What Is a Slow Cooker and How Does It Work?
A continuous slow cooker cooks food at a very low wattage. The heating coils, or elements, wrap around the sides of the cooker and remain on. On this type of cooker you'll likely notice three fixed settings:
- Low (200˚F)
- High (about 300˚F)
- Automatic (shifts from low heat to high heat)
The ceramic liner may or may not be removable.
An intermittent cooker (one with a dial indicating temperatures in degrees) is not recommended for recipes designated for slow cooking since they require continuous slow-cooking temperatures. In this appliance, the heating element or coil is located below the food container and cycles on and off during operation.
Get the recipe: Short Rib Beef Stew
Slow Cooker Sizes
Slow cookers range in size from 1 to 6 quarts. Many recipes list the recommended size or sizes that will accommodate that recipe. Check the capacity of your cooker to see whether it fits the recommendation.
Tip: For the best results, your slow cooker must be at least half full and no more than two-thirds full.
Get the recipe: Dilly Slow Cooker Dinner Rolls
How Often Do I Need to Stir?
For most recipes, you do not need to stir; in fact, stirring can greatly alter cooking time. Because a slow cooker prepares food at a low temperature, removing the lid can dramatically reduce the cooker's interior temperature. Therefore, when you lift the lid to stir or add ingredients, replace it as quickly as possible, especially when cooking on the low-heat setting.
Keep the heat: An uncovered cooker can lose up to 20 degrees of cooking heat in as little as 2 minutes. A quick peek, however, will change temperature by only 1 or 2 degrees.
Get the recipe: Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oatmeal
What Heat Setting Should I Use?
If you want dinner to cook all day and be ready when you get home from work or running errands, use the low-heat setting of your cooker. This allows most foods to cook for 10 to 12 hours.
For a shorter cooking time, use the high-heat setting, which cooks most foods in 5 to 6 hours. Cooking times may vary depending on the cooker, but the timings generally work well for all continuous slow cookers.
If a slow cooker recipe recommends cooking only on one setting, do not use any other setting because your food may not turn out properly.
Get the recipe: Italian-Style Slow Cooker Meat Loaf
How to Clean a Slow Cooker
Always remember to unplug your cooker before cleaning, and never immerse the cooker or the cord in water. To clean the ceramic lining, use a soft cloth and warm, soapy water. If your cooker has a removable liner, you can wash it in the dishwasher. Skip abrasive cleaners and cleansing pads. To avoid cracking the crockery insert, cool the cooker or the insert completely before cleaning.
Get the recipe: Crunchy Ranch Party Mix
Want to make cleaning even quicker? This easy cleaning hack helps your slow cooker clean itself!
How to Freeze Leftovers
Many cooks buy large-capacity slow cookers so they can cook once and have enough leftovers to enjoy at another meal. To freeze leftovers, cool the food about 30 minutes and transfer it to freezer-safe containers. Label and freeze.
To reheat, do not use your slow cooker. Place the frozen food in an appropriate-size saucepan; cook and stir over low heat until boiling.
Get the recipe: Slow Cooked Moroccan Chicken
Slow Cooker Safety
Foods prepared in a slow cooker are safe to eat even though they are heated at a very low temperature. The long cooking time and the steam that forms in the tightly covered container destroy any bacteria.
To ensure that your food is safe to eat, take a few precautions. Clean the cooker and all utensils before you start. Do not use the slow cooker for large pieces of meat. Cut in half any roasts larger than 2-1/2 pounds.
Get the recipe: Slow Cooker Falafel
Yummy Slow Cooker Ideas
Now that you have all the info for how to use a slow cooker, you can start putting it to work! Make any meal of the day, from breakfast to dessert, much easier with one of our favorite slow cooker recipes.
Helpful Slow Cooker Hacks
You can make more recipes in your slow cooker than you might think. Have you ever tried pie or homemade yogurt in the slow cooker?
Plus, we have a few other slow cooker tips and tricks to make crafting and cleaning easier than ever.