Slow cookers are incredibly divisive — you either love them or hate them. They're one of the most popular cooking gadgets around, having become trendy again over the past few years after years spent gathering dust in the back of closets all over the country.
And the new slow cookers on the market have lots more bells and whistles than those ancient models from their 1970s heyday. But as with most things in life, there are a lot of misconceptions about the slow cooker and what it can and can't do. Here are seven myths about slow cookers you should know before you make your next Crock-Pot meal.
Myth 1: Slow cookers are only good for soups and stews
It's true, the slow cooker can make amazing soup, chili and stew. You might also already know that the slow cooker makes delicious pulled pork -- anything that benefits from low and slow heat on the stovetop or in the oven will generally do well in the slow cooker. But you can actually use your slow cooker to prepare all kinds of things, including hot dips, meatballs, lasagna, desserts, and warm punches. Macaroni and cheese? Sure! Chocolate cake? Of course! Mulled wine? Obviously! The possibilities are almost endless… but not quite, which leads to the next point.
Myth 2: Slow cookers are good for cooking everything
Sadly, this is a myth. There are some things that just aren't going to turn out well in the slow cooker, no matter how hard you try. I've tried to make one-pot dishes using regular long-grain rice, and I've found that only instant rice cooks consistently in the slow cooker. Bacon, or anything else that needs to be crispy, will not turn out well in the slow cooker. Some seafood, like shrimp, will work, but only if you add it during the last few minutes of cook time. Because fish and shellfish cook so quickly, you can't make a seafood stew in a slow cooker. Sorry.
Myth 3: Everything slow cooked turns out watered down
It's true, if you're used to cooking sauces and stews on the stovetop, the slow cooker can present a bit of a challenge. Because the appliance cooks at a fairly low temperature and traps in all the moisture, the liquid never gets a chance to reduce, the way it would over direct heat. This can lead to watered-down sauces. But it's easy to achieve that thicker consistency; you can stir in a bit of cornstarch before serving for a quick fix, or you can remove the lid and let the dish sit for about 20 to 30 minutes after cooking to let some of that moisture evaporate. Stirring it a few times after you remove the lid and while it's sitting also helps.
Myth 4: Slow cookers are hard to clean
Many slow cookers these days have lids and inserts that are dishwasher safe, so it's simple enough to toss them in with the rest of your dirty dishes. For anything that might get sticky — if you're making cake or mac and cheese, for example — it's a good idea to spray the insert with nonstick cooking spray for easy cleanup afterwards. Or you could use disposable slow cooker liners, which protect your appliance from any baked-on messes.
Myth 5: You can dump all your ingredients in the slow cooker, set it and go
I wish this were true — and it is for some recipes — but for many, it isn't. If you want to achieve truly delicious meals in your slow cooker, it does take a little more finesse. You may have to brown some ingredients beforehand (like cubes of beef if you're making a stew), though if your slow cooker has a brown function you can do this right in the appliance. Or, you may have to add more delicate ingredients 30 or 15 minutes before the cook time is up in order to ensure that things like greens or rice don't overcook. So it's not quite as simple as it seems. It may take a little extra work, but the end results — more flavorful meals — are definitely worth it.
Myth 6: You can't cook pasta in the slow cooker
You'll find a lot of slow cooker pasta recipes that call for the pasta to be made on the side, while the sauce itself is cooked in the slow cooker. Many recipes claim that pasta turns into a mushy mess when cooked in the appliance. Nope — you can absolutely cook pasta in a slow cooker. There's no one secret to getting it perfect every time, but here are some tips: First, don't use no-boil noodles, as they'll just turn gummy. Cooking pasta on the high setting is usually the key to avoiding mushiness. And remember, the pasta absorbs a lot of moisture as it cooks, so you'll need to add more sauce, broth or other liquid to the dish than you'd normally use.
Myth 7: You can leave your slow cooker on all day
Don't get me wrong, you can absolutely leave your slow cooker on all day — as long as it has a timer that automatically switches to warming mode when the cook time is done. This might seem like a no-brainer, but if you're a slow cooker newbie and are investing in a new model, it's absolutely crucial to make sure your appliance has that built-in timer; some of the cheaper or older slow cookers don't have this functionality. Many recipes don't need to cook for a full seven or eight hours, so if you set it in the morning and head off to work, your food will be done before you make it back home. So double-check that the model you're buying can shut off automatically; otherwise, what's the point?
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