I admit it, I’ve been a fair-weather friend. Well … I suppose it’s technically more accurate to say that I’ve been a cool-weather friend.
During cooler weather, I’m quick to give my trusty slow cooker lots and lots of love. She’s the secret to many evenings’ savory, delicious dinners. Savory pot roast, spicy chili, braised short ribs, hearty stews and so much more: Homemade, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs fare that’s perfectly suited to nights when there’s a chill in the air.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably not inclined to make any of those things during the summertime. (Although now that I think about it, chili would taste kind of good right about now … because chili always tastes good. That’s a fact.) So your trusty slow cooker, star and savior of the winter weeknight family dinner, is relegated to a quiet corner or bottom cupboard, waiting patiently to be discovered again once the weather takes a turn for the worse.
And that, my friends, is pretty stupid! Bring that unsung hero out from the shadows, dust off her lid, and introduce her to the magic of summertime. She’s still going to be a star, in all the ways you’ve come to expect: slowly and gently cooking meals, transforming economical cuts into flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth masterpieces. She still requires little attention from you, going about her business while you go about yours, all day long.
But perhaps the best part about bringing her out in the summer is that she won’t heat up the kitchen! That’s right. Forget about the oven or stovetop. Give the grill a break. Let your slow cooker bring the (gentle) heat for a change. (Bonus: only one cooking vessel to clean up, too!)
Still skeptical that your slow cooker won’t deliver the flavors of summer? Don’t be! Try this delicious barbecue braised brisket. Cooking the brisket “low and slow” in the slow cooker means every slice will turn out meltingly tender, and naturally juicy. Sure beats standing over a hot grill for a change, don’t you think?
Cooking with slow cookers is pretty foolproof, as long as you remember a few tips:
- Start with an economical cut. These cuts, particularly the brisket and those from the chuck and the round, are very flavorful but don’t respond very well to quick, hot cooking, like grilling. The good news: it’s easy to bring out their best by cooking them “low and slow” — that is, at lower temperatures for a longer amount of time. Using a slow cooker is an easy way to do exactly that!
- Ingredients should be put in your slow cooker straight from the fridge or pantry — in other words, if you’re using frozen beef or other ingredients, allow them to defrost in the refrigerator first.
- Be sure your recipe includes some liquid — consider beef broth or stock, vegetable juice, wine or beer to impart additional flavors. While some liquid is necessary to create the perfect moist cooking environment, you don’t need to submerge your beef completely — it should be 1/3 to ½ covered.
- Most slow cookers have a “high” and “low” setting. For best results, follow the recipe’s recommendations. If you’re experimenting, remember that most roasts require 3 to 4 hours on high, or 6 to 8 hours on low.
- Be patient, and keep the lid closed! Yes, that’s easier said than done when those delicious aromas start to waft around the kitchen. But the closed lid is essential to keep the cooking temperature steady and ensure a great finished product. If you must steal a glance, or stir things around, be sure to close the lid as quickly as possible, and be prepared to extend the cooking time an additional 10 to 15 minutes for each peek.
- When your meal is done, consider giving it a gourmet finish with the cooking liquid. Remove your roast (and veggies, if you’ve included any) with a slotted spoon to a serving plate, then pour the cooking liquid into a saucepan on the stove. Cook over medium high heat until reduced and thickened, then spoon over your slow-cooked masterpiece!
Ready to dust off your slow cooker? Learn more about beef cuts here. And here is a great collection of recipes to get you started!
One last tip: your slow cooker is a great way to keep food warm when serving a crowd at your next backyard BBQ or summer soiree!