Give your Crockpot a second chance!

Sometimes when I talk to people about crockpot cooking, they say they’ve tried it, but haven’t liked the results. I was stunned by this at first – I love my slow cooker…. Then I dug a little deeper to find out what was going on with these people who didn’t like crockpot food.

I asked them what they didn’t like, and they told me that they followed the recipes, but came home to a pot full of brown mush, and the meat and veggies all tasted the same.  Further investigation revealed that these unsuccessful crockpotters were the ones who needed easy food the most – they worked very long hours.  Specifically, they were out of their homes for more than ten hours a day.  Ten hours is just too long for all but the hardiest of slow cooker recipes or largest cuts of meat.  But what to do?

Here are a few of tips for frustrated long-working crockpot users.

First is the strategy I first heard referred to as the “hobo pack”.  If you’ve made stew and your vegetables have turned into an applesauce-like mush in the slow cooker, this technique might work for you.  Place the meat in the bottom of the cooker, along with any liquid called for in the recipe.  Then place your vegetables on a sheet of aluminum foil and wrap them into a packet.  Place the packet on top of the meat, then put the lid on.  When you want to serve the stew, tumble the veggies out of the foil into the meat and sauce, and stir.

Or you can get a “smarter” slow cooker.  Newer models have timers that move from “cook” to “warm” after the allotted amount of cooking time.  They’ll keep the food warm without overcooking it.

A cheaper fix would be to use an electrical timer to turn the crockpot on later in the day.  Use the same kind of timer that you put on your lights when you go on vacation and try to fool burglars with.  Set it to turn on at 10 or 11 AM, and when you get home at 6:00PM, you’ll have gotten your eight hours on low like the recipe calls for.

Experienced ten-hour crockpotters suggest refrigerating the ingredients and the crock before they go into the slow cooker, or even slightly freezing meat if it doesn’t need to be browned.  This will keep the ingredients from sitting at room temperature before cooking begins – they’ll stay cold until it’s time for them to start cooking when the timer turns on.

If you’ve tried slow cooking and have been less than thrilled with the results, I hope these tips will encourage you to try again.

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