5 Smart Tips for Better Slow-Cooking

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Christine Han)

I’d argue the slow cooker is the most convenient appliance in the kitchen. With minimal attention it turns out totally satisfying meals from breakfast through dessert. Run it all day, or let it do its thing all night — both work equally well. Just be sure you have these tips down for successful slow-cooking every time.

1. Always start by preheating your slow cooker.

This is particularly important when you’re sautéing aromatics, vegetables, or meat before adding them to the slow cooker. Instead of adding hot ingredients to a cold slow cooker, turn it on 15 minutes before using so it’s hot from the start.

Read more: Why You Should Always Preheat Your Slow Cooker

2. Adding alcohol is okay, but only a tiny bit.

Because of the low cooking temperature and closed environment, alcohol doesn’t reduce in the slow cooker the same way it does on the stovetop. If you plan to add wine or alcohol, stick to the amounts listed in the recipe. Those amounts are designed to be subtle as more of a base note, or loud as a strong flavor. If you’re adding alcohol to a recipe, keep in mind it won’t burn off so add two to three tablespoons to get started.

3. Always fill the bowl two-thirds to three-quarters full.

One of the most basic indicators for slow cooker success is simply how full it is. Slow cookers work best when they’re two-thirds to three-quarters of the way full, and most recipes are written with this in mind. When the slow cooker is not full enough, too much liquid can evaporate and the food can burn; when the bowl is too full, food can take much longer to cook.

Some foods produce much of their own liquid in the closed cooking environment of the slow cooker, so don’t fret if a recipe feels like it starts with less liquid than you expect. Just like with a braise, you don’t want your vegetables or meat boiling, so just enough liquid is all you need — a good recipe will get you there.

4. Oven temperature is your guide when converting recipes to the slow cooker.

When adapting recipes to your slow cooker, use oven temperature as a guide to determine when to use the LOW or HIGH temperature setting. For recipes that are simmered on the stovetop or cooked in the oven at 300°F or higher, use the HIGH temperature setting on the slow cooker; for recipes that are cooked lower than 300°F in the oven, use the LOW setting.

5. Use an oven-safe dish when making a small recipe in a big slow cooker.

Whether you’re scaling down a recipe, or just cooking a small-batch recipe in a really big slow cooker, use an oven-safe dish like Pyrex or Corningware to prevent food from drying out. Load all the ingredients into the dish, place the dish into the bowl of the slow cooker, and cook according to recipe directions.

Try These Slow Cooker Recipes