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As the weather cools down and you’re craving heartier meals, keep these tips in mind when you power up your Crock-Pot for slow-cooking:

  1. Double or triple the amount of herbs, spices and other aromatics, such as garlic. The reason? Because there’s little to no evaporation, flavors can get watered down instead of intensified.
  2. Timing is everything! The “high” and “low” settings on your slow cooker are actually more like “fast” and “slow.” Both settings reach a similar temperature, but the high setting gets to that temperature more quickly. Also, the time ranges listed in slow-cooker recipes are not necessarily there for your scheduling convenience. They’re actually there to account for variations in slow cooker brands. Once you get a feel for your particular cooker, you’ll have a better idea as to which side of the range your machine should fall on.
  3. It’s virtually impossible to get a crispy skin on meats using a slow cooker. An easy “cheat” is to finish off the cooked meat in your broiler. Simply place it on a wire rack set in a rimmed-baking sheet and broil to your liking. It should crisp up quickly, so keep an eye on it.
  4. When prepping ingredients for a slow-cooker meal, double or triple the amount. You already have the ingredients, dishes and equipment out, so measure and chop enough for another three to four meals, then place the additional ingredients in a freezer-safe storage container and pop in the freezer. Your meal will virtually cook itself the next time you don’t have time to chop.
  5. High-Altitude Tricks: Add an additional 30 minutes for each hour of time specified in the recipe. Start cooking on the high setting, and either continue to cook on high or switch to low for the remainder of cooking. To keep heat from escaping, resist the temptation to remove the lid. It can take at least 20 minutes for the heat to come back up to temperature once the steam has escaped. Also, you can cover the food and the underside of the lid with aluminum foil. This will help concentrate the heat. Always use a meat thermometer to ensure your dish has reached a safe cooking temperature of 165 °F.
  6. Don’t own a slow cooker yet? For maximum versatility, purchase a 6.5 to 7 quart oval-shaped cooker. This size is good for entertaining a small group and also works well for a meal for two. And, an oval shape gives you many more options in terms of main-ingredients; it even works well for roasts and racks of ribs.

Photo by Kelly Nelson.