Set It and Forget It

The slow cooker is a pretty wonderful kitchen item. It’s one of those household utensils that really lives up to its billing. You might feel a little intimidated by a cooking appliance that you can leave alone all day while it makes your dinner. It’s true, all you really need to do is prepare your ingredients, drop it all in the pot, adjust the settings, and let the cooker do the rest. I know, it sounds far too easy. A wonder machine that cooks food for you while you run errands, pick up the kids, or whatever else is on your to-do list so when you get home it’s ready to eat! You may be asking what is this marvelous invention of the future and how expensive is it? Well the first thing you want to do is go check out where they have all of the best models that offer the most features. You can learn more about the most popular slow cookers that are available on the market right now and then decide which one is best for you and your budget.

But before you go searching online for the best one to buy, let me tell you what’s so great about these products. I should probably start by explaining what a slow cooker is and what it does. You set it on your counter, plug it in, and the cooker begins to warm gradually around a six quart ceramic pot where you add all of your food ingredients. The thinking behind this method of cooking is that it slow cooks your food at lower temperatures over an extended period of time. It’s not a utensil you often use when you want to whip up a quick meal at the last minute. Slow cookers take time, thus the name. But when dinner calls for soup, stew, chili, or any kind of pork or beef roast, then the slow cooker is an excellent way to go. You have three temperature settings to choose from – high, low, and warm and those break down to about a 6-8 hour cook time on low and a 4-6 hour cook time on high. The thing to remember about slow cookers is that the slower you cook the food, the more time your food has to simmer, often resulting in a juicier and more succulent meal, particularly with meats. The thing I love most about the slow cooker is that you can put a less expensive, and tougher, cut of meat in the pot at low setting and it becomes something tender that melts in your mouth. So you’re saving money on cheaper cuts and delivering something that tastes like you spent extravagantly at the supermarket.

Another terrific thing to make in the slow cooker is chili. It couldn’t be easier. Just gather all of the necessary elements together, your beans, chiles, onion, tomato, spices, sugars, maybe a little beer, and of course don’t forget the meat (unless you like your chili vegetarian). Pour it all in the pot, set it to high or low (the latter lets it simmer longer, really drawing out the flavors) and let the cooker do the rest for you. If you want to eat quicker, the high setting works just as well, but I prefer a longer cook. It’s really a matter of personal preference. Be sure to stir it periodically and always taste as it cooks. You might burn off some of those spices and sugars as the cook time passes, so tasting allows you to add more seasoning as you see fit.

Planning ahead is often a major part of using a slow cooker, simply because of the time it takes to do it right. Whether it’s chili, pork shoulder, beef short ribs, or just a nice pot roast, the reason you use the slow cooker is to let the cooking process take its time. You will need to do some prep beforehand on just about all of these dishes but once it’s all in the cooker just set it and forget it. It’s like having your own personal chef at your beckon call anytime.