Modern Mom: 9 Tips for using your slow cooker

Sarah Brooks

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There's almost nothing better than coming home to the house smelling wonderful thanks to your slow cooker meal from the morning. Slow cookers make dinners simple, but with these nine tips, your life is about to get even easier.

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Photo credit: Robyn Mackenzie/iStock / 360/Getty Images

Whether you're making creamy potato soup or slow cooker rosemary olive oil bread, here are nine little ways to improve the quality of your dishes in your slow cooker.

Know your cooking times

As a general rule of thumb, know that one hour on high is equal to two hours on low. If a recipe calls for four hours cooked on high, it will take roughly eight hours cooked on low.

Tip: Learn about your slow cooker's cooking times, as they can vary from pot to pot. For example, my slow cooker cooks a basic chicken meal in four hours on LOW setting.

Cheaper meats cook faster

Cheaper meats are generally thinner and have less fat, making them ideal for slow cooker cooking. If you're using chicken breasts or stew meat, you'll want to trim the excess fat anyway, so you may as well save yourself some money and buy the cheaper cuts of meat.

Always thaw food first

To prevent bacteria from forming, always thaw your food completely before placing in the slow cooker. On average, it takes food one to two days to thaw completely in the refrigerator.

Never open the lid

While it's very tempting to open the lid to get a whiff of what you're making, resist the urge. Every time you open the lid, heat escapes which adds cooking time to your meal. On average, you'll add 15 minutes of extra cooking every time you open the lid.

Brown meats first

Browning your meats before placing them in the slow cooker adds more flavor than placing the meat in the slow cooker raw. Ground meats — such as beef or turkey — should always be browned first, but chicken and chuck roasts can be lightly browned first, too, for extra flavor.

Tip: Try sautéing your veggies first, too!

Don't overstuff the slow cooker

For best results, never fill your slow cooker more than two-thirds full. If you're consistently cooking whole chicken and other large meats, invest in a bigger slow cooker.

Add certain foods last

Soft vegetables, like tomatoes and mushrooms, should be added in the last one hour of cooking to avoid them from getting soggy. Dairy products and seasonings should also be added in the last 30 minutes to one hour of cooking. Spices will lose their flavor if they're added too soon.

Refrigerate leftovers right away

It's never safe to let hot food sit untouched for hours at a time. Once your meal is done, serve the food and put the leftovers in shallow containers in the refrigerator within two hours.

Use the slow cooker for sides and desserts

Lastly, the slow cooker is not just a tool for making dinner, it's also great for breakfast, side dishes and dessert! Try this slow cooker rice pudding recipe or even slow cooker cakes!

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Sarah Brooks
Newlywed, new mom and first-time home buyer, Sarah is currently playing out her exciting life in Phoenix, Arizona. She recently gave up her job in finance to stay at home with her baby girl, who between bath time and feeding time, keeps her very busy. In addition to settling into her new neighborhood and parenthood, she is also a writer and contributor for SheKnows.com.