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Slow Cooker Recipes and Tips

Helpful Slow-Cooker Tips

Have a slow-cooker dilemma? Find expert advice on ingredients, cleaning, and keeping meat moist.

By Brigitt Hauck
Vegetables in slow cookerRita Maas

We asked expert Judith Finlayson, author of Slow Cooker Comfort Food: 275 Soul-Satisfying Recipes and The Vegetarian Slow Cooker: Over 200 Delicious Recipes ($25, amazon.com), to answer some of your most pressing slow-cooker questions.

How do I prevent meat from drying out? 
To prevent poultry from drying out, use chicken thighs—they have more fat and won’t dry out as quickly, says Finlayson. Cook thighs for about six hours and breasts for a maximum of five hours on low heat. Beef, depending on the cut, is much more forgiving, she says. For better results, use stewing beef, short ribs, or brisket as opposed to a rib steak or a sirloin.

How can I prevent flavors from becoming muddy? 
“Start with a good recipe and quality ingredients and you will be a long way from having muddy flavors,” says Finlayson. For fresher flavors, add chopped herbs and vegetables with shorter cooking times about 10 minutes before the meal is ready.

How can I clean my slow cooker without lots of soaking and scrubbing? 
Though the slow cooker’s insert can be heavy, cleaning shouldn’t be a problem. Slow cookers retain moisture which should prevent scorching on the bottom, says Finlayson.  Difficulty cleaning may indicate a technical issue such as the heat being on too high for too long.

Can I cook frozen meats in my slow cooker? 
Cooking frozen meats in the slow cooker is an absolute no, says Finlayson. Harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses flourish in moist environments at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Using frozen meat may cause food to remain at an unsafe temperature for too long.

Is it safe to leave the slow cooker on when I’m not home?
Leaving the slow cooker on is perfectly safe. In fact, it’s comparable to leaving a light bulb on while you’re out, says Finlayson.

Why does my food get overcooked, even on the low setting? 
Slow cookers are all manufactured differently and they don’t all cook at the same pace, says Finlayson: “Know your slow cooker. Use quality recipes, and if you are consistently cooking faster or slower, adjust your time accordingly.” Keep in mind: There are no precise guidelines, and it may take a bit of trial and error to fix the issue.

Can I halve a slow cooker recipe? 
If cutting a recipe in half, you should also reduce the size of your slow cooker so that the heat distributes evenly, says Finlayson.  If you only own one slow cooker, make the whole recipe and freeze the leftovers or stick to soups and stews, since the size of the slow cooker isn’t as important as it is when cooking grains.

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