5 Tips for Using a Slow-Cooker like a Pro

Slow-Cooker Beef and Cabbage

Isn't technology wonderful? We love knowing that we can throw ingredients into our slow cooker, then disappear for four hours only to find dinner completely made when we get back. Despite being an amazingly simple process (just press "start"), slow cooking can have some hidden setbacks. Get the most out of a meal-and your time-with these five helpful tips.

Related: Slow-Cooker Beef and Cabbage

1) Opt for tough, cheap cuts. The slow cooker offers nothing but time and that's exactly what tough cuts of meat need. Over those long hours, your cooker will trap the moisture and break down tough connective tissue until it melts in your mouth. Plus, you'll save money buying cuts that other people think are undesirable, or too hard to cook. Try chuck steak; it's the filet mignon of the slow-cooker world.

2) To brown or not to brown? The whole point of a slow cooker is to minimize work, but browning meats and vegetables adds more flavor to any dish. If you want to make life easier (and save yourself a pan), you can skip this step, but we do love to take the time to brown chicken before slow-cooking.

3) Don't fill it to the brim. For the best results, the slow cooker should be halfway to two-thirds full when the cooking begins. Fill it to the top and you risk overflowing. If it's not full enough, then your ingredients might cook too quickly (which could lead to a severe food crime: dry pot roast).

Related: 38 Recipes for Your Slow-Cooker

4) Buy yourself some time. If you need more time out of the house (or just relaxing) than the actual cooking time allows, put the ingredients in the crock, cover it, and refrigerate overnight. The chilled slow cooker will add one-and-a-half more hours to the cooking process -- just enough time for a nap.

5) Keep the heat in. We know you're salivating over the clear glass cover of your slow cooker, but resist lifting the lid. Letting out the heat will increase the cooking time by about 15 minutes. It's tough, we know!

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