Let’s face it – cooking can be a pain in the arse sometimes. Because of this, I try to use my crock pot as much as possible because it’s so easy and convenient. Even though my meal planning isn’t always consistent, I do my best to cook at least one dinner a week in the crock pot. It helps me create a home-cooked meal with very little effort after work.
Over the past couple years, I’ve learned a lot about slow cooking food. I’ve dried out more chicken breasts than I’d like to share, and I’ve even burned things – don’t ask. Basically, I’m really good at screwing up what some might consider to be the easiest form of cooking. Due to my learning from experience…I’m hoping I can save a few of you from dealing with the same mistakes by sharing some of my favorite “hacks” to make crock pot cooking a wee bit easier. Some of these I discovered and most I’ve either read or heard from others. Hope the list helps!
1. Turn your crock pot on to cook your food the night before.
I learned this through a blog post comment awhile ago, believe it or not. It seems so simple, but I had never even considered it before. My problem is I’m gone for a long time during the weekdays because of work, so if I turn the crock pot on in the morning, the food is often dry by the time we eat dinner at night. No bueno! Prep your food the night before, and start it right before you go to bed. Then when you woke up, turn it off, and stick it in the fridge. Then you just have to heat it back up when you’re ready for dinner!
2. Use a liner for easy cleanup.
They make special plastic liners for slow cookers for fast and effortless cleanup, so that’s one route. I usually go for non-stick cooking spray, though, even though food often sticks anyways. I’ve also heard covering the crockpot in aluminum foil can help keep the food from getting stuck to the sides and making dish washing way too much effort.
3. Prep ingredients the night before.
This is pretty common sense if you rush to get ready every morning, like I do, but it’s worth mentioning. If I plan to make a crock pot meal the next day, I’ll throw it all together before I go to bed the night before so in the morning I can just take it out of the fridge and turn it on.
4. Use a wall timer to put off the cooking start time.
I found this tip fascinating, personally. A friend recommended this to me because I’m rarely home when I should be to turn the crock pot off before the food starts to dry out or overcook. If you have a wall timer, you could let the food sit in the crock pot (preferably frozen) for an hour or two, so it turns on later, beginning the cooking cycle and, therefore, ending it later as well.
5. Don’t open the lid until it’s done.
Okay, if you’re making something that needs to be stirred occasionally, that’s different. But if you’re crock pot cooking and you keep lifting the lid (guilty), this can cause the dish to lose moisture and heat, prolonging the cooking time. They say for every time you lift the lid, you add 20-30 minutes longer to the total cooking time. So stahp!
6. Get creative with its uses.
The various uses for a crock pot are riiiiiidiculous. You can make dinner in the form of soup, slow-cooked meat, or another dish. You can turn it on before going to bed for a delicious oatmeal concoction or other breakfast recipe. You can even make bread in it (something I’ve been meaning to try). You can keep hot chocolate hot for a party by keeping the crock pot on. A personal favorite of mine is to cook dry beans because dry beans are so cheap and then I just keep them in bags in the freezer, ready to throw in dishes as needed. I’ve also heard of people making candles, soap, and other craziness with crock pots.
And that rounds out my six most favorite “hacks”, or whatever you want to call them, for the slow cooker / crock pot! If you’re looking for more recipe ideas for the slow cooking awesomeness, check out some of my favorites below:
Do you cook in the crock pot very often?
What’s your favorite dish to slow cook? Soup? Meat? Eh?