I'm passionate about feeding my family healthy, frugal meals and helping you do the same. One of my most-used strategies is focusing on Crockpot and Slow Cooker Recipes. It helps so much with meal planning!
Since I start dinner early in the day, I don’t waste time and energy worrying “what’s for dinner?” all day. That saves me stress and helps us stay on track eating at home, which saves us a lot of money.
I also love that it frees up our late afternoon, so I can help with homework or play with the kids rather than be standing at the stove.
My family's favorite crockpot and slow cooker recipes are listed below, with plenty of resources to help you cook at home with your own family.
Why cook in a crockpot?
Cooking at home means eating at home, so read more about The Importance of Eating Together:
The majority of American families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week. It’s a pity that so many Americans are missing out on what could be meaningful time with their loved ones, but it’s even more than that. Not eating together also has quantifiably negative effects both physically and psychologically.”
“…meals eaten outside of the home are almost uniformly less healthy than homemade foods, generally having higher fat, salt, and caloric content.”
Adapting recipes to the slow cooker
We all have favorite dishes that everyone in the family enjoys. Why not adapt them to the slow cooker so you can enjoy them even on the busiest of days or when you're not really in the mood to cook?
While not every single recipe lends itself to preparing it in the slow cooker, you'll be surprised how many dishes do. Soups, stew, and casseroles are a no brainer.
Slow cooking a whole chicken allows you to keep the oven turned off, perfect for summertime.
Have you tried making your famous spaghetti sauce in the slow cooker? I appreciate being able to walk away and let it simmer rather than stand at the stove. It's also a great way to double a recipe since the crockpot can fit so much volume. Then you can freeze the extra sauce!
Adapting your favorite family recipes for the slow cooker does take a little experimenting. There may be some trial and error involved before you fine-tune your cooking method.
Slow Cooking Conversion Tips
The easiest thing to do is search for slow cooker recipes to note the cooking time and amount of liquid others use. Then, give it a try with your ingredients. That will give you a starting point for your recipe.
Here are some general tips that will work with most recipes:
Obviously, food takes much longer to cook in the slow cooker than in the oven or on the stove. It’s one of the appeals of slow cooking, since longer cooking time allows complex flavors to develop and even the toughest cuts of meat get nice and tender.
- If you usually cook something on the stove or in the oven for 15 to 30 minutes, cook it in the crockpot on High for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or on Low for 4 to 6 hours.
- Stover or oven cooking for 35 to 45 minutes adapts to cooking it in the crockpot on High for 3 to 4 hours or on Low for 6 to 10 hours.
- If you usually cook something on the stove or in the oven for 50 minutes to 3 hours, cook in the crockpot on High 4 to 6 hours or on Low 8-18 hours (overnight).
The other thing you need to adjust is your cooking liquids. This is particularly important if you’re adapting a recipe that you usually cook on the stove top.
On the stove (and to a lesser extent in the oven), much of the cooking liquid evaporates. In a slow cooker, the food cooks slowly, making less steam. Plus the lid is closed the entire time, so no moisture evaporates. Cutting your cooking liquids in half is a good start for most recipes.
Dealing With Pasta and Rice
While you can make pasta and rice dishes in the slow cooker, keep a couple of things in mind. For rice, stick with the long grain variety that takes at least 20 minutes of boiling to cook. Stay away from pre-cooked and quick cooking rice.
Pasta can be cooked from the beginning in the slow cooker, but it comes out gummy in most recipes I’ve tried. What’s worked better for me is to boil the pasta until it is about halfway done and then add it to the slow cooker for the last hour of cooking if I’m home around that time.
Honestly, sometimes it’s easier to just cook the pasta and rice separate and then assemble everything on the plate or stir it in right before you’re ready to serve dinner.
Choosing the right crockpot
Slow cooker sizes
How many people are you feeding, and are you planning on making mostly main meals, soups and stews? For a family of four to six people, a 6-quart model will be your best bet.
If you’re doing a lot of cooking for crowds (church potluck, swim team, etc), you may want to go with a bigger model like an 8-quart. And if you’re cooking for two, or only plan to make side dishes and desserts in the slow cooker, a 4-quart will suffice.
If you’re not sure what to get, stick with the standard six quart version. That's what most published slow cooking recipes are tested with, so you can be sure the directions will work.
There are quite a few different brands out there that make quality slow cookers. Favorites include Crock-Pot, Hamilton Beach, Cuisinart, and Kitchen-Aid.
Sticking with a popular brand not only guarantees you'll get a quality product, it also makes it easier to find parts down the road, should for example, the lid fall and break.
Used or new?
One question we haven’t addressed yet is if you need to buy a new slow cooker at all. While they're not terribly expensive for a kitchen appliance, you may want
Ask your friends and neighbors if they have a crockpot sitting unused. I see them often for sale in our neighborhood group! Just be sure that it was manufactured in the last decade or so.
Avoid older models from pre-2000 as safety regulations have changed over the years.
What features do you really need?
There are some very fancy slow cooker models on the market today. Most likely, you'll need an affordable basic model that function with no more than a high or low cooking feature.
Think about what functions you really need. If this is your first slow cooker, start with a very basic model. You can always add another one with more features down the road. More advanced models offer:
- Retractable cords are nice, but it’s also not that hard to tuck the cord under the slow cooker when you store it.
- Having a “keep warm” feature is helpful.
- Do you need a programmable timer so the chili can start cooking itself even if you’re out running errands or just getting back to the office after a quick lunch?
How many crockpots do you need?
Having more than one slow cooker is definitely not out of the question if you enjoy this way of cooking. You can fix pulled pork on one, and still have room for mac and cheese or a squash casserole in the second one as a side dish.
And smaller models come in handy for hot dips, appetizers and desserts. With my family of five, I didn't find that we used the tiny size, so I ended up giving it away.
If you enjoy entertaining in your home, multiple slow cookers or a triple crockpot would come in handy when you're fixing a variety of party foods.
Recommended for slow cooking
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