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12 Expert Slow Cooker Tips You'll Wish You Knew About Sooner

How to cut cleanup time, upgrade flavor and texture, and make your week ahead a whole lot easier.

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Slow cookers are one of the MVPs of the kitchen — but they can sometimes be tricky to use.

So whether you're already a slow cooker connoisseur or a total newbie, we wanted to share some super-useful hacks for how to get the most out of the thing.

For this, we turned to an expert: Sarah DiGregorio is the author of the new Adventures in Slow Cooking cookbook. (She's also a BuzzFeed Food alum!) Below, she shares some of her best tips and tricks for how to slow-cook like a pro. At the bottom of this post, you'll also find one of her favorite recipes: slow cooker shakshuka. 🍳

1. For the easiest cleanup ever, line your slow cooker with parchment paper.

Andrew Purcell / Adventures in Slow Cooking

This is especially useful for dishes that you might want to remove (or replate) in one piece, like cakes or frittatas, says DiGregorio. Just line with parchment, cook as usual, then lift up and out.

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2. Follow the order of operations.

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Cooking dairy products at high heat for a long period of time can cause them to curdle, so add them last. Save the quick-cooking greens and fresh herbs for the end, too. (Recipe for this creamy corn chowder here.)

3. To quickly check temperature without lifting the lid, use a probe thermometer.

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The slow cooker lid traps heat and stabilizes temperature, so it's best not to lift it when cooking unless you absolutely need to. If you have to quickly check the temperature on something specific — like making sure your roast has cooked through — a probe thermometer is your best bet.

Some slow cookers, like this programmable one, come with one. But probe thermometers are also fairly inexpensive to buy separately — and you can use them in the slow cooker, oven, or anywhere else you might need a quick temp check.

Get the Hamilton Beach programmable slow cooker (with probe thermometer) for $49 or the ThermoPro instant thermometer for $10.79, both from Amazon.

4. Use more big-flavor ingredients than you usually do — because the low-and-slow heat will mellow them out.

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Good rule of thumb when slow-cooking? Use more flavor boosters than you think you need. "This goes for everything — spices, lemon zest, curry paste, garlic, ginger," DiGregorio says. "Their intensity mellows out because of the long cook time, so be extra generous."

5. Make a foil collar to prevent delicate dishes — like frittatas or cakes — from burning at the edges.

Andrew Purcell / Adventures in Slow Cooking

As DiGregorio explains in her book: On many slow cookers, the hottest spot is the strip around the bottom. But if you line that strip with foil, it'll act as insulation and help prevent overbrowning or burning.

Get a double pack of Reynolds wrap foil and parchment paper for $15.95 on Amazon.

6. For the best possible dish, sauté your aromatics first — and brown your meat.

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"These are two of the easiest things you can do to improve your slow cooking," DiGregorio says. "Sautéing aromatics controls moisture and boosts flavor, and searing or browning meat builds layers of flavors and improves texture." In short? It's an extra step, but it's worth it.

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7. To avoid washing an extra pan, consider a stovetop-safe slow cooker that allows you to sear right in it.

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They're usually a little pricier than standard models, but if you slow-cook often, a stovetop-safe version might be worth the investment. After you're done searing or browning, you can just place the insert directly back into the slow cooker. (And have one less dish to wash!)

This one above is a stovetop-safe Crock-Pot. Get it for $55.99 on Amazon.

8. Soak up condensation by lining the lid with a paper towel.

Andrew Purcell / Adventures in Slow Cooking

"The paper towels soak up the extra steam and prevent it from dripping back onto the surface of the dish," DiGregorio explains. "I use this when making cheesecakes and custards, or eggplant Parmesan. It helps ensure the bread crumb coating on top stays crunchy."

9. Taste-test for five things before serving.

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Those five things, says DiGregorio, are salt, sour, sweet, freshness, and richness. It's all about finding the balance and adjusting (or finishing) to your liking.

For something like slow cooker potatoes, that might mean a final sprinkling of Parmesan and herbs — for salt, richness, and freshness.

11. If you end up with too much liquid, remove the lid to let excess moisture evaporate.

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If, near the end of a cook time, you find yourself with more liquid than you'd like, remove the lid to let that liquid reduce down. (At the same time, though: Make sure any meat is cooked through at that point, because removing the lid will drop the temperature, too.)

Find the recipe for this pineapple salsa chicken here.

12. Use bakeware to upgrade your bread or dessert game — anything that's oven-safe works in the slow cooker, too.

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Think of your slow cooker as a mini oven: perfect for making things like custards and puddings in ramekins; jams and sauces in canning jars; or breads or cakes in baking dishes or loaf pans.

Find the recipe for slow cooker bread here and slow cooker crème brûlée here.

Recipe for Slow Cooker Shakshuka With Feta & Olives:

Andrew Purcell / Adventures in Slow Cooking

Makes to 2 to 4 servings

Prep time: 15 minutes
Finish time: 30 minutes
Slow-cook time: 6 to 8 hours
(Note: This holds well on warm through step 3 for up to 4 hours.)

Ingredients:

• 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

• 1 large red or yellow onion, sliced

• Kosher salt

• 12 ounces jarred roasted red peppers, drained and sliced (about 1 heaping cup)

• One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes

• ½ cup pitted olives, preferably kalamata

• 5 garlic cloves, chopped

• ½ teaspoon ground cumin

• ½ teaspoon ground turmeric

• ½ teaspoon smoked paprika

• ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

• 1 tablespoon schug or harissa (see note, below), plus more to taste

• Freshly ground black pepper

• 4 large eggs

• Fresh herbs, such as parsley, mint, or dill, and feta, for topping

• Pita bread, for serving

Instructions:

Warm the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, season it with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens and starts to turn golden, 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the roasted red peppers, tomatoes, and olives into a 5- to 8-quart slow cooker. With your hands, coarsely break up the tomatoes.

Add the garlic to the skillet with the onions, season with salt, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and add the cumin, turmeric, paprika, red pepper flakes, and schug. Season generously with pepper. Cook, stirring, until fragrant and combined, about 30 seconds. Using a spatula, scrape the onion mixture into the slow cooker (be sure to include the oil) and stir to combine. Season with 1 teaspoon salt. Cook on LOW until the sauce’s flavors have married and mellowed, 6 to 8 hours. (You could also cook this on HIGH for 2 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours.)

Taste the sauce and add salt and more schug if you like. Turn the heat up to HIGH, cover, and wait for the edges to start bubbling slightly, about 15 minutes. Stir the sauce, then crack the eggs onto the surface of the sauce and season them with a little salt. Cover and cook for 8 to 15 more minutes, until the eggs are just set on top (which is where they cook slowest) but still jiggly. Scoop servings into bowls and drizzle with a little olive oil. Top with the herbs and feta and serve with pita on the side.

* Good to know: Schug (also spelled zhug) is a Yemenite hot sauce that’s popular in Israel. It’s tangy and hot and herbal and comes in both red and green varieties; either will work here. Look for it in your supermarket near the hummus — Sabra makes a very good jarred version. But if you can’t find it, harissa will also be excellent.

From Adventures in Slow Cooking by Sarah DiGregorio. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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