How to Use a Slow Cooker

At the end of a long day, there’s nothing better than walking into a house filled with the cozy aroma of a soul-warming, homemade meal. Especially when the dinner in question happens to be ready to eat—no effort required on your part—and it’s hot, hearty and fall-off-the-bone tender. Did you hire a personal chef? Not exactly—but this electric gadget could certainly interview for the job. Learn how to use a slow cooker in fresh, creative ways and you can turn over kitchen duty to this indispensable appliance at least once a week.

Programmable Cuisinart slow cooker

Meet Your Match

They come in a variety of sizes and price points, so how do youto choose a slow cooker that works for your household? If you typically cook a meal at a time for one to four adults—especially if your kitchen has limited storage space—then a small slow cooker that holds between 3 and 4 quarts is your best bet. Larger families or those who want to stretch leftovers throughout the week should opt for a slow cooker in the 5 to 6.5-quart range. Next, consider features: would you like a high-heat setting to sear or brown your meat in the cooker before adding other ingredients? Would you take advantage of steam, simmer and sauté capabilities? Some of the best slow cookers on the market can handle more than one cooking technique—a perk for adding depth of flavor to your recipe without washing extra pots and pans.

Think Inside the Oval

From seafood to dessert, discover how to use a slow cooker to conquer more foods than you might expect. Salmon in a slow cooker is a two-step affair similar to a poaching or sous vide technique, and there are wonderful recipes for it that yield moist, silky fish without the risk of overcooking or battling a lingering odor in your house. Your slow cooker can shine in summertime, too, with lighter dishes like Cioppino, the Italian-American seafood stew with a tomato base and an assortment of flaky filleted fish and shellfish. When you have a bounty of ripe fruit on your hands, use your slow cooker to make jams and fruit butters without standing over a hot stove all day. And if dessert too often falls off the menu at your house, put your slow cooker to work as a pastry chef turning out baked apples, cobblers, cakes and brownies with crisp edges and warm, molten centers.

Silver All-Clad slow cooker Programmable Cuisinart slow cooker

Master the Standbys

In colder months, who can resist slow-cooker comfort classics like chili, beef ragu and pot roast? Not only are these recipes dependably delicious, they have the toss-it-and-forget-it appeal that made slow cookers so popular when they debuted in the 1970s. If you have a large slow cooker, you can even make a whole roasted chicken that’s tender and juicy thanks to a simple spice rub (before cooking, coat your chicken with the rub, place it in a resealable plastic bag and refrigerate overnight to optimize flavor), a chopped onion in the bottom of your cooker and hours of that magic, low-and-slow heat.

Slow is the New Fast

Need a foolproof way to cut down on carryout and expand your repertoire of go-to weeknight meals? Learn a few tried-and-true recipes—plus some unexpected twists—and your slow cooker will become your culinary secret weapon when time is short and only home-cooked will do.

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