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?
Slow Cooker Meals to Try Cooking Overnight
(Image credits: Faith Durand; Emma Christensen)