Get To Know Your Slow Cooker

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When it comes to handy kitchen appliances one device that stands out from the rest is the slow cooker. It's hard to beat something you can load up with ingredients, walk away then return at the end of the day to a prepared meal. And with so many slow cooker recipes these days, we are no longer limited to chili or pot roast.

The typical slow cooker consists of a ceramic or porcelain dish with a loosely fitting glass lid. The dish sits inside a metal housing with a heating element. What makes a slow cooker work is heat plus moisture. The ceramic dish holds the heat put out by the heating element and the glass lid traps the moisture without making an air-tight seal. The release of air is one way a slow cooker is different than a pressure cooker. There's more science to it, but this is the basic idea.

Tips for Using a Slow Cooker

One advantage of a slow cooker is you can use less-expensive cuts of meat because the long cooking time makes them tender.

Because the heat plus moisture equation is what makes a slow cooker work, don't lift the lid except as directed by the recipe. If you need to add more ingredients, additional cooking time may be required to make sure the food is properly cooked.

Unless it is ground or specified in the recipe, meats do not have to be browned or seared before adding to the slow cooker. This step will make the meat more flavorful and tender, but it's not necessary.

Many cooks associate slow cookers with fall and winter, but it's a great way to prepare a meal in summer without heating up the kitchen.

Root crops such as carrots and potatoes cook slower than meats so place them on the bottom.

Some ingredients such as cream, spices and soft vegetables should be added toward the end of the cooking time to prevent over doing them. Your recipe should indicate when to add what.

Do a practice run with your slow cooker on a day where you will be home so you can check your dish for doneness. Most appliances only have a high and low setting so it's important to know how quickly or slowly your device cooks.

Great Websites for Slow Cooker Recipes

The Crock Pot Blog
Crock Pot Cooking
A Year of Slow Cooking
Official Crock Pot Site
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