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Slow cookers: What do you think

This may verge on sacrilegious for some of you, but are many of us actually using our slow cookers'.
I've had one for about 5 years and have really only used it a few times to make soup or chili.
My issue is that it doesn't really do a good job of chili since it doesn't reduce and honestly I don't see the benefit of taking 4 hours to cook a soup, perhaps if it could cook while I was at work but I doubt I would put a soup together in the morning.
I've also found that recipes usually call for either pre browning (which for me defeats the purpose of slow cooking since I have to dirty utensils and use active time to prep) or they use lots of prepared ingredients like canned soup.
I suppose I'm thinking I would like to get more use out of it and I like the concept of slow cooking, but is anyone out there really making it work, and if so how?

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  1. I've been using mine more and more. Twice a week I teach violin lessons, 4:30-6:30. I also work as a sub, and a musician in the schools, which is not on regular days, varying schedule. I will sometimes put something in the slow cooker around noon for later. It's not so much about dirtying fewer dishes/pots and pans, as it is about being able to leave the house with dinner cooking. Family can feed themselves if I'm not home. And don't get on my case (not the OP, but others out there) about my family needing me to feed them. Yes, they can cook. It's just that I work part-time, and my husband works full-time (actually has taken on an extra class so gets home later than usual), so I feel that I am the partner that can do the cooking. On the weekends, he does laundry.
    anyway, I like the convenience of starting dinner, then leaving, and having it ready when I get home on those late nights. Yes, I may have to wipe out a frying pan if I brown the meat, but that's not my issue. and yes, my husband pitches in on kitchen clean-up.
    As for prepared foods in recipes, well I don't use recipes. I mostly put in cuts of meat, a little water, some aromatics, and that's about it.

    5 Replies
    1. re: wyogal

      I think it's good to let the family cook. I can't wait until my kids are old enough to do it without lots of help and supervision! Raising kids who can take care of themselves means letting them do it. :) I can't believe you've gotten a hard time about that! I stay home, and my husband still cooks sometimes when I'm going to an evening meeting or have just had an unusually busy or overwhelming day. But I feel like you do, that I'm doing my part given the current situation. I love to cook, and we often cook together on weekends. It works for us.

      I just use my slow cooker to transport soups/stews to their destinations when I make them for a group meal. But I think it may be a way to let the kids be responsible for dinner and actually do most of the cooking while they're still too young to use the stove, sharp knives, etc., without me right there. They're so proud of themselves when they cook, and I'm getting tired of toast! ;)

      1. re: SAHCook

        Your point about raising kids who can take care of themselves and how you can't wait until your kids start cooking reminds me of a story I recently heard from my now 80 year old father. He was a depression kid and while his father mostly always had a job his mother got work cleaning office buildings in the evening. Since his mother left the house in the late afternoon, she would start dinner and let her boys finish cooking dinner for their father (and themselves of course). As they got older, the boys took over cooking the evening meal. When my father was drafted into the army in 1950 at some point the troops were asked if any of them knew how to cook. He raised his hand (I wonder how reluctantly, remember, never volunteer for anything in the army) and he was made a cook. He ended up being a cook and training other cooks that were sent to Korea while he stayed in Alabama. His cooking alibilty may have saved him from going to war in Korea.

        1. re: John E.

          What a great story! I bet your grandparents were so thankful they taught your dad that skill!

          1. re: SAHCook

            He told me about how he cooked on a big coal fired cast iron stove. He was a sergeant first class and was once assigned a private to assist him in the kitchen. The private had only one good arm, the other arm was a birth defect and was withered and pretty much useless. He asked the private how it was that he got drafted. It turns out the head of the local draft board did not like his father, so there was no way he was going to fail his physical. My dad went to the colonel and said that the private really could not help him much and maybe he ought to be sent home (how do you peel potatoes with one hand?). Anyway, my father was tight with the colonel and the private with the gimp arm got an honerable discharge and relieved of any military duty. The reason my dad was tight with the colonel is that my dad some how found out the colonel had a fondness for chicken livers. My dad would save them up until he had a quart or so of them then he would tell the colonel and the boss man would bring a six-pack of beer and my dad fried up the chicken livers and the two of them would eat them and drink beer. I suppose that might be another reason my dad did not have to go to Korea. He might not have had a high school diploma (he was expelled, that's another story) but his ma didn't raise no fool.

            1. re: John E.

              I love hearing others' stories, especially the ones that happened (at least in part!) before I was born. So many stories around food ... it's fascinating to me the role food plays in our experiences and relationships.

