Crock Pot and Slow Cooking: Making the Most Out of Them

By: Sharron Nixon
If you are pressed for time, slow cooker or crock pot cooking offers the perfect solution in both flexibility and versatility.

When you put together the benefits of limited preparation, the use of one pot and the time saved by not having to prepare a meal on the spot, you know you have a winner. A meal can be cooked and served from the same pot, without having to juggle pots and pans and serving dishes.

Imagine coming home after a long hard day and smelling that your meal is already cooking, just waiting - a pure plummet in your stress levels.

If you don't already own a slow cooker, there are a number of things you need to look at before deciding on the best one for you and your family.

The first consideration will be the size of the cooker. Small versions can be handy if you eat a lot of appetizers, dips, and salsas. Generally these are 16 oz. or quart size and are perfect for serving these types of foodstuffs. Obviously, they are the best size also if you are cooking for one. A large family would be best served with a 5 quart or maybe a 7 quart model.

The second thing to think about is the type of cooking you usually do, or plan to do with your slow cooker. If you are wanting to slow cook large or awkward cuts, like rack of lamb, you will definitely need the larger crock pot version.

There are a couple of options available as far as control of the slow cooking goes. If controlling or setting the temperature is your wish, there are crock pots that let you do this.

The other option is that you can just opt for a push button model that cooks at preset low or high temperature settings and sometimes a warmer setting. You need to be aware that if the "low" setting is too low and the lid is not on properly, the cooking temperature can drop below the safe level for cooking some foods.

Finally, you need to look at the heating elements. Crock pots can come with either bottom or side elements, or they can have both. Pots with side elements often require more liquid while slow cooking to avoid the risk of drying up over long cooking times.

If you are someone who really enjoys mixing things up and experimenting, slow cooking provides a wealth of possibilities. Where the crock pot really takes its place head and shoulders above any other cooking method is for slow cooking leaner and cheaper cuts of meat. The moist, long, slow cooking provides very tender meats where the fat is either dissolved or very easy to remove.

There are a few things you need to remember with crock pot cooking. Some meals will require the ingredients to be added at different times. For example, a casserole may require the meat to be cooked for a few hours before you then add firm vegetables, with softer vegetables being added toward the end of cooking.

As a rule of thumb, you should add things like spices, herbs and seasonings at the beginning of the cooking cycle, and things like frozen vegetables and seafood toward the end. Since ingredients are generally thoroughly cooked over a long period of time, a lot of stirring is not recommended or the food may break apart or turn to mush.

The versatility of the crock pot even allows you to create breads and desserts, but this is one area where you must take particular care during preparation. This becomes even more important if you are leaving your creation unattended while it is cooking. An over beaten or whipped dessert can quite easily raise the lid off the crock pot and create an ugly mess. This is certainly something you would not want to come home to after a long day at work.

A crock pot can deliver meals as classic as pot roast and vegetables, as simple as a cream cheese layer dip, or as complex and spicy as paella. The crock pit is one kitchen appliance that can rightly be called the cook's best friend, especially if you learn to use it to its full potential.
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