Tell me what you think! Share your crockpot tips!
Ah, the humble crock pot. It turns everyday ingredients into a magic brew of deliciousness. Why slave over a hot stove when you don’t have to?
I would like to share some tips that I have found useful, especially as they pertain to gluten and dairy free cooking.
- Use a crock pot liner. Nothing is worse than having to clean a crock pot, especially those with a heavy ceramic liner. Line it, and simply throw the mess away! Make sure not to use cheap liners; I recommend Reynolds liners. I tried the store brand and they broke every time.
- You do not need to brown meat before adding to the crockpot. Since you are cooking the meat for hours until tender, I see no need to brown the meat. This creates a mess; oil splatter and more pans to clean. Yes, it adds a little depth to the flavor, but not by much. You certainly can brown your meat if you like, but it really isn’t necessary. The only exception is ground meat (see #4), which must be cooked completely before adding to the crockpot.
- Take your meat and any vegetables out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before adding to the crockpot. Crockpots do not get very hot, and adding cold ingredients will slow down the heating process even more.
- Cook ground meats before adding to the crockpot. Ground meat should have not pink showing before adding. The crock pot does not get hot enough to cook ground meats thoroughly, and could cause illness. Be sure to drain fat before adding meat to crockpot.
- Add raw, hard veggies at the beginning, and soft veggies a half hour before cooking time is up. Carrots and potatoes are great to add at the beginning of cooking, as they take a long time to cook. Add soft veggies, such as peas, at the end, to avoid mushy vegetables. If adding frozen vegetables such as in this recipe, thaw slightly then add at the beginning.
- Give your long-cooking recipes, such as pot roast or stew, a head start by cooking on high for 20-30 minutes, then turning to low to finish cooking. This is just a rule of thumb, but not necessary. Remember, 30 minutes on high equals one hour on low. If you choose to do this, adjust cooking time accordingly.
- Certain things don’t fare well in the crock pot, such as dairy free cheese, dairy free milk, and gluten free pasta. Save the lasagna recipe for the oven.
- Make your gravy at the end. Some recipes call for making the gravy in the beginning and adding to the crock pot, such as in this recipe. I made the gravy at the end, and had the cooking juices as a nice flavor addition. If you make the gravy and add it to the crock pot, it will thin out with cooking juices.
- Use red or white wine whenever possible, if called for in the recipe. It adds depth and richness. If you can’t add alcohol for health reasons, be sure to add rich chicken or beef broth.
- When making slow cooked tomato sauce, especially if wine is added, cut the acidity by adding a half teaspoon of baking soda. The sauce will foam up. That’s perfectly fine.
- If a recipe calls for water, use broth instead. It will increase flavor. You could also use fruit juice in some recipes.
- Be generous with seasonings, as long cooking times can decrease herb potency. Taste for adjustments as cooking time increases.
- Stir the pot at about once an hour. Flip meat, such a chops, around to ensure even cooking. Crockpots can heat unevenly, so it’s important to stir and move ingredients around. Lifting the lid will not significantly increase the cooking time, as long as you don’t leave it off for an extended time. Be careful of steam and dripping water when removing the lid.
- Do not trim roasts of fat before cooking. Fat will keep the meat moist and flavorful during long cooking times. This is different than draining fat from ground meat. You can strain your cooking broth through a fat strainer before making gluten free gravy.
- Don’t worry too much about cooking times; these are a general guideline. Meats should be fork tender and fall apart, but not dry. If you are not at home while cooking, set a timer for the minimum cooking time, cook on low, and program to go to warm setting when cooking is done. If you don’t have a timer on your crockpot, I recommend either having someone at home start it, or make a recipe that can cook for at least seven or eight hours, like soup or stew. DO NOT put a cold crockpot from the refrigerator in the base and heat it up. Not only could the ceramic insert crack, but your food may not get hot enough and could cause health issues. You could remove the insert from the fridge at least 30 minutes before putting in the base and starting cooking.
Here are some of my favorite tested crock pot meals: