The slow cooker is our friend in the test kitchen, and we’ve discovered some helpful tips to create the perfect dish every time:
1. Pick the Right Cut of Meat: Use cuts of meat that are best for slow braising, like pork shoulder, and try to avoid leaner cuts, like pork tenderloin, that don’t hold up as well.
2. Spend Some Time Up Front: All you need is 30 minutes or less to brown your meat. Make a quick pan sauce or reduce wine before adding to your slow cooker — it makes a big difference in flavor.
3. Choose Your Alliums Wisely: Onion, garlic and shallot all belong to the same genus and when they’re added raw to a slow cooker, sometimes they create a metallically after-taste. We prefer to use leeks (also in same genus), which are milder. We also love to toast thinly sliced garlic in butter or oil and stir in at the end (like in Food Network Magazine’s Vegetable and Lentil Slow Cooker Soup, pictured above).
4. Quick Add-Ins: Adding freshly-chopped herbs or hot sauce at the end can really brighten up your dish.
5. Think Beyond Beef Stew: Your slow cooker is capable of more than braised main dishes. We all love this simple and delicious Cranberry-Cornmeal Cake.
Cranberry-Cornmeal Slow-Cooker Cake
Spray a 5-quart slow cooker insert with pan release; line bottom with aluminum foil and spray again. Combine 1/2 stick melted butter and 1 cup brown sugar; spread over foil. Combine 3/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup cornmeal, 2/3 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon each baking powder, salt and orange zest. Whisk together 2 eggs, 1/2 stick melted butter, 2 tablespoons milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Fold wet into dry ingredients until combined; evenly spread over sugar mixture. Sprinkle with 1 cup cranberries (thawed if frozen). Drape a double length of paper towel over insert opening. Cover and cook on low until set, about 3 hours. Allow to sit for 20 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate.