It can be a tedious and time consuming job planning and cooking every day for you and your family. Between work, homework, going to the gym or being a chauffeur for after school activities, many just don’t have the time or energy to create a full five course meal at the end of a long and stressful day. Crockpot meals can be an easy and efficient way to get a nutrient-dense, home cooked meal in to your weekly routine. From pulled pork to chili, there are so many options at your fingertips. You really can’t go wrong and some of the greatest meals can come from whatever you have in your fridge! Just throw a few ingredients together and at the end of a long day, you can come home to a hot meal with your home filled with a glorious aroma.
Keep these tips in mind as you dream up your next great crockpot meal. And for those who like to follow recipes, I have included a few!
- Choosing the right cut of quality meat can be essential. When possible, choose grass-fed or pastured for a more nutritious meal. For best results, pick a fatty cut such as short ribs, chuck roast, stew meat, lamb shank, pork shoulder or chicken thighs as leaner meats tend to turn out on the dry side. Cooked on low heat, these cuts turn out moist and tender. Added bonus, they are generally less expensive! If you select a leaner meat such as chicken breast, make sure to use plenty of liquid, BBQ sauce or salsa – really any sauce will work. Most roasts don’t need added water, however, if you want a little gravy at the end, add a small amount of water, 1/4 – 1/2 cup should do the trick. To create a more flavorful gravy, throw in a thinly sliced onion at the beginning and once it’s done, blend the liquid and onions together.
- If you have a little extra time before starting your crockpot, quickly brown the meat and/or vegetables in a skillet before adding it to the crockpot. Be sure to deglaze the skillet with a little liquid to get all those extra goodies. This is not a necessary step, your meal will still turn out great without it, but it does add flavor. While it’s ok to use wine or liquor to deglaze the pan, it’s best not to add it directly to the crockpot as the alcohol is unable to escape with the lid on.
- A common mistake while cooking with a crockpot is peeking inside or stirring too often! Generally speaking, you don’t need to stir. Opening the lid extends the cooking time. Resist the urge, forget about it and let it cook. Checking in at the last 30 minutes to check the progress is welcome. It’s recommended to have a programmable crockpot and one that switches to a warm setting if you aren’t going to be home when the cooking is done.
- Never add frozen food to the crockpot as this creates an environment for bacteria to form. Take time the night before to thaw anything frozen. And never put the ceramic insert in the fridge before cooking, it can crack if exposed to drastic temperature shifts.
- Don’t overcrowd your crockpot. To guarantee everything is uniformly cooked, only fill the crockpot 1/2 – 2/3 full.
- When using rice, add it when there is about 2 hours left to cook when on low. White rice needs a 2:1 ratio of rice to liquid and 2.5:1 with brown rice. Be sure to account for the liquid already in the crockpot before adding additional liquid to avoid creating a soup.
- Dry herbs tend to loose flavor quickly and leafy herbs need to be added just before serving. Try using more hearty herbs such as fresh rosemary, sage or thyme.
- Use dry beans instead of canned beans to avoid becoming mushy.
- If you are going to add dairy to a dish, only do so in the last 15 minutes of cooking.
Keep these tips in mind to increase flavor and allow some creative freedom, making your dishes even better!