Using a crock pot

Hog fat in crockpot

Hog fat in crockpot

By Cat, May 2015 (Photo, right, by Shelli R and Cat)

The crock pot was first introduced in the early 1970s and quickly became an essential appliance in the kitchen and for pot lucks. They also provide one of the best method of cooking: slow. This method relies on low heat, presence of moisture, and lots of time. This allows for minimal evaporation, so that few nutrients are lost. The moist warm environment breaks down connective tissues in the tougher cuts of meat; the long cooking time essentially tenderizes the meat.

A crock pot offers a very easy and safe way to render lard and suet, as in the photo, above.

The following tips are from Better Nutrition magazine, February 2015.

Selecting the right size for your needs is important. To optimize the heating pattern of the pot, the container should be half to two-thirds full; this means the volume of the cooker is key, and depends on the typical volume of food you would cook in it.

  • If you’re mostly cooking for two, a smaller version is best (a 2- or 3-quart pot).
  • If you are feeding a large family, or primarily use the crock pot for pot luck parties, a 6- or 7-quart model is best.

Determine the features important for you. In my opinion, the simpler the better, as it means fewer ways it can break down.

Meats for slow cooking. This is where the crock pot really pays off; the tougher cuts are ideal for a slow cooker, and it turns out they are also the most expensive: rump or shoulder roasts, stew meat, and so on. However, to maximize the benefits of the slow cooking method, it is important to keep the ingredients covered with liquid, and the lid on the pot.

Note that for both flavor and safety, it is important to sear meats before adding them to the pot. This kills any pathogenic bacteria on the surface of the meat, and also enhances its flavor.

Liquids in the pot are a major factor in the flavor of the finished product, so be sure to use high-quality and flavorful liquids. This includes bone broths, vegetable broth, wine and flavorings such as vegetables, herbs and spices. If you heat them before adding to the pot, it will reduce the cooking time in the crock by about 30 minutes, and helps to merge flavors more fully.

Leave the pot closed. As the liquids are heated, they form condensation inside the lid which helps return moisture and heat to the dish. It also provides a seal around the edges to enhance the process and flavors. If you need to open the lid, keep it brief.

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