Weeknight Cooking

How to Adapt a Recipe to a Slow Cooker

October 27, 2015

Picture this: You throw everything into a pot. Then it's off to go run errands or even go to work for the day. Hours later, you unlock the door, and return to a perfectly cooked dish. This can happen for most traditional recipes—because they can be adapted for a slow cooker. Don't believe us? Read on to this refreshed post to see.

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Selecting a recipe.

Look for buzz words like braised or slow-roasted or soups or stews. Most recipes that require finishing in the oven or any sort of baking make for great slow cooker candidates. That being said, you really can make anything in a slow cooker: yogurt, pulled porkchicken broth, and chili. Get creative and experiment with your favorite recipes, while following a few simple guidelines. 

Survey your slow cooker.

What size is it? 
Slow cookers come in a range of sizes, ranging anywhere from 1 to 7 quarts. Take note of the pot size when selecting quantities of ingredients and to avoid pot overflow.

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Does it have hot spots?
In many slow cookers, the back side tends to be hotter. If this is the case, line the back with an aluminum foil collar for an added layer of protection.

Slow Cooking on Food52

Prep your ingredients.

As always, make sure to chop all your ingredients uniformly, so that they cook evenly.

Meat: You can use any type or cut of meat; however, tougher, cheaper cuts of meat work best. We recommend browning meat and draining away excess fat prior to adding to to slow cooker.

Chicken: Be wary of the cut of meat you are using; for instance, boneless chicken breasts take 2 to 3 hours and bone-in chicken breasts take 3 to 4 hours. The best cuts of chicken to use are chicken thighs, bone-in breasts, or drumsticks, and wings, as opposed to boneless cuts.

Vegetables: Fresh will turn out better than frozen.

Rice Look for precooked or parboiled rice. In their cookbook solely dedicated to slow cooker recipes, America's Test Kitchen recommends buying precooked rice.

AromaticsSauteing onions and garlic prior to adding will help bring out the flavor.

Strategically place your ingredients in the pot.

For soups and stews, put vegetables on the bottom and sides of the slow cooker and place meat on top.

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Add your liquid.

Any liquid required for a recipe should be halved; for most (non-soup or stew) recipes, 1 cup of liquid is enough (and make sure to season in proportion with your reduced liquid). Alternatively, if a recipe does not call for any liquid, add at least 1/2 a cup of water or broth. If you've accidentally added too much liquid, simply leave the top of the slow cooker off and let it evaporate.

Slow Cooking on Food52

Regardless of the sequence in the original recipe, add these ingredients in the final 30 minutes of cooking:

  • Herbs and spices: reduce the amount of seasoning or use whole herbs
  • Dairy: be careful, as dairy can separate
  • Quick cooking vegetables like peas, corn or greens
  • Rice and pasta
  • Seafood

Cooking Time 

If your recipe requires a certain amount of time in the oven, it will require a longer cooking time in the crock pot. As a general rule, 1 hour of cooking at 350 °F equals 6 to 8 hours on a low setting or 4 to 6 hours on high.

Here is a chart to help your conversions:

Stove/Oven Cook Time  Slow Cooker (Low) Slow Cooker (High)
15 to 30 minutes 4 to 6 hours 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours
35 to 45 minutes 6 to 10 hours 3 to 4 hours
50 minutes to 3 hours 8 to 12 hours 4 to 6 hours  

 

Practice safe slow cooking!

Bacteria grows over time and likes lower temperature environments. Cooks Illustrated says the key is to get the temperature up to and past 140° F (the temperature in which bacteria cannot grow) as quickly as possible. Be sure to use a thermometer when applicable.

Tell us, what recipes do you like to make in your slow cooker? 

Photos by Food52

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12 Comments

Sandy N. November 23, 2016
My slow cooker doesn't have High and Low. It has a dial with Temperatures. I have just been guessing and it's probably been too high as things are done very quickly (2 hours instead of 4-6). What should I set it at for low or high?
 
Stephanie October 28, 2015
I love the cheat sheet for time conversions!<br /><br />My favorite thing to make in the slow cooker is broth. I keep a freezer bag with veggie scraps and one with bones. When the bags are full, I dump them in, add some peppercorns (whole), and cover with hot water. Then I let it go on low for a full day (usually two eight hour cycles - start one before bed and the other before work.) When you walk in after a hard day at work and smell that, it's blissful. Double strain it, toss in your soup fixin's, and voila, dinner! (Or put it in freezer containers for a thaw and use option.)
 
Summer April 10, 2015
I've made turkey chili, corned beef and cabbage (add the cabbage during last half hour to keep it crispier), delicious cheesy pizza casserole, pot roast, meatloaf, and today I'm making Indian Spiced Chicken (wanted to know how to adapt the recipe and found this great article).
 
Michele W. November 1, 2014
"Chicken: Be weary of the cut of meat you are using...."<br /><br />Really? I should be tired ("weary") of using chicken? How about being WARY of the cuts? lol.
 
Nick H. November 1, 2014
Corned beef with cabbage or brusselsprouts and red potatoes.
 
Mary A. November 1, 2014
I make soups, but my favorite is split pea with ham hocks or bacon.
 
Nathaniel R. February 7, 2014
does meat always have to be completely submerged in liquid to cook properly (whether it be stock etc.)?
 
Carol November 25, 2013
I have a question. Can I cook my turkey dressing in the crockpot and if so, how long do I need to cook it?
 
Author Comment
Elana C. November 26, 2013
Yes, you can! I would suggest cooking it on high for an hour or low for 4-6 hours.
 
HalfPint October 23, 2013
I've been wanting to dry making cheesecake in a slow cooker. I've had good results for pot roasts, beef stew, tapioca pudding, boiled peanuts, aloo gobi, Cincinnati Chili.
 
Author Comment
Elana C. October 24, 2013
All sound amazing, HalfPint! How are you planning to adapt the cheesecake recipe?
 
HalfPint October 28, 2013
Apparently you put the cheesecake pan into the slow cooker, cook on low until done. America's Test kitchen has done this and the results seem to please even the picky Chris Kimball. I heard it on ATK Radio podcast a few weeks ago.