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How To Use A Slow Cooker: Easy Step-by-Step Guide

A slow cooker, commonly called a crock pot, can help you save time and energy while still producing tasty and nourishing meals with minimal preparation.

How To Use A Slow Cooker

In this article, we'll explore the benefits of using this popular kitchen appliance, offer tips for getting the most out of your appliance, and more!

Whether you're a seasoned cook or simply a food lover, we'll make you appreciate the beauty of slow cooking.

How to Use a Slow Cooker or Crock Pot

How to Use a Slow Cooker or Crock Pot
© Homesthetics - Monica Hewitt

A slow cooker, commonly called a crock pot, is a practical and simple-to-use kitchen tool that can help you make delicious meals with little work.

Here are the basic steps on how to use a slow cooker:

1. Prepare Your Ingredients

Prepare Your Ingredients

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Prepare your ingredients ahead by washing and chopping them before cooking.

Choose the right ingredients, cut ingredients into uniform sizes, and use the right amount of liquid. Most slow cooker recipes require some liquid to prevent the ingredients from drying.

2. Fill the Slow Cooker With Ingredients and Close the Lid

Fill the Slow Cooker With Ingredients and Close the Lid

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Begin to layer ingredients in the slow cooker by starting with the denser and heavier items on the bottom and adding the lighter ingredients on top.

Be sure to fill the slow cooker evenly, or else the dish will cook unevenly or overflow.

Once all the ingredients are added, it's time to close the lid. Keeping the lid on is important, as opening it can release heat and prolong the meal prep time.

3. Plug the Slow Cooker In

Plug the Slow Cooker In

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Find an electrical outlet for your appliance and ensure that it is grounded. Once the slow cooker is plugged in, you can set most slow cookers' temperatures and cooking times.

Depending on the model of your slow cooker, you may have various temperature and time settings.

Some have a warm setting that can cook your food at a safe, low temperature for a bit longer.

4. Set the Temperature According to the Recipe Instructions

Set the Temperature According to the Recipe Instructions

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Set the slow cooker to the desired temperature and cooking time, and let it work its magic.

It's generally best to avoid opening the lid during cooking, as this can cause a high temperature or high setting to drop and increase the cooking time.

If you need to check on the food, try to do so quickly and place the lid back as soon as possible.

5. Wait


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Once done, you'll have to turn the cooker off or apply the keep warm setting unless it does so automatically.

It's important to wait for your slow cooker to finish cooking to ensure your recipe is thoroughly cooked, safe to eat and has the best possible flavor and texture.

Allowing the slow cooker to finish cooking is especially important for lean meats and poultry.

Additional Tips When Using a Slow Cooker or Crock Pot
© Homesthetics - Monica Hewitt

Additional Tips When Using a Slow Cooker or Crock Pot

Whether you're a seasoned pro or you're handling your first slow cooker, these tips will help you get the most out of your slow-cooking experience:

1. Choose the Correct Slow Cooker Shape and Size

Check a comprehensive slow cooker size guide to find the right crock pot.

This ensures that your food cooks evenly and that the appliance can accommodate the amount of food you plan to cook.

Oval slow cookers are ideal for cooking larger ingredients or cuts of meat, such as large roasts or whole chickens.

On the other hand, a round-size slow cooker is great for soups, canned beans, stews, or smaller cuts of meat (such as chicken breasts or pork shoulders) and small-cut root vegetables.

2. Check the Temperature Using a Thermometer

Many slow cookers come with built-in thermometers, but it's always a good idea to use a separate food thermometer to ensure accuracy.

To check the temperature, insert the thermometer probe into the thickest part of the dish, ensuring it doesn't touch any bones or the bottom of the crock pot.

3. Sear, Sauté, and Deglaze

Searing, sautéing, and deglazing are important techniques to learn, as they help enhance the flavor and texture of your favorite recipes.

  • Searing helps create a nice crust on the meat's outside.
  • Sautéing vegetables and aromatics help release their flavors and soften them up.
  • Deglazing uses liquid to loosen and dissolve the browned bits left in the pan after searing or sautéing.

