Slow Cooker Secrets

On a budget? Pressed for time? Transform tough, cheap cuts into delicious dinners that practically cook themselves. Try our top tips and recipes.

Electric slow cooker

Randy Mayor

Slow Cooker Secrets

Time-pressed cooks use slow cookers to transform tough, inexpensive cuts of meat into succulent meals with minimal effort. Chop and brown a few ingredients, place them in the cooker, and set the controls. Enticing aromas fill the house throughout the day and, come dinner time, just lift the top and serve.

Our collection features international flavors and proves the slow cooker delivers delicious results that suit the modern global palate. See these recipes, paired with top tips for slow-cooker success.

Provencal Beef Stew

Randy Mayor

Tip 1: Brown Meat First for Better Flavor

Strictly speaking, meat doesn’t need to be browned before it’s added to the slow cooker, but it’s a step we find worth the effort. The caramelized surface of the meat will lend rich flavor to the finished dish. And meat dredged in flour before browning will add body to the sauce (as in this Provençal Beef Stew). Ground meat should always be browned and drained before going into the slow cooker. Otherwise, it may clump and add grease to the dish.

View Recipe: Provençal Beef Stew

Black Bean Soup

Randy Mayor

Tip 2: Spice Judiciously.

Whole spices and dried herbs like cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, caraway seeds, and peppercorns will give intense flavor to a dish that cooks for several hours, so be careful not to overdo them. Chopped fresh herbs such as parsley remain vibrant if you stir them in near the end or when the dish is finished.

View Recipe: Black Bean Soup

Chicken Thighs with Olives and Tomato Sauce

Randy Mayor

Tip 3: Use less liquid.

Because the slow cooker generates steam that doesn’t escape, there will be more liquid in the food when it’s finished cooking than when it started. If you create or adapt a recipe for the slow cooker, decrease (by as much as half) the amount of liquid you normally use in the dish.

View Recipe: Chicken Thighs with Olives and Tomato Sauce

Smoky Slow Cooker Chili

Randy Mayor

Tip 4: Know When to Go High, and When to Go Low.

Use the HIGH setting if you need to cook a more tender cut of meat relatively quickly. But for tougher cuts, it’s best to use the LOW setting and cook longer to allow time for the meat to grow tender. Generally, cooker temperatures range from 170° to 280°. This Smoky Slow Cooker Chili requires cooking a pork shoulder on low for 8 hours.

View Recipe: Smoky Slow Cooker Chili

Zinfandel-Braised leg of lamb

Randy Mayor

Tip 5: No peeking.

Don’t be tempted to lift the lid until the dish is done. The steam generated during slow cooking is part of the cooking medium. Opening the lid will ¬release this steam and increase cooking time. Moreover, when you lift the lid, temperatures can drop into the “danger zone” (between 40° and 140°) where bacteria multiply rapidly.

View Recipe: Zinfandel-Braised leg of lamb

Tiny French Beans with Smoked Sausage

Jim Bathie

Tip 6: Account for Variables

Our Test Kitchens professionals have found some slow cookers―particularly some newer models―cook hotter than others. In one instance, liquid imperceptibly evaporated from the cooker, leaving far less sauce than when the same dish was prepared in a different model. Because not all slow cookers are created equal, don’t rely on the stated cook time for a recipe until you know how your cooker behaves.

View Recipe: Tiny French Beans with Smoked Sausage

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