One of my favorite kitchen gadgets is a slow cooker. Some may also know it by the alias of CrockPot, but we all either have one, had one or know someone who does.
What A Slow Cooker Won’t Do
A slow cooker isn’t magical. There are a few things it does very well, and things it doesn’t do.
People that eat cleanly opt for leaner meats such as chicken breast and pork loin. However, cooking these meats in a slow cooker isn’t always the best option. You have to watch the meat carefully and add liquid frequently and you still run the risk of it coming out dry.
Since the temperature is low, a slow cooker also won’t brown anything. If you have dreams of roasted (insert food here) it is best to do any browning before (or in some cases after). On some occasions, the best food I have made has actually been started in a slow cooker, but finished on the stove or in the oven.
Lastly, despite what some think, it is possible to cook food in a slow cooker too long, which can dry out some meats, break down others, and render certain vegetables to mush.
What A Slow Cooker Will Do
Ahh yes…so what can a slow cooker do? A ton! First, I have to give a shout out to Tiffany over at The Gracious Pantry. She has a bunch of slow cooker recipes and even a section for clean slow cooker recipes for our Paleo and Whole30 friends.
Features to consider:
Slow cookers today have a plethora of features ranging from a simple one knob with a low/high setting all the way to digital models with WiFi that can be controlled with your smart phone.
So what do you need? After owning several, a few worthwhile features are:
- Timer – some have a programmable timer or a preset timer (ex. High 4 hours, Low 8 Hours).
- Locking Latch – useful if you plan on taking your slow cooker to a pot luck or tail gate party.
- Warmer – a feature that will keep the food warm, but not continue cooking it.
A few more things you may want to consider:
- Color – darker ceramic is better. White will eventually stain over time.
- Size – I have a small one and a large one, but find that I rarely use the small one anymore.
In preface to my recipes, keep in mind I don’t usually use them. Sometimes I have different ingredients, amounts, etc. When people generally request a recipe, I tell them to come and cook with me. I can guide you in the right direction, but only you know when something is done for your taste.
Slow Cooker Recipes You Didn’t Know You Needed
Ok…..probably the easiest thing I have found to make it the slow cooker? Sweet potatoes.
Just scrub the potatoes and wrap them with foil — you don’t even need to peel or puncture them. They are done when soft, which will take various amounts of time depending on your unit. I have cooked them on high and low with great success — an easy way to check for doneness is to take tongs and gently squeeze.
Once they’re finished, remove the sweet potatoes from foil, remove the skins and enjoy. You can eat as is or use for another recipe. I usually make a few at a time and repurpose them throughout the week.
If you are a fan of CrossFit HQ’s fajita pie, this is a great way to get started on that dish.
Spaghetti squashes are cooked in the slow cooker much the same way as sweet potatoes.
Cut the stem off the squash so one end is flat. Place it on the flat end and take a large sharp knife with two hands — one on the handle, the other on the end of the blade and drive straight down the middle, cutting it in two. You don’t need to saw or carve — just put your weight on it and push down.
Next, take a spoon and scrape out the seeds and discard them. The next step is optional. Lightly drizzle olive oil and sprinkle the squash with salt and pepper. Wrap each half of the squash in one sheet of foil. Again, depending on your model cooking time can vary. Mine comes out nicely after three to four hours on high.
Cooking time can also vary with spaghetti squash. If you cook it too long, it gets softer, but also becomes watery. Some times this is also dependent on the size and variety of spaghetti squash (some turn out perfect, while others cooked exactly the same tend to be over done).
I have tried draining, salting, patting them with a paper towel, and even pan frying to removing some moisture. All of these methods kind-of work. But its best to experiment a little with your slow cooker to find a way to cook the squash through without overdoing it.
If you find it’s over done, don’t be afraid to flip the script and take those spaghetti squash noodles and add them to some broth and chicken — bam, clean eating chicken and noodle soup!
First, get your baby backs and with a sharp knife remove silver skin from under the ribs. Usually if you can get your knife under the silver skin, you can then wiggle it and peel it away with your hands. If you have concerns on doing this, watch a Youtube video or see if your local butcher will do it. If the racks are too big for your cooker, cut them in half or in thirds.
Next, you will want to marinade them overnight or at least for a few hours. Use a favorite marinade or try something new. The most important thing is to have about a cup of liquid in the crock when you cook. That liquid could be some of the marinade, water, beer, stock…I have even used some Pepsi, 2-3 teaspoons of bourbon and dash of liquid smoke.
After 4 hours on high, remove the ribs and place them on a foil lined pan. Top the ribs with your favorite BBQ sauce or hit them with a dry rub and put it in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes. They should be nice and juicy, pull apart nicely, and taste divine!
While you could cook the chicken “once,” I usually cook the chicken twice. First, I give it a slow roast in the slow cooker and then pick the bird clean and cook the meat in my 12-inch skillet along with finely diced onions and seasonings. You’re thinking this is a lot of work. Well, kind of. The hardest part is picking the bird clean, but the end result is pretty awesome!
Add your chicken to the slow cooker breast side up. Depending on what I have, I may add half of an onion or herbs to the cavity. However, you can make any variant you want. If you want to add Cajun spices, tumeric or even and Indian flair, go for it. I usually make it with some Mexican flavors for tacos or taco bowls.
First, take a lime and squeeze the juice on the bird. If you have some tequila you could add a splash (not necessary though — and the alcohol cooks off). Then season the bird liberally with salt and black pepper, followed by a light dusting of garlic and cumin. Cook on high for four to six hours. I usually remove the bird from the slow cooker and put it in a Pyrex dish to cool. If you take tongs and lift it by the cavity and the legs fall off, it is surely done. You don’t need to add any liquid.