4. Use Real Ingredients for Authentic Flavors and Texture

Use fresh and natural ingredients for cooking nutritious and filling recipes in a crock pot.

It may be tempting to take shortcuts and use pre-packaged or processed tough meats. However, some may have preservatives, artificial flavors, and other additives that can compromise the taste and quality of your recipes.

5. Season Constantly

Slow cooking can often dull the flavors of the ingredients, so seasoning can help to ensure that your recipe stays flavorful and well-balanced.

By seasoning throughout the cooking process, you can build layers of flavor, achieve balanced flavors, and personalize your recipes even after you have finished cooking.

6. Add Simple but Flavorful Ingredients

There are many affordable and simple but flavorful ingredients that are easy to find. Some of them are:

  • Garlic
  • Sour cream
  • Tomatoes
  • Mustard
  • Broths
  • Anchovies
  • Cream cheese

These are a great addition to any home cook's pantry. They have bold flavors that can bring a new dimension to your slow-cooked recipes.

7. Use Fresh Herbs

Herbs like parsley can enhance your dish's flavor. But they have several other benefits as well, such as:

  • Packed with nutrients and antioxidants
  • Incredibly versatile
  • Provide a pleasant scent to your kitchen
  • Create an inviting atmosphere

Add dried herbs and spices (like chili pepper and onion) later or whenever the recipe calls, as they might lose their flavor if cooked for an extended period.

8. Finish With Fresh Ingredients

These ingredients can brighten the flavor of a dish, adding a burst of freshness that can be missing in slow-cooked meals.

Consider finishing with fresh ingredients, like tender or quick-cooking chopped vegetables (such as zucchini, tomatoes, and carrots).

You can also add a squeeze of lemon juice to take your slow cooker recipe to the next level.

9. Trim the Fat

Removing the excess fat can help reduce the grease in your recipe and make it healthier overall.

Using a sharp knife, carefully trim excess fat from the meat. Chicken also needs to have their skin removed.

10. Reduce the Wine

Reducing wine is a technique that involves cooking the wine over low heat until the spirit evaporates, leaving behind a concentrated and flavorful sauce.

This can help thicken your dish's sauce, giving it a more luxurious texture.

11. Cook Pasta Separately

Pasta absorbs a lot of liquid when it cooks, which can throw off the balance of the other ingredients in your slow cooker.

Cook the pasta separately to prevent it from absorbing too much liquid and to allow you to adjust the sauce to your liking.

12. Thicken the Sauce

In contrast to conventional cooking methods, moisture in a slow cooker pot does not evaporate. Any additional liquids, like milk, will significantly thicken together.

Remember that adding the thickening agent towards the end of the recipes is important, as it will need more cooking time to fully thicken if added at the beginning.

13. Choose Your Meat Wisely

To choose your meat wisely, select tough, fatty cuts such as beef chuck, pork shoulder, chicken thighs, or brisket. These cuts break down during the long cuisine process, producing tender and juicy meat.

Avoid lean cuts of meat like chicken breasts or pork tenderloin, as they can become dry and tough in the slow cooker.

14. Safety Is Key

Always read the manufacturer's instructions before using your slow cooker to ensure it is secure.

Keep the crock pot out of the path of kids and pets. 

Place them on a flat, stable surface and away from anything that could catch fire.

Know which parts of your crock are dishwasher safe, and avoid overfilling them to prevent food from spilling out— which could lead to a fire.

What Are the Different Features of a Slow Cooker?

With so many options available, knowing which features to look for when choosing the best small crock pot can be difficult.