    2. Check out the thread in home cooking forum called Cooking From Slow Cooker Cookbooks.

      1. Oh baby, really? LOL. I have 4 slow cookers, different sizes (important to have the proper size for what you're cooking). I use 2-3 of them, at least 3-4 times each per week. Beans, soups, stews, sauces, pulled pork, stewed chicken, oatmeal, stock....

        I finally realized that the 4 qt size for 2 people, was too big except for stock or corned beef (your crockpot should be 3/4 to nearly full for best results). We're not always fans of reheating frozen dishes, and we didn't want to eat the same dish fresh for too long. So now I have a 2-cup and a 1.5 qt for smaller output.

        You can assemble ingredients and refrigerate in the crock the night before; pop into the base in the morning and let it bubble away on low until you get home. Chicken doesn't tolerate as long a cooking time as beef or pork do. Some recipes don't need browning at all (I made a beef-and-barley stew this week that was fab without browning). The richness and depth of flavor you get from a long slow simmer in the crockpot is worth a little prep time. :)

        The thread that rasputina refers to (slow cooker cookbook thread):
        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/829403

        "I want to love my slow cooker" thread:
        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/825408

        3 Replies
        1. re: DuchessNukem

          Thanks very much duchess (and all) your response was very helpful. Im a cookbook person so perhaps the cookbook thread will help.

          1. re: delys77

            I do hope you give the critter another chance. Honestly, I made some really crappy stuff in my big cooker back in the day, when I had under-filled it and the food got overcooked and uniformly ugly, brown and gooey; made me wonder why people bothered.

            Here's two variants on the no-browning beef-and-barley stew. I scaled down into 1.5 qt crock, with 8 oz beef, 1/3 c barley, dried thyme, and veggies that were on hand. :)

            http://www.whatmegansmaking.com/2012/...

            http://www.uaf.edu/files/ces/publicat...

            1. re: DuchessNukem

              Oh thanks very much Duchess, I think I will give them a try.

        2. Example....
          I have a bit of time between jobs right now, so threw a couple of small pork should roasts into the pot, with chunked tomatillos, a can of roasted green chilies, several chopped up anahiems, some onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, some cumin, a chicken boullion cube (Knorr), a couple of cilantro cubes (also knorr). When I get home later this afternoon, I'll take the pork out and use my immersion blender (because my husband doesn't like chunks), and pull the pork for tacos/burritos with green chili. I didn't brown the meat or saute anything, just dumped it altogether. Took about 5 minutes.

          3 Replies
            1. re: wyogal

              That sounds very tasty indeed, and it still works out ok without browning?

              1. re: delys77

                oh yeah, it's good! I took the meat out, pureed the green chili, took most of that out, put the meat back in. Now I have a pot of Amarillo (yellow, but turn white) beans (after a quick boil and rinse, put them in another cooker), a saucepan of green chili sauce, and a slowcooker of pulled pork. I got some queso fresco, and have flour and corn tortillas, and lettuce... Dinner!

            2. Sadly, I've never been able to adapt my routines to the needs of the slow cooker. Over the years, I've owned at least 5 of them and given away all but one. For one thing, I don't like to plan and assemble meals many hours in advance. For another, I'm out of the house for between 10 and 13 hours on workdays, so the newer slow cookers, paradoxically, cook too fast for me. (Yes, I know all about timers, keep-warm settings, and so forth, but the bottom line is that the food is going to be sitting there for a lot longer than I consider desirable.) But most importantly, there's nothing a slow cooker can do that my stovetop pressure cooker can't do just as well or better, in a fraction of the time, with no pre-planning necessary. I respect those who can make good use of their slow cookers; but I'm simply not cut out to be one of them.

              1. I use mine a few times a month -- I do the assembly the night before, then put it on to cook...it sure is nice to walk into the house on nights I work late and smell dinner cooking when I open the door -- and my soup/stew/whatever is ready to dish up as soon as I change clothes and let the dog out....

                3 Replies
                1. re: sunshine842

                  To me, this is the real (and only) benefit of a slow cooker - the ability to have dinner actually ready when you walk in the door after work. The quality of the food isn't better - a pressure cooker or a dutch oven can do it just as well, and usually better (especially in a situation where some open-top evaporation helps the end result). But there is something wonderful about walking into your house at 6pm, smelling the rich scent of beef bourguignon or chicken tagine and knowing that all you have to do is grab a plate and you're ready for dinner.

