I love my crock pot. I love it so much that when I got two of them as wedding presents I didn’t return either one. You can never have too many. I have two large ones, a medium sized one that is good for smaller meals, and then a little mini one that is just adorable for warm dips. Yes I just said a piece of kitchen equipment was adorable. Don’t judge me.
In the colder months, I use my crock pots a ton. They are easy, make warm comforting meals, and require little to no preparation at all. There are a few tips though that can save you when planning crock pot meals. A little prep, some smart shopping, and you can have meals that you have spent less than 20 minutes putting together.
I want to give you some basic rules about crock pots first. In general, you want to cook a meal in the crock pot 4 hours on high, or 8 hours on low. If you are following a recipe, go with what it says. Some of the newer or fancier crock also have temperature settings that you can use. That works too, just make sure that you follow the instructions. Note though that just because a recipe says to cook it 8 hours, that doesn’t mean that if you don’t get home at that exact time because you were stuck in crappy rush hour traffic that it will be ruined. I’ve let mine go 9 or 10 hours and it’s fine. And one of the best things about this is that you walk into a house that smells amazing.
Below are my pretty universal rules for using the crock pot and even a super easy recipe to get you started. Enjoy!
- Pick your protein – Chicken, pork, beef, and even non meat proteins like beans work really well in the crock pot. I would stay away from more delicate proteins like fish, since they don’t hold up as well to the long cook time. You can do pretty much any cut of meat – bone in, boneless, marbled, or lean. They all work well.
- Infuse flavor in every layer – I can’t say this enough. You want to season every layer that you put into the crock pot. It makes me nuts when the TV chef’s pour all their ingredients into he crock pot and dump a pile of seasoning on top, don’t stir it in, and then pop the top on and say its done! It’s not done, and trust me theirs tastes like crap. Salt and pepper your protein, season your veggies and sauce and mix them together so that everything can incorporate into one dish. Remember you won’t be stirring this like you do a stew or soup on the stove, you want to keep that lid securely on the entire cook time, so get your mixing in now. Speaking of the lid…
- Do not open that top – I know, it’s super tempting. The house starts to smell great, things are simmering away in there and you REALLY want to just open it for one second to take a look or give a stir. Don’t do it. Every time you open that top it is the equivalent of loosing about 30 minutes of cook time. And you don’t need to look, just let the machine work it’s magic. Trust the technology.
- Non-stick cooking spray is your friend – The food you are cooking in there is going to be bubbling away for at least 4 and sometimes more than 8 hours. If you don’t spray your crock, it will stick. End of story.
- Keep cans handy – one of my favorite things about crock pot meals is that I can throw them together with items almost completely from my pantry. Canned beans, tomatoes, and veggies are easy components to pull out of the cabinet and throw into the pot.
- Be creative – I’ve found that more so with any other type of cooking, it’s hard to screw up the crock pot. If you have a pretty good handle on flavors and think that maybe things will go well together, throw it in, turn it on and see how it comes out. I would say 80% of my crock pot cooking has nothing to do with a recipe and everything to do with what I have in the freezer and pantry.
As with almost all other cooking, use the internet and cook books to your advantage. There are some great crock pot cook books and the internet is full of awesome easy recipes. Pinterest is one of my favorite sites for ideas. Don’t be afraid to try them. Below is a really easy recipe that I use often in my house. It’s multi purpose and the ingredients I almost always have on hand.
Pulled Pork or Chicken with Black Beans and Corn
1.5 – 2 lbs of boneless chicken or pork(breast, thigh, loin, shoulder, etc. use whatever you have on hand)
2 medium onions, diced
2 cans of diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 can of black beans, drained
1 can of corn, drained
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp paprika
few dashes of hot sauce – optional
salt and pepper to taste
NOTE: you can also use a fajita or taco seasoning pack if that is easier for you or if you do not have the spices on hand.
Spray crock pot with non-stick cooking spray. Drop all ingredients except for the meat into the crock pot and mix well. Salt and pepper the meat and nestle it into the mixture in the crock pot, make sure it is covered. Put the top on securely, and cook on low for 8-9 hours or on high for 4 hours. At the end of the cooking time, shred the meat with two forks and mix it well with the sauce. Check for flavor and make sure it doesn’t need more salt or pepper. Put the top back on and let it sit for a little bit longer while you make your rice, noodles, or whatever you will be eating it with. That’s it!
I make this recipe with rice many times, but you can also stuff tacos with it, put it on top of nachos, or even make a great pizza with the leftovers! I get a pre-made crust and spread a thin layer of cream cheese put some of the meat mixture, sprinkle some cheese and bake at 450 for about 7-10 minutes. YUM!