Susan Mills-Gray, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Cass County, University of Missouri Extension

Something about cold weather makes us long for a warm meal waiting for us as we come in the door at night. Slow cookers are a great way to enjoy family favorites without a lot of hassle. The following tips really make a difference and will convince you to get that pot out and get cooking!

Have an older slow cooker with a nonremovable liner? Use a cooking bag to line the pot for quick and easy cleanup! To make cleanup easier, spray liner with nonstick spray before adding any food or liquid. Slow cookers work best when they are half to three-fourths full. If you fill a pot to the brim, it can’t regulate the heating of the food correctly. Likewise, less than half full will cause food to overcook. One hour on a high setting is equal to two hours on the low setting. A high setting is equal to 300 degrees F and the low setting is equal to 200 degrees. Want to convert a conventional oven recipe to the slow cooker? Use this chart (see chart in online version of this article) to guide you. Each time you lift the lid, you increase the needed cooking time by 20 minutes. Check progress without lifting the lid, if possible. Spin the cover until the condensation falls off to make it easier to see inside. For food safety purposes, you want to get the food inside the slow cooker to 140 degrees as quickly as possible (this reduces the chance of bacterial contamination), so use the high setting the first hour, then switch to the low setting to finish cooking. Start with thawed foods because frozen foods take too long to get to 140 degrees. The extreme temperature difference between frozen food and the slow cooker can cause breakage. If you have to use a frozen cut of meat, add 1 cup of warm water to the pot, then place the meat in the pot. If you have a removable crock liner, don’t store the food you’ve cooked in the slow cooker in the same liner. The removable liner is made from a thick insulated material and the food won’t cool quickly enough to prevent bacterial growth. Dense veggies like potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables take the longest to cook, so place them on the bottom and cut pieces no thicker than 1 inch. Tender veggies like tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini and squash overcook easily, so add them during the last two hours of cooking time. Anything high in fat cooks quickly, so place meats on top of vegetables when loading the slow cooker. Browning meat before adding it to the slow cooker reduces fat and enhances flavor and color. Fats melt with long cooking times and can produce an unpleasant flavor. Fish and seafood cook quickly, so add them late in cooking. Soak dried beans overnight before cooking. Milk curdles during long cooking times, so add sour cream or cream late in cooking. Condensed cream soups are a good substitute for milk and they don’t break down during long cooking times. Ground herbs and spices tend to lose their flavor, and cayenne pepper and Tabasco sauce tend to become bitter after long cooking times, so add late in cooking.

To see the chart mentioned above & for some great slow cooker breakfast recipes, view this article online at