The slow cooker is the one appliance heralded by just about every home cook for making our lives easier. But just because it'll cook you dinner all on its own doesn't mean there aren't rules and guidelines that need to be followed for it to do its job well. Because there are. Quite a few of them, actually.
If you've been using the slow cooker, chances are you've broken one or two of these rules. Read on to learn about the most common slow cooker mistakes -- and up your slow cooker game when you finally stop making them.
1. Don't cook chicken with the skin on. In all other cooking instances, we love chicken skin. It crisps up so nicely and is the perfect complement to the tender meat hiding underneath. But in a slow cooker, where things stew instead of sear, the skin just turns into a rubbery, gelatinous nightmare we wouldn't wish on anybody.
2. Don't waste your money on fancy cuts of meat. The slow cooker is famous for tenderizing cheap cuts of meat, and that's just one more reason we love it so much. Those pricier, already-tender cuts of meat will soften too much in the slow cooker. That also leads us to ...
3. Don't use lean cuts of meat. Fat is what gives slow-cooked meats flavor and keeps them moist when cooked at a low temperature. Lean meats get stringy and tough when they're cooked for a long time -- the opposite of what you're going for.
4. Whatever you do, don't forget to sear. The slow cooker makes cooking easy, but that doesn't mean that you can skip the step of searing the meat. Browned meat tastes better, and the slow cooker just isn't hot enough to get that done. Sear first, then slow cook. (Except when it comes to chicken. You can just throw that right in the pot.)
5. Don't forget to cover the meat. Make sure it's all submerged under liquid for even cooking. Cooking times for meat cooked under liquid are different for those not --so push it all down or add more liquid.
6. Don't use too much alcohol. On the stove top, when you add wine and beer to recipes it's able to react with the air, cooking off the alcohol and reducing itself to add flavor without a strong alcoholic aroma. In the slow cooker, since it's covered and doesn't react with the air, this just doesn't happen -- the booze just sits in the liquid. Using a heavy hand with booze in a slow cooker recipe will leave you with a boozy-tasting dish. No good.
7. Don't peek. Just don't do it. The slow cooker needs that contained heat to make sure everything cooks as it should. Only raise the lid when adding additional ingredients like herbs and dairy.
8. With that said, don't add herbs or dairy too soon. Fresh herbs will lose their flavor and dairy products will curdle. Add herbs within the final hour of cooking to ensure a bright flavor and dairy, like cream, at the very end.
9. Don't assume that one temperature and time setting fits all. Cooking times vary depending on what you're making, as does how long things need to cook. Pay attention to recipe details and experiment with your slow cooker's settings to find the best results.
10. Whatever you do, don't overcook. Just because you can cook foods for a very long time in a slow cooker doesn't mean it will yield the best results. Invest in a machine with a timer and have it shut off at the appropriate time.
11. Don't overfill. Or underfill. To ensure things don't simmer over or cook to a burnt mess, make sure the slow cooker is filled at least halfway and no more than two-thirds full. Respect that, and the slow cooker will reward you with greatness.
Now that you've learned all you need to know, go slow cook some stuff.
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