5 tips for cooking meat in your slow cooker

Looking for tips on cooking a pot roast, whole chicken, fish and other meat in your slow cooker? Here's how to safely do it like a pro! Plus, discover our best slow cooker recipes. They’re sure to make meal time a breeze.

By Nadine Sharon Anglin

5 tips for cooking meat in your slow cooker
©iStockphoto.com/Matthew Hart Photograph
Your mother's slow cooker has come a long way. While slow cookers first became popular in the 1970s, today's varieties offer more than just the high, low and warm heat settings that earlier models seemed to be restricted to. Today some slow cookers can brown meat right in the unit, while others feature a programmable timer, ensuring your roast is cooked to perfection. Slow cooker recipes have come a long way, too.

While it's best to always follow the instructions specific to your particular appliance, here are some basic tips you should know before using your slow cooker to cook meat.

 1. Never use frozen cuts of meat
It's important to make sure that your meat is thawed before cooking it to avoid potential bacteria growth. This is especially important with large cuts of meat, since these can take a long time to reach the cooking temperature required to avoid the growth of dangerous bacteria: 140°F/60°C. The best cuts for a slow cooker are those marked ''pot roast,'' ''simmering'' or ''stew.''

2. Check your temperatures with a meat thermometer
Some current slow cooker models come with thermometers to test the inner temperature of your meat. If you're using a simpler model, though, make sure your meat is cooked according to the following guidelines:

• Fish, beef, steaks, pot roast and other roasts: 145°F/63°C
• Pork and ground beef: 160°F/71°C
• Turkey and chicken: 165°F/74°C

3. Brown for flavour
Sandi Richard, a meal-planning expert and cookbook author, recommends browning large cuts of meat prior to placing them in a slow cooker to kill any bacteria on the surface of the meat. She explains that it takes about an hour to reach 140°F/60°C at high, so browning helps eliminate any risk.

''Browning has the added benefit of adding extra flavour,'' she adds. ''I have been known to throw a whole roast in without browning if I'm really pinched for time, but I like the flavour of the browned version best.''

4. Work in layers
''When preparing something like pot roast, I layer meat on the bottom, with smaller additions over top, and liquids last,'' says Richard.

''For other meals, when to add ingredients has a lot to do with personal likes and dislikes,'' she explains. ''If you like your soup to have crunchier veggies, you may want to add them later. If you like a more traditional soup where the veggies have a soft texture, add them in at the same time [as the meat].''

5. Know your cut
Take a good look at your cut of meat as the more fat -- also known as marbling -- that it features, the less liquid you will need to add to the slow cooker. The slow cooker lid locks in moisture, creating steam, so roasts can be cooked without any added water (when set on low) -- although you can add a small amount to enhance the gravy if you like.

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Buy Canadian Living's The Slow Cooker Collection here.


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