Wondering how to use a slow cooker? Looking for indulgent slow cooker recipes? Check out our best ever, easy slow cooker recipes here.
Slow cookers have been around since the ’50s, were huge in the ’70s and are now making a comeback as a whole new generation discovers their money-, energy- and time-saving benefits. So, it’s time to invest in a new pot, or drag that old one out of the back of your cupboard, and put it to good work!
***Slow-cooking is energy efficient as a slow cooker uses only about that same amount of energy as a light bulb***
Should you brown meat before using a slow cooker?
Some dishes come out perfectly fine without browning the meat first – tomato-based recipes such as bolognese, chilli con carne and curries that have vibrant spices like turmeric will still come out looking delicious at the end of cooking.
When making a meaty stock-based stew, however, it’s worth taking the time to brown the meat really well. Slow cookers tend to drain meat of its colour, so it’s important for flavour and appearance that chunks of meat or joints are well caramelised to start with. Some slow cookers have a function to sear the meat in the cooker first, or a removable inner pot that can be put over a hob to save using extra pans.
How to adapt you favourite recipes for a slow cooker
Most casserole recipes can be adapted to a slow cooker, but they won’t benefit from the evaporation of liquid that occurs when simmering on a stove or in the oven. As a general rule, it’s best to reduce the liquid content by 1/3 if cooking a regular recipe in a slow cooker.
To thicken the sauce at the end of cooking, stir ½-1 tbsp of cornflour into a small cupful of the cooking sauce – this can then be stirred back into the pot and cooked for a further 15 minutes until thickened to your liking.
How long does a slow cooker take?
It’s best to consult the slow cooker manual first because heat and wattage can vary between models, but as a rough guide use the following timings for converting oven and stove-top recipes.
How to use your slow cooker in other ways
A slow cooker can be used for some surprising recipes. It’s great for making chutneys and jams, and you can even use it to cook porridge overnight so it’s hot and ready as soon as you wake up in the morning. Chuck in a left-over chicken carcass with some veg and water, and you’ll have a rich stock in a just few hours. You can also cook all-in-one puddings, such as rice pudding and steamed puddings.
How to use a slow cooker in the summer
Don’t restrict yourself to winter soups and stews. There are loads of recipes that can be adapted to suit a slow cooker that would be ideal for a summer lunch. Use your slow cooker all year round with our exciting summer slow cooker recipes here.
Think BBQ pulled-pork buns – pork shoulder cooked in its own spicy sauce until meltingly tender, then shredded and packed into soft buns with coleslaw. How about aubergines cooked into a meltingly soft melanzane parmigiana? Or slow-cooked peppers made into a rich peperonata to use for pizza toppings or in warm salads.
What is a ‘dump bag’?
So-called because the ingredients are prepped ahead, bagged and frozen, ready to ‘dump’ straight into a slow cooker. The beauty of cooking this way is that several batches of meals can be prepared ahead, adding marinades and flavourings while freezing to give them even more oomph. Broths, chillies, curries and stews all really suit this style of freezing and cooking.
Tips for how to use your slow cooker
As slow cookers work at low temperatures it’s important that the ingredients aren’t too chilled when they go in. If possible, let ingredients come to room temperature before adding – just half an hour on the counter before cooking should do it.
Try not to keep checking on the food – removing the lid too much means losing warmth, and slow cookers rely on a constant heat for even cooking. Look for models with a transparent lid so progress can be checked without disturbing the food.
If you are using slow-cook cuts like lamb shoulder, brisket or belly pork, they often have a lot of excess fat, so trim them as the fat won’t render down as much as with oven cooking.
Try our recipe for slow-cooked brisket with red wine, thyme and onions here…