Modern Mom: 9 Tips for using your slow cooker
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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.