When I was growing up, my father sometimes relied on a slow cooker to make dinner. He'd throw ingredients into the machine, then leave them to simmer all day unattended. What emerged was invariably moist, tender and (I say this with all due respect) bland. Those lackluster meals would never pass muster here at Food & Wine. So when our Test Kitchen cooks began playing around with the new generation of slow cookers, they took a few extra steps to boost flavor—searing the meat before tossing it into the machine, for instance, or turning to ingredients with bold tastes, as in Provençal chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. It's not exactly push-button cooking, but it's not all that hard, either.
5 Smart Slow Cooker Tips
- Brown the Meat: For a richer flavor, sear meat in a skillet, then deglaze the pan and add it all to the slow cooker.
- Use Less Liquid: When translating a conventional recipe for a slow cooker, reduce the liquid by 25 percent.
- Presoak Beans: Beans will cook faster and more evenly if soaked overnight before slow-cooking.
- Fill to the Line: To ensure food cooks evenly, don't underfill or overfill the slow cooker.
- Use Tough Cuts: Tougher cuts of meat, which require longer cooking times to become tender, are ideal for a slow cooker.
More Slow Cooker Recipes:
After six hours in the slow cooker, pork shoulder becomes pull-apart tender. Serve the pulled pork with a side of coleslaw and pickles, or mound it on hamburger buns.
These fluffy, tender meatballs are equally delicious served over spaghetti or on a hoagie roll.
The Thai accents in this fragrant chicken stew come from creamy coconut milk, fresh ginger, salty fish sauce and lime.
Grace Parisi cooks pork shoulder with bold ingredients like fresh ginger, garlic, curry powder, cumin and turmeric. The flavors intensify and penetrate the meat after four hours in the slow cooker.
These baby back ribs are brushed with a balsamic glaze and finished under the broiler.
This warming eastern European short rib stew is best served in deep bowls over buttery noodles.
Napa cabbage and thinly-sliced sour pickles add texture and tang to this hearty stew. Searing the pieces of beef chuck before putting them in the slow cooker gives the stew a rich flavor.
“The chicken is braised in the oven, but you can make it in a slow cooker or completely on the stove,” says Jenn Louis. There are many versions of tinga—the smoky Mexican tomato sauce—and this one is especially easy, calling for only a few simple ingredients.
This gingery soup features meaty shiitake mushrooms, shredded beef chuck and chewy Japanese udon noodles.
This Cuban stew, featuring shredded flank steak, tomatoes and olives, can be made up to two days in advance.
This amazing slow cooker cheesecake has an unbelievably silky texture because the machine steams the cake as it bakes.