A few tips for slow-cooker success from Phyllis Good, author of Stock the Crock
- A slow cooker does its best work when it’s 2/3 full. Less than that and it may dry out, especially around the edges and the bottom.
- Pack it full, and the longer it will take to cook, especially in the middle, where the food is furthest from the heat source. Jamming the cooker tight and full risks the food being overcooked toward the outside and undercooked near the center.
- The larger the pieces of meat and dense vegetables, the longer it will take them to cook. Read the recipe’s suggestion about whether to “dice finely” or “cube” those ingredients. The recipe’s recommended cooking time is partly based on the size of the chunks or thin slices it calls for.
- You can add more delicate and fragile ingredients later, if they’re toppings—or if the dish allows for mixing the ingredients together as it nears the end of the cooking time. Put fresh herbs in 5 minutes before the dish is finished. Or stir in peas 10 minutes before the end. By doing this you’ll have a fresher tasting dish—and you won’t be restricted by using only those ingredients that can hold up with hours of cooking.
- Pay attention, too, to the size of the slow cooker the recipe recommends. Brownies work best when made in a large oval slow cooker with more floor area than a round, tall cooker has. So when the recipe calls for a 6- or 7-quart oval cooker, that’s the reason. Yes, the brownie batter will fit in a round 5-quart cooker, but it won’t cook well if the batter is too deep and dense. (Expect the brownies against the wall to be crumbly and dry, while those in the middle will be limp and soggy.)