The Secrets to Succulent, Slow-Cooked Meals

Top tips for slow-cooking success, plus some great reasons and recipes to get the cooker bubbling.


You’ve got to love an appliance that makes luscious, aromatic, Sunday-style dinners a reality any night of the week: Ingredients go in, the cooker goes on, and dinner comes out pretty much whenever you’re ready. Plus there’s usually only one pot to wash — how easy is that?

Here are my top tips for slow-cooking success, plus some great reasons and recipes to get the cooker bubbling.

Browning boosts flavor. Many recipes suggest you brown meats or vegetables in a separate skillet before adding them to the slow cooker. While not strictly necessary, this will add a depth of flavor that makes it worth the time.

Cut back on fat. You’ll get better results with minimal amounts of fats. Most slow-cooker recipes call for little or no added fat, and you should also trim meats as well as possible before adding them to the slow cooker. If you brown meats before adding them you’ll generally want to pour off the excess fat first.

Use less liquid. There’s virtually no evaporation during slow-cooking, so even if your dish seems dry in the beginning it will accumulate delicious juices during cooking.

Low is usually better. If you have a choice between using your cooker’s low setting or high setting, you should generally opt for low. Most cookers heat more evenly on low, and most foods will be tastier with longer cooking. But there are many exceptions, so let your recipes and your schedule be the ultimate guide.

Don’t peek! Leaving the cooker closed throughout the cooking process is important for most recipes; stirring isn’t usually needed and may increase the cooking time.

Finish with flavor. Although most flavors develop beautifully with long cooking, there are a few things, like fresh herbs and fresh citrus juice, that are best added right at the end of cooking. And it’s always a good idea to taste the dish and adjust salt, pepper and spices before serving to make sure you have really excellent flavor.

Slow Cooker Honey-Vanilla Multigrain Hot Cereal

Slow Cooker Honey-Vanilla Multigrain Hot Cereal

5 Great Reasons to Plug In

  • Bargain cuts become luxurious. Slow cooking is my tenderizer of choice for inexpensive beef cuts like chuck, round, shin and more. Think beyond stews and chili by trying a recipe like our Slow-Cooker Asian Short Ribs for mouthwatering results.
  • Healthier is easier. Many of the leanest and healthiest meals can be made in a slow-cooker to yield super-flavorful results with little or no added fat. It’s a terrific way to cook foods like this Slow-Cooker Chickpea and Lentil Stew, or try it for warming, veggie-packed soups like Slow-Cooker Minestrone.
  • It’s the best for casual entertaining. It cooks and serves (always hot!) from the same pot, so you never have to worry about scorching or reheating. Guests can build their own succulent sandwiches with this recipe for Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches, or you can relax and party with a festive dish like Sausage and Shrimp Gumbo.
  • Breakfast just got warmer. Start your slow-cooker the night before and you can wake up to delicious whole grains and wonderful morning aromas. This Slow Cooker Honey-Vanilla Multigrain Hot Cereal features a mix of oats, barley and quinoa that become irresistibly creamy and delicious during cooking.
  • Homemade stocks and broths are a cinch. It’s easy to convert your favorite stock or broth recipe for slow cooking: Decrease the water used by about 20 percent, make sure you don’t fill the cooker more than 2/3 full, cover and cook on low for about 8 hours. Give it a try with one of the newly popular bone broth recipes, or try this veggie-rich Homemade Vegetable Broth.
By Alice K. Thompson