The real genius of the crock pot (and my favorite slow cooker recipes).

The real genius of the crock pot (and my favorite slow cooker recipes).

A few months ago, I shared a list of the things that are saving my life right now in the newsletter. My crock pot was one of them.

I resolved to use it more this year, not as an aspirational goal but because I felt like I needed to. This year it’s more than a kitchen appliance for me: it’s a sanity saver.

The crock pot probably saves me a little bit of time, although that’s not why I love it. Laura Vanderkam opened my eyes to the real genius of the crock pot: “The genius is that it moves the task of making dinner from a time when you have a lot of things going on (6 p.m.) to another time of your choosing, when you have less.”

I generally enjoy cooking. Will and I often pour a glass of wine and debrief the day while we’re making dinner together. But there are plenty of days when, for one reason or another, that’s not an option.

Like last night, the kids and I got home at 4:30 and I had to leave for a meeting at 6:00. If I hadn’t put dinner in the crock pot at 8:00 a.m., I would have been frantic to get everything done.

But when we got home, dinner was cheerfully cooking away. So we took the dog for a walk, and got some fresh air and Vitamin D before the sun went down. Then we sat down to a hot (if short) meal together before I had to leave.

Other days while dinner is cooking in the crock pot I might drink a cup of tea and read a good book, one of my favorite things to do on cold winter afternoons. Or I might spend an hour writing: late afternoon is good “thinking time” for me.

These are some of my favorite crock pot recipes (many of which I got from you in the comments here: thanks for the suggestions!)

Smokey pulled pork from Pam Anderson

Chocolate chili from Melissa Joulwan

Salsa verde beef from Good Cheap Eats

• Balsamic roast beef from Add a Pinch

• Slow cooker taco chicken bowls from Budget Bytes

I love my crock pot, but I don’t use it as much as I could. (I love my dutch oven even more, and since we’re often home in the late afternoon, that’s a great option for stews, braises, and other winter comfort foods.)

Please share your favorite crock pot recipes (I need more!) and any and all sanity-saving tips in comments. 

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57 comments

  1. Quen says:

    I don’t use my slow cooker nearly as much as I should. Always trying to do dinner at the same time my 4th grader is attempting to do her math homework. Not good planning on my part!
    My favorite recipes for the slow cooker are vegan, like me. One is from the old Peas and Thank you blog, or from the cookbook. It’s a spicy African peanut stew. It’s made from lentils, chickpeas, fire roasted tomatoes, coconut milk, a little peanut butter, carrots, sweet potatoes and delicious spices. The second is something I found on Pinterest from Thrifty Below. Black beans, corn, tomatoes, taco seasoning, colorful peppers, onions, a little nutritional yeast for creaminess and brown rice cooked in a slow cooker. You can use it as a yummy burrito filling.

  2. Jamie says:

    At least once a month I cook a whole chicken in the crockpot and try to use the meat for at least 3 meals. Usually I just add different spices, but this marinade is a fun way to change it up:

    1/2 cup chicken broth
    1/3 cup soy sauce
    1/3 cup olive oil
    1/4 cup honey
    1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
    2 tsp balsamic vinegar
    2 tsp lemon juice
    1 tsp sesame oil
    2 Tbsp minced garlic

    Yum!

    • Rae says:

      I’ve never tried this…! Would you please tell me more? Do you simply plop the chicken into the crock and turn it on? And how long does it take to cook? …Thanks in advance for your advice!

      • Jamie says:

        Yes! I plop it in with seasoning and cook on low for 6 hours. I have also used a bit of olive oil, but the juices from the chicken are usually enough to keep it moist. Easiest way I’ve found to make a whole chicken! Hope it works well for you!

  3. Jennifer says:

    I’m not a huge fan of crockpot food in general, but I’ve been using it more in the past month or two. My main problem is that unless you are making a soup or a roast, lots of things dry out. Especially when you work outside the home and are away from the house for 9-10 hrs a day. I’ve been experimenting more lately though, and have found some things that work for me. I was working from home the other day and made this: http://chewnibblenosh.com/2013/02/15/slow-cooker-tortellini-and-sausage-soup/. Mine came out more of a regular pasta dish than soup b/c I added less broth and tomatoes, but I was very impressed that I was able to just dump it in and it came out so yummy.

  4. We got a Dutch oven for Christmas, and I like it more than the crock pot too — but the problem is that it’s usually a 2-hour process right before dinner. So, fine for slow weekend afternoons, and I try to make enough for leftovers to eat during the week. I, too, am hoping to find some more crock pot recipes that don’t result in mush or something dried out and gummy.

    • Anne says:

      I love my dutch oven, but have the same issue: even if dinner is easy to prep, that’s not something I want to do at 3:00, or am even at home to do.

