The slow cooker is my answer to everything from hands-off meals on busy nights to comforting desserts. There's nothing it can't do. And the best way to truly get the most out of it is knowing all the best tips, tricks, and hacks that will make it live up to its full potential.
1. Make a big batch of caramelized onions.
Your slow cooker is the best tool in your kitchen to make an extra-big batch of caramelized onions. With upwards of eight to 10 hours of low, slow cooking, you are rewarded with enough rich, velvety onions to last quite a while. Store them in the freezer and then defrost as needed.
2. Always preheat when adding hot ingredients.
It is always a good idea to preheat your slow cooker, but especially when adding just-sautéed veggies or seared meats. When you put hot ingredients into a cold slow cooker, everything has to heat back up again, which can tack on an extra 15 to 20 minutes of cooking time.
3. For a better egg casserole, always use the low setting.
For a soft, fluffy egg casserole, always set the slow cooker temperature to the low setting. The eggs are more likely to overcook, separate, or burn when cooked over high heat.
4. Make a big batch of poached eggs.
The easiest way to serve up poached eggs for your brunch crowd? Use the slow cooker. The eggs are cooked in individual ramekins, which technically makes them coddled, but the tender white and runny yolk mimic poached eggs perfectly.
5. Pre-cook meat in the slow cooker before grilling.
Anytime you're grilling larger, thicker, longer-cooking cuts, like bone-in chicken thighs, drumsticks, ribs, pork shoulder, short ribs, and even sausages, let them pre-cook in the slow cooker before going on the grill. It will ensure everything comes off at the same time, guarantees doneness, and delivers a great flavor and texture. This method works beautifully with grilled wings.
6. Your slow cooker is the easiest way to cook a butternut squash.
Do you love butternut squash, but dread cutting it up to cook? Well you're in luck. You can say goodbye to that dreaded prep, because this is the easiest way to cook butternut squash that doesn't involve any peeling or cutting. Instead, cook the whole squash in the slow cooker, and several hours later you'll have an ultra-tender squash to use any which way you please.
7. Keep big-batch drinks warm.
Whether your party spread includes warm drinks like spiced cider, mulled wine, hot toddies, or red wine hot chocolate, the simplest way to keep them warm is in the slow cooker, set to the warm setting.
Read more: An Easy Way to Keep Warm Drinks Warm
8. Use an oven-safe baking dish when making a small recipes in a big slow cooker.
Slow cookers give you the best results when they're two-thirds to three-quarters of the way full. So, if you have a big slow cooker but want to make a small recipe, you can use an oven-safe baking dish as a work-around. Fill the dish with the ingredients, then place it in the slow cooker insert, and cook per the recipe instructions.
9. Finish any slow cooker recipe with an acid or fresh herbs for more flavor.
Since slow cooker recipes don't quite lend themselves to tasting and seasoning as you go, add a splash of acid (like lemon juice or apple cider vinegar) or fresh herbs to give these dishes an extra pop of flavor. But remember to wait until cooking is finished. When added too soon, these otherwise brightening ingredients lose their luster.
10. Use it to help you prep things you can turn into meals.
You already know the slow cooker is the shining star that effortlessly tackles dinner on busy nights, but it can also help you restock the pantry with staple items like beans, stock, and bread, so you can turn them into meals.
Get inspired: 10 Pantry Staples You Can Make in the Slow Cooker