Six Simple Rules to Create a Rich, Satisfying Slow-Cooked Meal

Slow-cookers are making a comeback. That’s not surprising considering they’re a great way to save money and time in the kitchen. Even better, they make your home smell amazing, and allow you to spend more precious time with your family!
The beauty of using a slow-cooker is that it’s pretty darn simple. Prep your ingredients, add them to the cooker, and press the start button. It’s easy to make a good slow-cooked meal, but we want an incredible slow-cooked meal. So let’s get started, and you’ll be a pro in no time!

1. Plan of Attack

If you want to turn your slow cooker on first thing in the morning, a little planning goes a long way. Prepare your recipe the night before – cut and trim any meat, chop any vegetables and measure out the dry ingredients; refrigerate each of them in a separate container. Don’t refrigerate them in the slow-cooker itself; a cold insert takes too long to heat up and affects cooking time and food safety.
The next morning add the ingredients to the slow-cooker according to the recipe. If you won’t be home close to the end of the cooking time, make sure you have a slow cooker that switches to a Warm setting when cooking is done.

2. Stay Out of the “Danger Zone”

A slow-cooker is truly convenient, but when not used correctly, it has the potential for food-safety hazards. Temperatures between 40° and 140°F fall into the so-called “Danger Zone,” since bacteria thrive in these range. To avoid the “Danger Zone”, never add frozen ingredients to your cooker. Make sure your meats and vegetables are fully thawed before adding them.

3. Let’s get this party started

For the best results, only fill your slow-cooker between one-half and two-thirds full. Go ahead and cook big roasts and whole chickens; just make sure you use a large enough cooker. A tight fitting lid is also essential for great results as it keeps all the flavors locked in.
Layer wisely for even cooking, using ingredients cut into uniform-size pieces. Root vegetables take longer to cook so they need to be placed at the bottom of the cooker {items at the bottom cook faster}.
The meat should be placed on top, followed by adding any liquids {stocks, sauces, broths, wine and spring water are the most commonly used}. Seafood and quick-cook vegetables should be added during the last hour, as they tend to break down and separate.

4. Slow and Steady Wins the Race!

Let’s face it; slow cooking can be pretty… well, slow. Many recipes turn the temperature up to high and cook for half the time to speed things up. Often these turn out perfectly fine. But, if you’ve got the time, {or you’re super duper organized in the morning!}, try cooking on low for the full time. That’ll give all those flavors even more time to develop with the result being that much better!

5. Hands Off

Resist the urge to take off the lid and peek at your meal. Each peek you take during the cooking process adds an additional 15 to 20 minutes of cooking time. Only open it 30 to 45 minutes before the anticipated finish time to check doneness. Even at this point, try not to check it too often since this continues to extend the cook time.

6. It’s Thyme to Get Fresh

Add a sprinkle of fresh herbs or a squeeze of lemon juice at the end of cooking to highlight the flavors and enhance the richness of your long-cooked recipe. Garnish with sliced vegetables to add a fresh and bright element to your slow-cooked meal.

Finally, should you have any leftovers, remove them from the cooker, transfer them to a storage container, let them cool slightly and then refrigerate or freeze. Don’t allow food to cool in the slow cooker itself, as it retains heat for a long time potentially allowing bacteria to build up during the cooling process.