  5. Jamie says:

    I used to also have the problem with being away from home for 12-13 hours a day and finding that it created problems for crock pot recipes. Then I bought a $5 appliance timer (the kind you use for Christmas lights) – problem solved! Just set the timer for when you want it to turn on/run, plug the timer into the outlet and the crock pot into the timer. It auto-starts when you want it to, and you’ve got a hot, but not overcooked, meal waiting when you get home!

    I very much like the quote about moving dinner prep from a busy time to a more convenient one – I find that casseroles (and casserole-like dishes) are the other best way to do that. They’re easy to make in large batches, freeze well, take seconds to pop into the oven at dinner time, and require no side dishes or other fuss.

  6. Anne says:

    Good thoughts. Thanks for the links! It is *so* satisfying to come home to dinner already cooked (or almost cooked). Once I know my crock pot, I feel better about dinner being in it. Once, I used a different, bigger crock pot we had been given, and it didn’t work as well as our other one = dinner not ready for my parents when I wanted it to be. I wish my crock pot had a warming function or timer on it- maybe a plug in timer is the way to go! ^^ I’ll have to check that out. I’m completely clueless about Dutch ovens. I need Dutch ovens 101. 🙂 Thanks for the post, Anne!

  7. Emily M. says:

    Thank you for this blog post! I am a full-time grad. student and I just received a crock pot for Christmas! School starts next week, so this blog post came just in time! Looking forward to trying out some of these recipes!

  8. Janet says:

    Timely post, I used my slow cooker yesterday to cook lamb shanks with veggies and it was so GOOD. I should use my slow cooker more, but quite often I forget about it.

  9. Heather says:

    This Vegan slow cooker book has some really good recipes http://smile.amazon.com/Fresh-Vegan-Slow-Cooker-Ultra-Convenient/dp/1558327908/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420819927&sr=8-1&keywords=vegan+slow+cooker. My family isn’t vegan, but we are trying to eat less meat. Also, we upgraded our slow cooker to the Instant Pot which is a machine that does more than slow cook. It is also a pressure cooker, yogurt maker, and you have the option of sauteing your food in the pot before you cook it. We use it all of the time and it was definitely worth the extra money .http://smile.amazon.com/Instant-Pot-IP-DUO50-Programmable-Generation/dp/B00FQ6VEKS/ref=sr_1_3?s=kitchen&ie=UTF8&qid=1420820105&sr=1-3&keywords=instant+pot

  10. Hannah says:

    What’s also good in the slow cooker is chili (lots of beans for protein), and chicken breasts with taco or fajita seasoning to shred later for chicken tacos. Both are stand-bys for us in the winter.

  11. Heather says:

    Thanks for sharing these! To be honest, I do struggle with crock-pot dinners (often they turn out gloppy or overcooked/dry), but I love the idea of them. I will persist and try these recipes you shared — they look delish!

  12. MelissaJoy says:

    Thanks for the follow up post! Since you were so interested in figuring out crock pot meals I went ahead a checked out a bazillion cookbooks from the library last fall to try new things in my crockpot. The salsa verde beef was a huge hit and I really enjoyed Jessica Fisher’s freeze ahead cookbook in my search.

    We also adore the copycat Chipotle barbacoa recipe found online. Our traditional New Year’s Day good luck meal has always been made in the crockpot: PA Deutsch pork and sauerkraut.

    • Rachel says:

      Agreed, I never appreciated the crockpot until having kids! They are turning gremlin right as I’m thinking about dinner–bad combo.

      That beef stew looks amazing! I was planning to do a slow cooker beef stew for Sunday night dinner, may try this recipe out.

  13. Gillian says:

    I adore my slow cooker. Between work, homeschooling, and outside activities, it has saved my sanity many a time.

    Here’s one of our favorite soup recipes…

  14. Sarah R says:

    Loving these comments! We love our slow cooker and use it at least 2 times per week. I work from home and it’s easier for me to get dinner ready as I’m fixing my lunch. We enjoy very simple recipes. Our favorite is just putting chicken breasts in the crockpot with taco seasoning and water, BBQ sauce, or Trader Joe’s Soyaki sauce. I also love a beef stew.

    Have you ever done baked potatoes in the slow cooker? Just wash the potatoes and throw them in there. We love them that way. It’s easy to get some toppings together and everyone can customize their own potatoes.

