unsure how long the power has been out, discard the food.

Many slow cooker recipes cook all day. It may be easier to place all ingredients in the crock the night before, then cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, place the crock in the slow cooker and select the temperature. Do not preheat your slow cooker.

Most slow cookers have two or more settings. Foods will cook faster on the high setting. However, the low setting is ideal for all-day cooking and/or for less tender cuts of meat. If your slow cooker has a "warm" setting, use it to keep your food warm until you're ready to eat it.

Slow Cooker Size
Use this chart to determine the ideal slow cooker size for your family:

Household Size Slow Cooker Size
1 person 1-1/2 qt
2 people 2- to 3-1/2 qt
3 or 4 people 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 qt
4 or 5 people 4-1/2 to 5 qt
6 or more people 5-7 qt

Helpful Foil Handles

Layered dishes or meat loaves are easier to get out of the slow cooker using foil handles. Here's how:

  • Cut three 20- x 3-inch strips of heavy-duty aluminum foil or create them by folding wider strips of regular foil. Crisscross the strips so they resemble the spokes of a wheel.
  • Place the meat loaf in the center of the strips, and pull them up and bend the edges to form handles.
  • Grasp the foil handles to lift the loaf and lower it into the slow cooker. Leave the foil in while you cook so you can easily lift the meat out to serve.

Note: For a layered dish, place the strips in the cooker and up the sides before putting in the food. Leave them in. Once the food is cooked, pull the strips together as a handle to neatly remove the food in one piece.

Hints for Cleaning Slow Cookers

  • Removable stoneware inserts make cleanup a breeze. Be sure to cool the insert before rinsing or cleaning with water to avoid cracking. Do not immerse the metal base unit in water. Clean it with a damp sponge.
  • Wash the insert in the dishwasher or in warm soapy water. Avoid using abrasive cleansers since they may scratch the stoneware.
  • To remove mineral stains on a crockery insert, fill the cooker with hot water and 1 cup white vinegar; cover. Turn heat control to high for 2 hours. Then empty. When cool, wash with hot sudsy water and a cloth or sponge. Rinse well and dry with a towel.
  • To remove water marks from a highly glazed crockery insert, rub the surface with vegetable oil and allow to stand for 2 hours before washing with hot sudsy water.