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Crockpot 102

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Crock Pot
SaucyGlo/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
Using a crockpot or slow cooker is very easy; just add the food, cover, turn on low heat and cook all day. But there are always more things to learn. The newest crockpots on the market come with divided liners, timers to adjust the cooking start time. The newer appliances seem to be hotter than models only a few years old, so it's best to learn how your particular crockpot cooks.

How to Convert Recipes

Many recipes can be converted to cooking in the crockpot. Soups and stews, of course, are natural slowcooker favorites. Casseroles and most meats benefit from the low temperatures and even cooking heat.

Reduce the amount of liquid a recipe calls for, since liquids do not evaporate during crockpot cooking. However, if you are cooking rice, beans, or pasta, don't reduce the liquid called for. You generally need twice as much liquid as product to cook these ingredients. Here are basic conversion times:

  • If conventional time is: 15 to 30 minutes, then cooking time on low should be 4 to 6 hours.
  • If conventional time is 35 to 45 minutes, cooking time on low should be 6 to 8 hours.
  • If conventional time is 50 minutes to 3 hours, cooking time on low should be 8 to 16 hours.

I generally prefer cooking most raw meat and vegetable combinations at least 8 hours on LOW. This gives the vegetables time to soften, the meat time to tenderize and all the flavors to blend.

Of course, the new hotter cooking crockpots change the rules. If you have a crockpot that is less than five years old, you'll probably need to reduce the cooking time. In fact, some of the newer recipes I've seen in magazines cook the food for only 3-4 hours on low. That's not really 'slow cooking', but it's the reality of the crockpot manufacturing today. Check the food at four hours on low, using an instant read meat thermometer to see if the food is done.

Preparing Ingredients

  • Surprisingly, vegetables cook more slowly than meats in the moist heat of the slow cooker. So vegetables should be cut or chopped roughly the same size and placed in the bottom of the crockpot.
  • Browning meats helps reduce the fat content in large cuts of meat like roasts. It also caramelizes the sugars in the meat, adding to appearance and flavor.
  • Trim off any visible fat from cuts of meat. Fat will make the dishes cook faster.

For Your Health

  • Studies have shown that the low, constant heat crockpots cook by may help prevent disease! Some compounds called "advanced glycation end products" are formed when sugars, fats, and proteins are heated at high temperatures, as when food is grilled, broiled, or microwaved.
  • These AGE's irritate cells and may be a factor in the formation of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Since slow cookers only heat between 200 and 300 degrees, fewer of these compounds form in crockpot cooked meals, so slow-cooked meals are healthier.
Related Video
How to Cook With a Crockpot

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