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Food: 11 Slow-Cooker Tips Every Home Cook Needs to Know

This Rice Cooker Saves Me So Much Time When Making Dinner for My Family

  This Rice Cooker Saves Me So Much Time When Making Dinner for My Family The Zojirushi rice cooker is a top pick in the EatingWell Test Kitchen and one of the most-used appliances in my own home kitchen. Here's why I can't live without it.For a busy family, one of the biggest issues with cooking rice during the week is time—well, lack of it. It's true that rice can take a while to cook, but that's where a good rice cooker comes in. Rice cookers allow you set it and forget while you tend to other things—whether it's making the rest of your meal, folding laundry or just relaxing on the couch for a "me minute" with a glass of wine.

On busy days, it's so tempting to hit up a drive-thru so you can skip cooking and cleanup time. But you can also skip that stuff with a slow cooker. With these tips on how to use a slow cooker, dinner will be way more satisfying, too.

Don't own a slow cooker? Our Test Kitchen tested several brands to find the best slow cooker for your needs.

Tip 1: Buy the Right Type of Meat

It's a common dilemma: you didn't have the cut of meat the recipe called for, so you swapped in something else. And as a result, your pork roast turned out tough and dry, yet also greasy. Before you make a substitution, consider that when slow-cooking for an extended time, it's best to use well-marbled cuts. It's a great opportunity to use less expensive meats, such as beef chuck roast, pork shoulder and chicken thighs. To minimize fat drippings, trim meats before cooking or plan to skim off some fat before serving.

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Tip 2: Sear the Meat Before You Start

Before you put a raw pot roast into the slow cooker, there's something you should know. Browning the meat ahead of time will help you lock in extra flavor, plus it'll seal in the meat's delicious juices. If you want to be really turn up the flavor, add a little rub or spice mix to the meat, too. This step takes just a few minutes but makes a world of difference.

Tip 3: Avoid Overfilling the Crock

Halfway through cooking, your slow cooker starts rattling. Turns out the lid is clanking against the crock because the contents are bubbling over. Or, when you open the lid to dish up dinner, you discover your meal is a hard mass stuck to the bottom of the slow cooker. Eek! Since slow cookers operate best when filled halfway to three-quarters full, make sure your recipe meets that criteria. If you're cooking with more or less food, cooking times may need adjustment.

How to Give Your Slow Cooker the Deep Clean it Needs

  How to Give Your Slow Cooker the Deep Clean it Needs Slow cookers are a godsend for busy families, bustling professionals, and anyone who loves having a low-effort, perfectly cooked meal waiting for them at the end of a long day—so, all of us. This set-it-and-forget-it style of cooking couldn’t be more comforting (or stress-free); find evidence of this in our roundups on warm and nourishing soups, another filled with all the most in-season produce for fall, and another still on the cookers themselves. © Provided by Food52 But, while pulling together one of these slow-cooked meals is as easy as pushing a button, cleanup still requires some effort.

Tip 4: Chop Veggies to a Uniform Size

That Slow-Cooker Beef Stew has smelled so good all day. But when you dig in, some of the veggies are crunchy—hardly even crisp-tender—and others have completely disappeared! This unfortunate situation is why it's so important to cut your vegetables to the right size. They should all be about the same size so they cook evenly.

Tip 5: Don't Peek!

We know you're jonesing for that Slow-Cooker Barbacoa, but resist the urge to look! Every time you open the lid, heat escapes, meaning your food will take longer to cook. To determine if the meat is up to temp, consult this food-safe temperature chart. (And make sure you invest in a quality meat thermometer!)

Tip 6: Keep the Sides in Mind

Don't let your long-awaited lasagna recipe come out of the cooker scorched in some places. When cooking "solid" foods, such as lasagna, meat loaves, bread pudding and breakfast bakes, it's OK to check the sides for over-browning. In most slow cookers, the side opposite the control panel is where foods cook fastest, so it's the best place to check first. Just be sure to look quickly and only near the end of the cook time.

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Tip 7: Thicken the Sauce

If tonight's slow-cooked chicken recipe is swimming in broth, don't just dump it out! Juices don't evaporate in a slow cooker because the lid is closed. As a result, they may be thinner or more plentiful than you wish. Transfer them to a saucepan and thicken into a gravy with flour or cornstarch.

Tip 8: Always Add Cheese at the End

We've all been there; at least, I have. You've made a delicious recipe in your slow cooker, topped it with cheese and left it for just a little too long. There's nothing worse than a gooey, somewhat rubbery mess. To avoid this issue, you don't have to avoid cheese altogether. Instead, simply make sure that you add it right at the end, around 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Tip 9: Stop Overcooking

If your family consistently gives your slow-cooked dishes low marks because of the mushy veggies, chalky meat and/or muddy, one-note flavors, you may be overcooking your recipes. Instead, take advantage of the slow cooker's "Keep Warm" setting if you need to leave something on longer than the recipe requires. Or, choose one of these slow-cooker recipes that take a full workday to cook, so it's ready when you get home.

This Slow Cooker Lets You Bring Your Stew and Chili to the Potluck Without Spillage, and It's on Sale

  This Slow Cooker Lets You Bring Your Stew and Chili to the Potluck Without Spillage, and It's on Sale It has over 6,000 five-star ratings from shoppers who will “never buy a different slow cooker again.” The Hamilton Beach slow cooker uses 340 watts of power to make every recipe from pot roast to brisket to chicken pot pie. We figure you'll be cooking for the whole family, which is why this large 6-quart slow cooker is a must. Shoppers even confirm it can actually hold a whole chicken inside. Yes, it's that big, which means you can make enough for dinner and have enough for leftovers, too. © Provided by Southern Living Courtesy of Amazon BUY IT: $34.99 with coupon (orig. $64.99); amazon.

Tip 10: Skip Washing Up

The least fun part of using a slow cooker is definitely the cleanup. No one likes it, and yet we all have to do it, right? Not quite. Using a slow cooker liner means that you can avoid most of the cleaning and get on with eating your deliciously tender home-cooked meal.

Tip 11: Think Outside the Box

If you thought that slow cookers were just for stews, I've got news for you. You can cook anything from rice pudding to mulled wine, and even cheesecake. If you're looking for some inspiration, check out all the foods you didn't know could be made in a slow cooker.

Next, browse our ultimate slow cooker guide, which has even more tips, recipes and deep-cleaning instructions.

The post 11 Slow-Cooker Tips Every Home Cook Needs to Know appeared first on Taste of Home.

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