Slow Cooker Tricks Every Home Cook Needs to Know

Steal a few of Mama's cooking tips.

Easy Enchilada Bake
Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez

Oh, your trusty slow cooker. What would we do without it? Probably order so much more take-out. The slow cooker transforms classic weeknight staples into slow-cooked comfort food your family will love. And while it's great for soups and stews, it's also incredible for making cobblers and puddings too. There are a few tricks that you might not be aware of–but that you really need to know.

1. Choose the Right Model. If you travel with food in a slow cooker, consider a model that has a locking top and insulated carrying case. Or attach heavy-duty rubber bands around the handles and lid, and wrap the slow cooker in towels.

2. Trim Fat. Slow cooking requires little fat, so trim the excess from meats and poultry. Add fresh herbs and garnishes to a dish once it comes out of the slow cooker, in order to enhance the flavor.

3. Know Your Model. If you slow cooker has a removable insert, assemble the ingredients in the insert the night before, and refrigerate. Keep in mind that starting with cold ingredients may increase the cook time.

4. Keep it Covered. Removing the slow cooker lid during cooking releases a great deal of heat, so resist the urge to peek inside. Each time you remove the lid when not required, you'll need to increase the cooking time by 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Use Your Oven. Browning the ribs in the oven renders water and excess fat, making the sauce thicker and more flavorful. Slow-cooking ribs also mimics the outdoor grilling; they cook low and slow, tenderized by moist heat.

6. Watch Cook Times. Although cooking times are more flexible in a slow cooker than in an oven, overcooking is still possible. Test for doneness close to the time given in the recipe.

7. Stock Your Kitchen. Keep your kitchen stocked with these staples, so you can quickly stir up a hearty soup or stew: canned tomatoes, canned and dried beans, chicken and vegetable stock, smoked sausage, pasta, and fresh spices.

8. Stop Stirring. When using a slow cooker, there's no need to stir ingredients, unless a recipe calls for it. Just layer ingredients as the recipe directs. Also, you won't need much liquid, so use only the amount specified.

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