Slow Cooker Tips That I Learned The Hard Way (+ 10 Recipes!)

slow cooker tips

I know pressure cookers are so hot right now, but I want to revisit an oldie, but goodie today – the slow cooker. In fact, if you get my weekly emails, you already know that I’m kicking myself for eating out three times this week. I could have saved myself so much money if I just whipped out my slow cooker! Uggh.

After years of trial-and-error, I consider myself a crockpot cooking connoisseur. Today, I’m going to share some insider tips that I wish someone had told me when I bought my first slow cooker. (Trial-and-error can be so frustrating!) So, listen up, take notes and avoid the mistakes of a beginning crockpot user.

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Slow Cooker Tips I Learned The Hard Way

1. Never cook chicken breast for 8 hours.

I don’t care that the directions say 6 to 8 hours. If you have a full-time job, don’t leave chicken in the crock pot. Unless you like eating rubber. It’s bad. Very, very bad. And yet, most slow cooker chicken recipes say cook defrosted chicken for 6 to 8 hours. In my years of serious crockpot cooking (1 to 2 times a week for years), I’d say 3 to 6…at the most. The one exception being bone-in chicken. So if you do work out of the home all day, or you’re going to be gone, stick with bone-in chicken thighs, pork & beef.

2. Don’t try to rush meats with higher fat content.

The higher the fat content of the meat, the longer the meat needs to cook in the crockpot. Don’t try to eat higher-fat meat too soon or it will be tough – even if it may be cooked through. You have to allow time for the fat to break down and make the meat tender. The BEST crockpot meal we’ve ever made is this pulled pork using Boston pork butt from 100DaysOfRealFood.com, but the first time I made it, I pulled the meat out too soon. It was cooked, but it wasn’t done cooking. High-fat meats can easily be in a crockpot for 10 hours and still taste delicious.

3. Browning ground turkey or lean ground beef before slow cooking is unnecessary.

(And just makes more dishes!) Almost all recipes with ground meats call for you to “brown” the meat in a pan BEFORE putting it in a crockpot. No one has time for that! At least, I don’t. Plus, I plan crockpot meals so I don’t have to stand over the stove in the morning and dirty extra pans. 80/20 beef can be oily and therefore produce an oily dish if you don’t pre-cook it first. Use a leaner beef or ground turkey and skip a WHOLE step. Problem solved.

4. Slow Cooker Liners are too inexpensive to NOT use. 

You don’t have an excuse. I made the mistake of not using these liners for way too long. I’m positive that I spent more money on water scrubbing off the residue than the cost of these bags. Especially if you plan on making a bubbly stew or sauce, these liners are a must.

5. Not using your slow cooker is the biggest party foul ever.

Crockpot dishes are the best way for the host to enjoy a party. Some of my favorite party recipes are Grape Jelly Meatballs and Paula Deen’s Crockpot Mac & Cheese. I made the Mac & Cheese at my son’s first birthday party and people are still asking about it two years later!

And A Few Of My FAVORITE Recipes…

I don’t want to leave you with a bunch of “don’t dos” and no “should dos”! For that reason, I am sharing my favorite slow cooker recipes that my family can’t get enough of. I already mentioned pulled pork, grape jelly meatballs, and crockpot mac & cheese above. Here are other recipes to try:

Are you ready to get a Crock Pot? If you have one already, what are your favorite crockpot recipes? Let me know, I’d love to try it out!

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