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Five Sites Friday: Slow Cooker Tips, Anyone?

Big Crock

It’s cold weather, most places. Soups, stews and the like are great, filling fare for those who have to do anything outdoors. Families where everyone goes to work or school can benefit from a cooking method that doesn’t require a lot of watching. Combine these ideas and you naturally turn to the slow cooker, like the Crockpot shown above. Heck, I used to have three of them myself; different sizes for different situations.

They’ve been around for decades now, these crock-lined cooking machines. Yet many folks don’t have a clue how to make a great-tasting meal in one. Or they got scared off when they thought you could only make soups and stews in one. So, to help educate the masses so’s they can live more nutritiously, here are five sites that provide tips and techniques for using a slow cooker. Most also show recipes.

The top ideas I see? How ‘bout this one: To extend cooking times, make the dish up the night before and refrigerate the whole shebang, right in the crock liner. Place the crock in the heater and turn it on low. It’ll take a while to bring everything up to temperature, so your meal won’t finish up in the middle of the afternoon and get too soft by dinnertime. Don’t do this if your crock liner doesn’t come out! You’ll short out the machine with condensed moisture and burn your house down. That’s considered poor slow cooker technique.

Brown your meats first, if you have time. The meal will be good without this step, and better with.

The admonition not to peek is, frankly, a crock. A quick lift of the lid lets out a quart or two of moist air, and doesn’t measurably lower the temperature of the food. The heat capacity of the food, and especially of the liner, will bring the headspace back to temperature in minutes, once the lid’s been put back. Just don’t leave the lid off for a while, okay?(I’ve done the study, thermocouples and all; I’m a thermochemist in another life, and I understand heat capacity.)

As for a slow cooker that pulls a vacuum: Ha! How silly is that? If your pot pulls a vacuum while hot, you’ll never get it open again once it’s cold. In fact, if you inspect the engineering closely, you’ll see that these devices have air holes and other features to specifically prevent sealing and allow steam to escape, slowly. The difficulty you may have opening the crock is likely from moisture from the dish, or sticky sauce that’s worked its way up on the liner’s top ledge. But vacuum? Hardly.

So now you know. Go forth and cook well (and slowly) …

P.S. I know it’s not Friday; but the Elves couldn’t wait! They’re so excited about this new Underground feature. Hope you are too! – The Management

Crank Up the (Crockery Cooking) Heat!

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