How to Use a Crockpot: A Guide to Healthy Meal Preparation

Crockpots are an easy way to prepare healthy meals but can be intimidating to use. Here’s how to use a crockpot for anyone who wants to eat right and save time.
how to use a crockpot

Crockpots, or slow cookers, are easy appliances to use and require very little attention once the meal is ready to go in. They’re also great for families on-the-go: meals can be prepared in large quantities and enjoyed at different times.

The low temperature and long cooking time make crockpots an ideal way to cook healthier, cheaper meals with a lot of flavours and nutritional value.

A crockpot is helpful when preparing almost any meal, but it’s especially helpful in choosing dishes that take longer to cook. A crockpot can be used to cook any meat, but it works especially well for tougher cuts that need a long time at low temperature to become tender. Slow cooking will not only make the meat more flavorful, but also easier to chew and digest.

Some healthy recipes using a crockpot:
– Pork roast with vegetables
– Chicken stews with carrots, celery and potatoes
– Stewed lentils with tomatoes

meals for crockpot cooking

How to use a crock pot: Preparing the meal

Low heat can be frustrating when trying to brown meat. One solution is to do the initial browning on high heat before putting it in the slow cooker. This works well for large cuts- start by searing the meat, then use tongs to hold it in place while you quickly brown both sides. The tongs will prevent the meat from sticking to the pan and make for less scraping when cleaning after cooking.

Liquids do not evaporate as much in a crockpot, so it’s important not to cook with too much fluid. If you’re making soup, use at least half the amount of liquid than you normally would on a stove top.
Be sure to check that there is enough liquid to fully cover whatever ingredient needs it. 

Once the meal finishes cooking and the lid is removed, be mindful not to let any steam escape into your face or eyes when adding salt to the dish.

preparing a meal in a crockpot

How to use a crockpot: Cooking time and prepping

It’s helpful to get everything ready before you go to bed at night so you can just turn on the slow cooker in the morning right away. Some easy prep steps for busy mornings include chopping vegetables etc. If you’re using fresh vegetables, consider buying the pre-cut, bagged variety to save some time on preparation.

Make sure to plan out your meals in advance so you know what ingredients are needed and when they need to be added (especially for more complex dishes like soups). If you don’t feel like measuring things out when cooking, use a crockpot liner to simplify clean up after cooking.

cooking time for crockpots

Adjusting the heat setting

When using a crockpot for the first time or learning how to use a slow cooker, it’s helpful to start with low or medium heat and then adjust upwards as needed. It might take longer to cook nicer cuts of meat because high heat is not recommended.

The cooking time chart

In general, meats require between four and eight hours on low heat. Pork takes about an hour per pound to be fully cooked, while beef only take half as long. If you’re trying to make tough pieces of meat more tender, choose low heat and an extended cooking time (eight to twelve hours).

Safety precautions for using crockpots

Since slow cookers are designed for unattended cooking, it’s important to take special safety precautions if using one with children around. If your kids want to help out in the kitchen by adding ingredients or stirring, make sure it’s a safe environment to do so. Never leave a slow cooker unattended with children or pets around and be careful using sharp knives when preparing ingredients after the cooking time is complete.

Always use oven mitts to remove the pot from the heating base before taking off the lid. Since there is no way to manually release the lid, it could explode and grab your skin if not properly removed.

crockpot safety measures

Maintaining a crockpot

Always unplug the slow cooker before cleaning. The ceramic pot is dishwasher safe but should also be cleaned by hand as soon as possible after use to prevent dust or dirt from sticking as this can result in a bitter taste. Make sure the lid is completely dry before cooking your next dish.

All parts of a slow cooker can become stained from tomato sauce or other red ingredients, but these marks will generally fade once the pot has been used a few times. 

To prevent this discoloration, use baking soda instead of dish soap when washing after a meal and soak pots for a few hours (or the night) before washing it.

Beginner guide: How to properly use your crockpot

1) Prepare the food

Before you cook, make sure all meats are cut into uniform pieces (small cubes or thin slices work best). If they are not uniform, the food will not cook evenly. Make sure to season meats with salt and pepper (and any other spices you like).

Wash all root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, squash), cut into uniform pieces, and put them on the bottom of the crockpot. They act as a base for your meal; this way, they are the last things to cook.
Prepare any other vegetables you might want to include in your dish. 

Remember that most veggies will be fully cooked after a few hours of boiling, so they only need to be cut and seasoned. Include canned or precooked foods with the raw ingredients if possible; this cut down on cooking time.

2) Arrange the food

Make sure all meats are on top of root vegetables, so they’ll cook last and be cooked most thoroughly. Place any other ingredients in between these foods so that your meal cooks evenly (i.e., don’t put flour or sugar directly on top of meat).

3) Cook the food

Put crockpot on low for eight hours. If ingredients need to cook longer, just add a bit more time.

how to properly use a crockpot

Final thoughts

That’s it! Once you get used to using your crockpot, you can experiment with different recipes and cooking times. The nice thing about the crockpot is that this method reduces meal prep time significantly while preserving nutrients in your food. Plus, who wants to spend time stirring food on the stove when you can relax instead huh?

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