In my experience there is a weird, unspoken fall and spring ritual each year where you put away the slow cooker at about the same time you pull out the grill. I fell into this camp for years – my slow cooker was relegated to bean soups all winter but not brought out after that. But I have recently discovered that slow cooking in the summer can be such a treat! You don’t have to heat up your already-hot house with the oven or stove-top, and while you might not want soup, a delicious pork roast – or better yet, tacos – are great any time of year!
Slow Cooker Chipotle Tacos with Cabbage-Radish Slaw adapted from Real Simple
Assuming we’ve convinced you that slow-cooking in the summer is a great idea, there isn’t really much difference than slow cooking any other time of year. We do like to skip the soups and use it to slowly braise meats, or our new favorite – slow cooker lasagna!
Slow-Cooker Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna inspired by Do It Delicious Blog
Regardless of when you’re using your slow cooker, here are some tips to follow for great slow cooker meals that are not only easy, but delicious as well.
- Watch the Salt – Make sure to be careful with salt, as slow cooking increases the flavor of salt pretty dramatically. Opt for low-sodium soy sauce and broths and be careful of adding too much salt until the very end. If you only read and follow one of these tips, make it this one! Accidentally over-salting is the fastest way to ruin a slow cooker meal.
- Choose the Right Ingredients – One of the most beautiful things about a slow cooker is that it takes very unfussy ingredients and turns them into something great. In fact, dry herbs fare better than fresh in the slow cooker (and dry, whole leaves are the best of all), and fattier (less expensive) cuts of meat are highly preferred over more expensive, leaner cuts. The long, slow cooking breaks down the fat and connective tissue of the less expensive cuts making them tender and delicious, whereas it simply overcooks lean cuts of meat making them tough and disappointing.
- Thaw Frozen Ingredients – This ensures that your slow cooker doesn’t waste time defrosting items before cooking, an important step for food safety so that everything gets hot quickly.
- Don’t Overfill – Your slow cooker works best when it’s half to two-thirds full, because the air has space to circulate around what’s cooking and provide the super even temperature that makes slow cooked foods great.
- Spice It Up! – The flavor of herbs and spices gets cooked way, way down during the long cooking time in the slow cooker. To end up with a flavorful meal at the end, lean toward over-seasoning from what many recipes say, especially if your herbs are a little on the old side. Chilies and hot peppers lose their edge shockingly fast in the slow cooker so feel free to try doubling (or even tripling) the spice beyond your normal tolerance level.
- Set It and Forget It – Isn’t that the point of a slow cooker? Beyond being easy, setting your slow cooker and walking away is also the key to good results. Lifting the lid and stirring can disrupt the steady temperature and even cooking that make the slow cooker great. So resist the urge to check in on your slow cooker, unless you think that something is going wrong.
Slow-Cooker Herbed “Roast” Chicken adapted from Weelicious
These are by no means necessary for a delicious slow cooker meal, but if you’re looking to take the slow cooker up a notch (or if you’ve never gotten on board with slow cooking because you just never loved the results), give these tips a try.
- Prep everything the night before – This might sound like a no-brainer, and it is, but is also worth mentioning again and again since we all forget to do it and it makes such a huge difference. When prepping items the night before, make sure to keep each item separate (especially meat and veggies) until you throw them in the slow cooker.
- Brown the meat before adding it to the slow cooker – While this is by no means necessary, it will yield meat with a more complete, almost caramelized flavor that can’t be achieved with a slow cooker alone. Pre-browning also works well for “aromatics” (garlic and onions) and other hard veggies to add a more complex flavor to the final product.
- Know when to add ingredients – While many of the most beloved slow cooker recipes just involve throwing everything in and leaving it (and there is nothing wrong with that), you’ll get a much better meal by leaving out tender vegetables, dairy and fish until the very end of cooking to avoid overcooking or curdling.
- Skip the liquid – We regularly get questions about where the liquid is in our Slow-Cooker Pork Roast recipe, and the answer is that we left it out on purpose. Slow cookers are high moisture environments – virtually no moisture is cooking away, it’s all staying deliciously trapped in the slow cooker. If you’re using a relatively fatty cut of meat, or skin-on chicken, you really don’t need to add any liquid at all unless you want a saucier finished product.
These are truly just tips to take things up a notch – the real beauty of the slow cooker is that pretty much anything goes! A few other items that are just good to know: High on most slow cookers is about 300 degrees, while Low is about 200. One hour on high = two hours on low. We highly recommend using the low setting for meats (they’ll end up much more tender), but high is preferable for dried beans. Oh, and don’t forget about dessert…
Slow Cooker Peach Cobbler adapted from French Toast and Wine Blog
Happy Slow Cooking,