When I first started using a slow cooker, I was delighted to prepare ingredients before I went to work so I could come home to a hot meal. Sometimes, however, there just isn't time in my morning routine. Searing meat, cooking vegetables, and reducing liquids sometimes amounts to an hour of prep or more.
Then I decided to start using my slow cooker the other way: overnight instead.
How I Started Slow Cooking Overnight
This all started when I was cooking a slow-cooker meal for a friend who just had a baby, and I needed to deliver it to her straight from work. I realized the only way to time it was to prepare the ingredients the night before and switch on the slow cooker right before going to bed.
Why I Like Using the Slow Cooker Overnight
The meal turned out great, and the overnight slow cooker method has become my favorite go-to way to cook for several reasons:
- No more stressing over getting out of work in time. Sometimes I work late or end up with last-minute plans that keep me out later than planned. Even with the warm function on my slow cooker, I was never sure if I'd make it home in time to turn the slow cooker off, especially if it was a dish I was worried about overcooking, like poultry.
- A chance to check on the meal before serving. Every so often, I'd find out when I arrived home, moments before planning to serve a dish, that it wasn't quite cooked enough. A chuck roast would be a little tough and could have used another 30 minutes to an hour of cooking before becoming fork-tender. Being able to check on a dish in the morning before going to work gives me a heads up — I can plan for an hour of extra cooking time when I get home, for example.
- Time for flavors to develop. When I make chili and braised beef ragu, an extra day spent in the fridge helps the flavors develop deeper than serving the dish immediately. This time gives a dish an extra level of flavor I couldn't get in the six to eight hours in the slow cooker alone.
- Just warm and serve. Usually the meals I make in my slow cooker require skimming off excess fat, shredding meat, and other last steps before serving. If I can do these in the morning, then it's really just one step to warm and serve when I get home.
- More time to make complicated recipes. I love slow-cooker meals with a lot of prep. Searing proteins, cooking vegetables, and de-glazing pans make for more flavorful meals, and I like having extra time to complete these steps at night.
Which do you prefer? Using the slow cooker overnight? Or during the day, while you're at work?