                  1. re: monopod

                    especially when, by definition, if you're working into the dinner hour, you're tired and have neither the time nor the motivation to make anything slow-cooked.

                  2. I only use mine for chili, sausage/peppers, and meatballs these days. I used to use it more when I first started cooking but have found that I didnt love most of the stuff I was making. I also only use them when I'm entertaining and need to have things prepared and cooking while I hang out with my guests. Weeknight meatballs are made and simmered in a pot on the stove.

                    1. I have used mine for making chili, and it has worked well for me. I didn't use one when I worked, though for the reason you stated. However there are a few dump recipes that might work for you, and those might be easier. And you can cook an entire chicken or a bag of frozen chicken breasts in slow cooker. You then use the chicken in the recipe of your choice.

                      People who carry food to potlucks really get their use from slow cookers, I think.

                      I plan on cooking a chicken tomorrow in the slow cooker, actually.

                      1. If you like to experiment with a different use for your slow cooker you can buy an Auber or SousVide Magic PID controller, use your vacuum sealer or waterbath seal and play around with Sous Vide cooking in addition to slow cooking. 72 hour chuck is an entirely different thing than slow cooker chuck roast. Just make sure your slow cooker is a "dumb" one. i.e. simple rotary switch not a digital/microprocessor control. Modernist cooking from an old school appliance.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Jimonthebeach

                          I've stared that very process, just with a $11 lamp dimmer. An easy and inexpensive way to give that a shot. It'll be a while before I'm ready to post any reviews but I'm looking forward to the perfect egg.

                        2. I have a few more thoughts on your question. If I had to choose between a pressure cooker and a slow cooker, I'd choose the pc because it is more versatile.

                          However, your point about the prep work for a cooker recipe is interesting. You would do this work anyway, if you made the recipe right? I don't think think the slow cooker should be used as a shortcut, but as a way to have food ready at a certain time. A couple of other posters have mentioned how lovely it is to come home to a cooked meal. I used my cooker recently to cook a chili I made up of leftover and pantry ingredients. I ate my chili, after being out in the afternoon, and then went out again that evening to a meeting. I suggest thinking of the slow cooker as something different than an easy way to get a meal out of a pot. After all, you do the prep work no matter whether the food goes into the pot or if it is cooked on the stovetop. If you can imagine using it to make your eating life more convenient, then I think buying one is justified. They aren't that expensive, unless you buy really upscale.

                          1. am with most here. love the idea of a knowingly busy day, no time to cook proper dinner but can be gone all day then come home to a dinner that's basically done.
                            I really love my 1 1/2 qt sized slow cooker because it's just a perfect size for smaller project.
                            couple boneless pork chops and various sauce concoctions, can't be beat.
                            basic pasta sauce and 8 meatballs.
                            3 bl/sl chic breasts + can of golden mushroom.
                            lentil/split pea/moroccan soup.
                            ham hock&lima beans.
                            1 large artichoke.

                            1. The fascination with slow cookers escapes me. I've had one for quite a while now and every year or so I pull it out and give it a go, hoping the results will be more satisfactory than the last time I used it. I keep wanting it to be good, but every time I am disappointed. The food is almost always tasteless and it is almost always swimming in a lot of liquid. One of my attempts several weeks ago was a chicken dish cooked in a sauce made with quajillo chiles and Mexican spices. The sauce going into the slow cooker was delicious but the sauce that came out was nasty. I tried another dish just the other day that was made with sauerkraut, pork, potatoes and kielbasa. The only edible parts in the end were the kielbasa and the kraut, but they were fully cooked when they went into the slow cooker.

                              I know a lot of people are in love with their slow cookers and think the food that comes out of them is delicious, but I'm not one of them. Sometimes I wonder if people equate delicious with easy. That's only my opinion.

                              My slow cooker is going into the trash this morning.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: skippy66

                                Why not donate it to Goodwill or something instead of throwing it away?
                                I don't think those of us that do use them equate delicious with easy. And sometimes, it's not about ease, it's about working all day or afternoon, and wanting a meal pretty much done when we walk in the door at the end of the day. It's about timing for me. It's just as easy to cook another way, but sometimes, quite frankly, after work I don't feel like doing the work.

                                1. re: skippy66

                                  I agree with wyogal: Why not donate? Slow cookers just don't do it for me (see above); but every time I've given up on one and given it away, the person who received it seemed to be able to make good use of it.

