The Basics of Crockpot Cooking

It seems that these days we’re all busier than ever. Conversations happen on mobile devices, families meet briefly on their way out the door, and meals happen on the run. Combine that with tough economic times and you get an increased need for convenient and cheap meals. And let’s not forget nutritious and delicious. They are requirements, too.

This sounds like the makings of a slow cooked crockpot meal. Slow cooker meals do not require a lot of time spent in the kitchen. They also have the added benefit of being able to use cheaper cuts of meat. The long cook times breakdown the tough fats and connective tissue in the meat. In fact, most recipes will taste much better with these less expensive cuts of meat. Expensive meats are just too fragile for the long cooking times required.

And if you’ve never studied at a culinary school in California, crockpot meals are also ideal for beginning cooks. Once the ingredients are in, there is no more to worry about until the timer goes off. You simply put in your ingredients, turn the slow cooker on, and hours later your moist, delicious meal is ready to eat.

While it’s true that you’ll rarely win culinary awards for crockpot cooking, the benefits and flavor of slow cooked meals are sure to please both you and your family.

Food Safety Concerns

The long cooking times for slow cooker meals also have potential negative affects. To avoid growth of harmful bacteria, it is recommended that the food reach a minimum temperature of 140 degrees F as quickly as possible. Be sure that after a few hours of cooking on low that your food is at or near that temperature. If it never reaches 140 degrees, then you need to replace your slow cooker.

To assist in reaching 140 degrees as quickly as possible, don’t use frozen foods. All foods should be defrosted prior to cooking in a crockpot.

Slow Cooker Tips for Success

  • Do not fill crockpot more than 2/3 full. Food will not cook properly in over-full pots
  • The lid is essential to slow cooker success. It helps maintain constant temperature and assists in an even distribution of flavors
  • Do not lift the lid to check progress. To borrow an old barbeque phrase, “If you’re lookin’, it ain’t cookin’.”
  • Layer foods according to instruction. Place slower cooking vegetables on the bottom and meats on top
  • Some foods like tomatoes, mushrooms, spices, zucchini, and dairy products should be added in the last hour to half hour of cooking. They are too fragile and will lose flavor and integrity if cooked longer

If you are interested in finding convenient and less expensive ways to feed your family, then you should look into slow cooker cooking. There are hundreds of resources for slow cooker and crockpot recipes available at bookstores, libraries, and on the Internet.

This article is presented by Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles. Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles offers culinary arts and pâtisserie and baking training programs in Los Angeles, California. To learn more about the class offerings, please visit Chefs.edu/Los-Angeles for more information. 

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