  15. Did you see ATK just came out with a slow cooker book? I got a review copy yesterday and am looking forward to flipping thru it. I am not a slow cooker person, but if anyone can change me, ATK can. 😉

  16. Rebecca says:

    Great post! Love the crock pot and the dutch oven. Wintertime cooking is so satisfying. Here are some that we eat pretty regularly.
    -Carnitas – http://picky-palate.com/2007/10/16/slow-cooked-carnitas-tacos/
    -Easy BBQ version of above – pork, water, s &p and an onion. Add your favorite BBQ sauce when it’s done. The BBQ sauce makes or breaks it, so choose wisely.
    -French dip – http://bakingbites.com/2008/02/slow-cooker-french-dip-sandwich
    -I also do a big pot of beans in the crock pot periodically for beans and cornbread (cowboy/cowgirl dinner). Leftovers are great to freeze or use for quesadillas and such.
    Overnight oatmeal is fun. I want to try caramelized onions.

  17. Rachel says:

    I LOVE using my slow cooker, year-round. Some of my favorite slow cooker recipes:

    Chicken Philly Sandwiches: http://www.melskitchencafe.com/slow-cooker-chicken-philly-sandwiches/

    Thai Peanut Chicken: http://www.maybematilda.com/2014/08/slow-cooker-thai-peanut-chicken.html

    White Chicken Chili: http://www.everyday-reading.com/2012/01/dinner-is-served-crockpot-chicken-chili.html (I love that this one uses dried beans–they don’t fall apart and turn to mush in the slow cooker like canned beans do)

  18. Kristen says:

    I’ve really come to love the crock pot with our busy brood. Moving the prep time for dinner to the morning (thank you, crockpot!) has saved me too many times to count! That chocolate chili recipe is one of our favorites. Last night we made Chicken Enchilada Stew.
    http://paleomg.com/enchilada-chicken-stew/
    It gets rave reviews from my kiddos, save the four year-old who won’t eat anything. The kids have it with cheese and chips; my husband and I top it with avocado and cilantro. Yum!

  19. Emily C. says:

    I love cooking dried beans in our crock pot to make pinto/refried beans, garbanzos for hummus, great northern beans for soups, and more. I’ll often make a big batch and freeze some in 2 c. ziploc bags. Some simple tips and a recipe: http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-cook-beans-in-the-slow-cooker-74529

    Salty Beans
    5 cups dried pinto beans
    1 onion peeled and halved
    Water to the top of the crockpot

    Cook on high all day. 1 hour before serving salt to taste. I use about 2 TBL of Salt for an entire 5 cup crock pot.

  20. meal Planning is my issue. about a month ago i joined http://www.plantoeat.com I am in love. The first two weeks I just put down what we had for dinner and then put the recipe in the recipe area. Then last week I actually planned what we were eating all week. To often in the past I would plan menu then only stick to it a day or two because it was all new recipes. I like that this lets me plan then makes up a grocery list for me. I can then walk into the kitchen and cross off everything I have. We are only a family of two but it is working great for us. With the New Years resolution to cut down on carbs this has been a great option for us.

  21. Jennifer H says:

    I used to love cooking in m crockpot – beef stew, chicken and dumplings, salsa chicken. Bu since rest of my family went vegetarian, the crockpot sits on the top of the fridge getting dusty. The few veggie recipes I have tried have not been a success. I am thinking about donating it.

  22. Joanna says:

    A few years ago when I got a slowcooker for Christmas I was hmm..not 100% excited. Now, i use it all th time! Pop things in, forget about tchem for a few hours, enjoy your effortless dinner!

  23. Annery says:

    Agreed on the crockpot helping the evening craziness! I like to make BBQ chicken – chicken breasts with brown sugar, Worcestershire, thousand island and BBQ sauce.

  24. Andee says:

    I made the balsamic roast beef this weekend and it was great. The leftovers make an awesome topping for nachos. Thanks for the recommendation.

  25. Melissa says:

    The pulled pork recipe sounds amazing, but the recipe in the link is for oven/grilling. How did you adapt it to work in your crock pot?

    • Anne says:

      I just put it in the crock pot instead of the oven. In mine that takes about 8 hours on low. I’ve done it many times. It doesn’t hurt that pork shoulders are very forgiving when it comes to how you cook them.

  26. Beth says:

    One thing I do with my crockpot ALL the time is put frozen chicken breasts in it with about 1/2 a can of chicken broth and just let it cook on low all day. The chicken shreds really easily when it’s done and it’s very moist. Then you can make it into sandwich (I love a good chicken, bacon, ranch and avocado sandwich), toss it in with some pasta sauce, add bbq sauce to it, add it to a salad, mix it into a quick casserole (my favorite is poppyseed chicken: spread shredded chicken on the bottom of a 9×13 pan, mix a can of cream of chicken soup and 8 oz. of sour cream and pour it on top of the chicken, melt 1/2 a stick of butter and crumble ritz crackers into it and pour in some poppyseeds–mix until it’s coated with butter and pour that on top of the casserole. Bake for 30 min. at 350 and serve with rice and veggies.) The possibilities are endless and you can use the chicken in several different meals throughout the week according to the amount of time you have available for cooking 🙂

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