                                  1. re: skippy66

                                    I don't use my slow cooker often to cook, mostly just to transport and hold hot items. But I've left things in the oven scared out of my mind I'd come home to a burned down house because of poor planning on my part (do I turn off the oven and let my ham sit in it until I return or just pray nothing catches fire?). Those days I wish I had started something in the slow cooker instead! I don't care what it comes out tasting like, I'm pretty sure anything I eat will taste better while my house is still standing. :) This ovely paranoid girl really values the peace of mind my slow cooker brings, at least as much as the food.

                                    However, I experiment a lot in the kitchen, so I don't expect exceptional food at every meal. It doesn't bother me if something is less than spectacular. And I think that with everything else, there is a learning curve to delicious clow cooker meals. I haven't gotten there yet, but I haven't put much time into it, either.

                                    1. re: skippy66

                                      LOL skippy66. It's funny, I tend to read a recipe and think, "How would I adjust that for the crockpot?" I said upthread that I've got 4 pots, and I love using them.

                                      I didn't always know how to produce good results: bad recipes, bad attention to detail, bad ingredients, poor choice of pot size, too long or too short a cook time, etc., and I've had many other people's bad slow cooker output. It's like any other cooking tool: once you figure out how hot your oven bakes, or how your saute pan manages reducing a sauce, or where your grill's hot spots are, you cook better with them.

                                      Those of us who cook well with this tool know that delicious doesn't always equal easy: it's unfortunate that that's been your experience. But please do donate the critter rather than discard it. :)

                                      1. re: skippy66

                                        I echo everyone else, I have learned to cook with mine and appreciate it.
                                        BUT, I also really use mine as a "prep tool" in conjunction with my freezer. I "shop from my freezer" nightly for the next days dinner.

                                        I always have a crockpot of stock going (either vegetable or chicken) to put in mason jars and freeze for later use.

                                        I also use it to prep all kinds of dried beans (al dente) to freeze instead of using canned beans.

                                        I much prefer using dried garbanzo beans, rather than canned, so I love that I can have smaller quantities ready anytime I feel like it from my freezer. I package up a handful or two of al dente garbanzo and black beans at a time to throw in a salad or soup.

                                        I use it to prep lentils and split peas as well. I can make a fresh split pea soup in less than 30 minutes for dinner.

                                        1. re: sedimental

                                          Sedimental, I use my pressure cooker for those exact same things. These two appliances will often get you the same results, just by different means. It's all a matter of which one best suits your schedule and your style. In fact, when I gave away the last of my slow cookers, I kept my two slow-cooker cookbooks, because so many of the recipes are very easy to adapt for pressure cooking.

                                      2. and you don't have to be limited to just main dishes -- I've made Thanksgiving dressing and 4th of July baked beans in my slow cooker -- and it works **great** for both of those, too.

                                        others make cobbler-type fruit desserts, oatmeal -- and I used to have a recipe for a "busy day casserole" that had wild rice and chicken...I've lost the recipe, but it was a really nice change for the slow cooker - and the kids loved it!

                                        1. When my kids were younger, and I was constantly on-the-go between volunteer work and the kids' activities, I used my slow cooker quite often. Always made red beans for the red beans and rice also made a great chicken and lentil dish as well as the great "Prince Pepsi Potroast" recipe. It also came in handy for soup making. Some may shun the slow cooker/crock pot, but I have to say, for those who are extremely busy--especially moms, the end result gives a much better product than going out and buying fast or processed food for a quick dinner.
                                          It's funny, I always thought the kids didn't think much of the meals from the crockpot but one of my sons recently purchased one for his apartment. He and his buddies are at work all day and they have a late schedule....so the slow cooker comes in handy. He also asked me for the recipes he had as a kid and the reviews from his roomies are the dishes are great! (then again, that is coming from three men in their mid-twenties).

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: jarona

                                            and it's *awesome* on days when everyone's coming and going throughout the evening with working late and meetings and practices -- dinner's ready when everybody's ready for dinner. Nothing's overdone or dried out or burned -- it's all hot and tasty.

                                          2. Get some good slow cooker cook books: The Gourmet Slow Cooker/Alley; Slow Cooker Revolution/ATK; The French Slow Cooker and/or The Italian Slow Cooker/Sciccolione. Cook's Country Magazine always has a slow cooker recipe or two, and they are usually good. And yes, if you want something good to eat, there will be some prep work. Open and dump recipes are rarely good. I just made a chocolate cake in my 3 1/2 qt. Took longer than it said, but it was quite good.