Below are the different features that a good slow cooker should ideally have:

  • Portable/Locking - Spill-safe lids make it easier for you to take and transport these crock pots.
  • Programmable - Most crock pots have a specific high or low setting for different foods and can automatically lower the heat when you're done cooking.
  • Cool Touch Exterior - Prevents risk of burns.
  • Keep Warm Setting - This high setting keeps the food warm without overcooking.
  • Adjustable Temperature Settings - Food will cook on the high setting in half the time it takes on the low setting.
  • Auto Shut-Off - The auto shut-off feature automatically turns off your crock pot when not in use for safer cooking.
  • Timer - Allows you to automate your cooking.
  • Delayed Start Setting - This allows a crock pot to be set to start at a later time.
  • Easy-Clean Interiors - Removable slow cooker pots take the hassle out of cooking and cleaning.

What Are the Different Types of Slow Cookers?

With so many different types of appliances available on the market, choosing the right types of cookware options (like pots and pans) for your needs can be overwhelming.

For slow cookers, below are the different types you can choose from:

1. Classic Slow Cooker

These electric stovetop appliances typically have a stainless steel exterior with two handles.

They consist of a ceramic or porcelain pot (similar to a Dutch oven pot), a glass lid, and an electric heating element. 

This appliance allows a low-setting cook for slow cooker meals like stews, dried beans, chuck roasts, soups, and even reheating leftovers and rice.

2. Roast Oven

A roast oven (or roaster) is a specialized kitchen stove designed to roast large cuts of tough meat.

It typically features a large, deep cooking pan with a removable rack holding the meat above it.

The pan is made of materials that can withstand high temperatures, such as stainless steel or enamel-coated cast iron.

3. Sous Vide Slow Cooker

The sous vide slow cooker is a home appliance that combines the features of a sous vide machine and a slow cooker.

It is designed to cook evenly over a long period and uses sous vide technology to maintain a precise temperature for most recipes.

What Are the Benefits of Using a Slow Cooker?

A slow cooker offers numerous benefits, such as:

1. Budget Friendly

Slow cookers are generally affordable appliances, making them accessible to those who want to save money. They are also energy-efficient, which can help reduce your overall energy costs.

2. Tender Meats

Most pork recipes are typically cooked using low and slow cooking, such as roasting and braising.

A slow cooker helps break down the tougher cuts of meat, like short ribs, making them more tender.

3. Convenient

Convenient cookware and bakeware appliances such as crock pots, instant pots, broiler pans, and microwaves can help simplify cooking and make meal prep more efficient.

4. Healthy Options

A crock pot can be a great tool for those looking to incorporate healthy options into their diet, as they allow meals to be cooked at lower temperatures for longer periods.

Doing so helps retain more nutrients in meals.

Slow Cooker FAQs

  • Have more questions about slow cookers? This slow cooker FAQs section has got you covered!

  • What Can You Make With a Slow Cooker?

    Crock pots are versatile kitchen appliances that can make any delicious and comforting slow cooker meal. Slow cookers can even be used to cook rice the way a rice cooker does!

    Here are some slow cooker recipes you can make:

    1. Soups and stews
    2. Pulled meats
    3. Roasts
    4. Vegetarian dishes
    5. Dessert
  • How Can You Clean Your Slow Cooker?

    First, unplug the slow cooker and let it cool down completely.

    Then, remove the ceramic pot and wash it with warm, soapy water. Use a sponge or non-abrasive brush to scrub away any residue. If there are stubborn stains, use baking soda.

    Clean the exterior of the slow cooker with a damp cloth and let it dry completely before using it again.

  • What Tools/Accessories Are Available for a Slow Cooker?

    Various tools and accessories available for slow cookers can enhance their functionality and make cooking more convenient.

    • Slow cooker liners or plastic bags
    • Glass lids
    • Temperature probes
    • Steamer baskets
    • Roasting racks
    • Cooking spray
    • Programmable timers
    • Cookbook
  • How To Use A Slow Cooker Conclusion
    © Homesthetics - Monica Hewitt


    A slow cooker is a simple, affordable, and convenient way to cook delicious and healthy meals with minimal effort.

    By following the basic steps of selecting the right recipe, preparing the ingredients, and setting the cook time and temperature, you can create a wide range of flavorful recipes that will satisfy your family and friends.