Use any cooking method long enough and you're certain to develop some useful habits. Such is the case with pulling out my slow cooker on a very regular basis for weeknight dinners. There have been successes and failures, both of which have taught me helpful tips along the way and, more importantly, what not to do when using the slow cooker to make dinner.
7 Things I Never Do When Making Dinner in the Slow Cooker
1. Wait until after work to get started.
The name of this appliance says it all. It certainly won't get dinner on the table in a hurry, but what the slow cooker lacks in speed it makes up for with convenience. Instead of waiting until 5 p.m. to reach for the slow cooker, I always make sure to plan accordingly with my schedule. Getting the slow cooker started earlier in the day means dinner will be ready at a reasonable hour.
2. Start with a cold slow cooker.
I never take out my slow cooker, plug it in, and then immediately toss in the ingredients for a recipe — especially when using a recipe that starts with sautéed vegetables or seared meat. Instead I preheat my slow cooker on the high setting while I prep ingredients (usually for about 10 minutes).
Adding warm ingredients to a cold slow cooker can tack on an extra 15 to 20 minutes of cooking, while preheating takes no extra effort.
Yes, preheat your slow cooker: Why You Should Always Preheat Your Slow Cooker
3. Cook large, tough cuts of meat without getting a good sear first.
Whenever I make a slow-cooked chuck roast, pork shoulder, or any other large cut of meat, I never add the raw meat into the slow cooker, as I would with chicken or ground meat. I always start by searing the meat on the stovetop or under the broiler to give dinner even more flavor.
4. Add frozen meat to the slow cooker.
While unthawed meat can go straight from the freezer to an Instant Pot or pressure cooker, I never take that approach with my slow cooker. When I rely on frozen meat for a slow cooker meal, I always plan ahead with enough time to completely thaw the meat first.
Cooking frozen meat in the slow cooker simply isn't safe. Because the cooker is a low-temperature environment, the meat would spend too much time in the temperature danger zone, where harmful bacteria are prone to grow.
Read more: The 5 Safety Rules of Slow Cookers
5. Have a heavy hand when adding alcohol.
Unlike stovetop cooking, the closed, low-temperature environment of the slow cooker isn't effective at reducing or cooking off alcohol. Adding one or two tablespoons to the slow cooker is generally enough to flavor without overwhelming everything, but any more than that and I always reduce it on the stovetop first, then add it to the slow cooker.
6. Use a slow cooker liner.
Yes, they can be handy and have the potential to make cleanup easier, but I simply don't think slow cooker liners are necessary. I skip them every time. When I pull my slow cooker out to make dinner, it's pretty likely I won't be using much extra cookware, which means cleanup is likely to be quick and easy.
If I'm worried about a mess or food sticking to the slow cooker insert, I give it a quick mist of cooking spray or grease it with olive oil or butter first.
7. Add herbs at the beginning of cooking.
I always wait until the very end of cooking or just before serving to add fresh herbs to my slow cooker dinners. A sprinkling of fresh herbs not only gives a meal a vibrant pop of color, but it also adds a burst of extra flavor and freshness. But when added to the slow cooker too soon, once-bright herbs fade to a dingy green hue, wilt, and lose their flavor.
Your turn! What are the things you never do when making dinner in the slow cooker?