How to Adapt a Recipe to a Slow Cooker

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Let's all take a deep breath, relax and slow down our favorite traditional recipes.

Slow Cooking on Food52

Picture this: you throw everything into a pot -- go run errands or even go to work for the day -- and return to a perfectly-cooked dish. This is the beauty of a slow cooker: no hovering over a stove necessary. Limited oven space? Cooking dishes in a slow cooker frees up space for roasting or baking pre-dinner parties. You can adapt most traditional recipes for use of a slow cooker -- just make sure to get the dust off first.

For starters, when selecting recipes to transform, look for buzz words like braised or slow-roasted, or soups and 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 pork, chicken broth, and chili. Get creative and experiment with your favorite recipes, while following our simple guidelines.

>>RELATED: Betty Wason's Pot Roast (+ Slow-Cooker Variation)

First, 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.

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

Then, 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 weary of the cut of meat you are using -- for instance, boneless chicken breasts take 2-3 hours and bone-in chicken breasts take 3-4 hours. The best cuts of chicken to use are chcken thighs, bone-in breasts, and drumsticks and wings, as opposed to boneless cuts.

>>RELATED: 5 Tips for Better, Not-at-All Dry Chicken Breasts

Vegetables: Fresh will turn out better than frozen.

Rice: Pre-cook rice or par-boil. (And in their cookbook solely dedicated to slow cooker recipes, America's Test Kitchen ;recommends buying pre-cooked rice.)

Aromatics: Sauteing onions and garlic prior to adding will help bring out the flavor.

Strategically place your ingredients within the pot.

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

Slow Cooking on Food52

Then, 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 by accident over-added 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 seperate
  • Quick cooking vegetables like peas, corn or greens
  • Rice and pasta
  • Seafood

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 degrees (the temperature in which bacteria cannot grow) as quickly as possible. Be sure to use a thermometer when applicable.

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)
15-30 minutes 4-6 hours 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 hours
35-45 minutes 6-10 hours 3-4 hours
50 minutes - 3 hours 8-12 hours 4-6 hours

Photos by James Ransom

This article originally appeared on How to Adapt a Recipe to a Slow Cooker