“Good cooking takes time. If you are made to wait, it is to serve you better.”
Since the early 1970s when The Rival Company introduced the Crock-Pot© to the world, busy home chefs—and others—have flocked to slow cookers to help them manage time and still create home-cooked meals.
This I do not understand, because I have only ever used my slow cooker for one thing—bean dip. It’s a good thing, but it is one thing. However, with the encouragement of our friends at Cook's Country, who provided the recipes for this blog, I’m going to branch out and explore vast new territories of slow cooking--starting with the ribs below. A whole new world is opening before me!
I remember when my mother got her first slow cooker. It had two settings, “low” and “high,” and did not have a removable crock. Therefore, it was a pain to clean. Being one of the dishwashers (though admittedly my sisters got the duty more often), that’s what I remember about our crockpot. But, as mom was just starting to enter the work world, the device was a welcome addition to her kitchen--and kept us well-fed.
I also remember surreptitiously watching wedding showers (men and boys were not welcome, but the cake was to die for…) and wondering what the bride-to-be would do with more than one slow cooker. But the one being showered routinely gushed over each one, while inside she must have been trying to determine whether to keep the Avocado Green or the Harvest Gold--or return them both for the classic Red-Orange.
A basic slow-cooker—Crock-Pot, though often used generically, is actually a registered brand name—consists of a lidded cooking pot made of glazed ceramic or porcelain, surrounded by a housing, usually metal, containing an electric heating element. The ceramic pot, or 'crock', acts as both a cooking container and a heat reservoir. Slow cookers come in all sizes, from one cup minis to the gargantuan 7+ quart behemoths. (Who, other than starving college students, could need that much bean dip at one time?)
When considering which slow cooker is right for you, look at both shape and size.
Slow cookers are generally either round or oval, but some are rectangular.
All shapes make excellent bean dip!
You want a cooker that is large enough for the number of servings you need to prepare most frequently, but not too large. If you have a 7-quart cooker, but only fix enough food for two, routinely, your ginormous cooker is not working efficiently. And remember, a slow cooker works best if it is half to three quarters full.
These recipes come from the cookbook Slow Cooker Revolution, one of Cook’s Country’s most successful cookbooks ever. Since they are a partner of ours, we’re able to offer you the opportunity to win 1 of 10 copies of this cookbook free! Just leave a comment, along with a way for us to reach you if you win, on this blog or on our Facebook page. Don’t forget a way to contact you. It would be sad if you won and we couldn't get the book to you.
Serves 6 to 8
Cooking Time: 6 to 8 hours on Low
Why This Recipe Works: We wanted to create a slow-cooker version of barbecued pork ribs with the same fall-off-the-bone texture as their authentic grill-roasted counterparts. We settled on baby back ribs, which weigh about 1 ½ pounds per rack, for this recipe.
To develop an authentic crispy, lightly charred exterior, we broiled the cooked ribs, brushing them with barbecue sauce every few minutes, until sticky and caramelized. You can use either our No-Cook Pantry Barbecue Sauce or your favorite store-bought brand.
Avoid racks of ribs larger than 2 pounds as they will be difficult to maneuver into the slow cooker. We found that leaving the membrane coating the underside of the ribs attached helped hold the racks together.
3 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
Salt and pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 pounds baby back ribs, trimmed
3 cups barbecue sauce
Mix paprika, sugar, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon pepper, and cayenne in small bowl, then rub mixture evenly over ribs. Arrange ribs upright in slow cooker, with meaty sides facing outward. Pour barbecue sauce over ribs, cover, and cook until ribs are tender, 6 to 8 hours on low.
Adjust oven rack 10 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Place wire rack in aluminum foil–lined rimmed baking sheet and coat with vegetable oil spray. Carefully transfer ribs, meaty side down, to prepared wire rack and tent with foil. Let braising liquid settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from surface using large spoon.
Strain braising liquid into medium saucepan and simmer until thickened and reduced to 2 cups, 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Brush ribs with some sauce and broil until beginning to brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Flip ribs over, brush with more sauce, and continue to broil until ribs are well browned and sticky, 9 to 12 minutes longer, brushing with additional sauce every few minutes.
Transfer ribs to cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes. Serve with remaining sauce.
Cooking Time: 4 to 6 hours on Low
Why This Recipe Works: Creating any vegetable stew in the slow cooker so that the vegetables remain bright and flavorful requires just a few tricks. For this Italian-inspired stew we found we needed to brown the eggplant first or it was soggy and wan in the final stew. Since we had our skillet out already, we added more oil to it and browned the chopped tomatoes, which gave them a deeper flavor, along with a little tomato paste and the aromatics and oregano. The potatoes cooked perfectly in this stew without a foil packet given the short cooking time, but we needed to add the zucchini at the end to ensure that it remained green and crisp-tender.
Serve with Rosemary-Olive Focaccia.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
1 pound eggplant, cut into 1‑inch chunks
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained with juice reserved, chopped coarse
1 onion, chopped fine
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1‑inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
3 cups vegetable broth, plus extra as needed
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2‑inch pieces
2 zucchini (8 ounces each), quartered lengthwise and sliced 1 inch thick
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 12‑inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Brown eggplant lightly on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes; transfer to slow cooker.
Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, garlic, tomato paste, and oregano and cook until dry and beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in 1 cup broth, scraping up any browned bits; transfer to slow cooker.
Stir potatoes, reserved tomato juice, and remaining 2 cups broth into slow cooker. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender, 4 to 6 hours on low.
Stir in zucchini, cover, and cook on high until tender, 20 to 30 minutes. (Adjust consistency with extra hot broth as needed.) Stir in basil, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve with Parmesan and extra olive oil.