Beginner’s Guide to Slow Cooker | How to Use a Slow Cooker

Slow cookers are absolutely the best way to cook a delicious and nutritious meal with minimal effort. This guide will teach you how to get the best out of your slow cooker while giving tips on how to use it. Savory recipes for how to use you slow cooker also included!

Large bowl filled with slow cooker chicken noodle soup, including carrots and zucchini noodles.
There is something wonderful about the slow cooker meal. Food from the slow cooker is like warm comfort in the form of your favorite recipe. Not to mention, it’s the perfect way to prep a meal with TONS of nutrition in minutes!

And, since we all can see that life is getting busier every day, it’s just makes sense to know the ins and outs of how to use a slow cooker. “Busy all the time” is the way that society is moving and we’ve got to keep up with the changes, all the while feeding our families healthy food.

If you have a slow cooker in the kitchen and haven’t used it in a while, it’s time to try it again. If you have never tried this convenient appliance, now is the time to do it!

Read on for everything you need to know about the slow cooker. Then, try one of my best-loved recipes, and choose your favorite!

Side view of two Crock Pot Shredded Beef Tacos on a white plate, garnished with diced tomatoes and avocado.
WHAT SIZE SLOW COOKER DO I NEED?

First, you need to know that slow cookers function best when they are two-thirds to three-quarters of the way full. 

  • If you plan to use your slow cooker for small meals and with little to no leftovers, go for the 3-quart size
  • A 5-quart slow cooker is moderately sized and makes meals for 3 to 4 people
  • The 6-quart slow cooker is for cooking for a crowd and in big batches

Overhead view of the pot of Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup, cooked in the slow cooker and ready to dish up.

TIPS FOR USING A SLOW COOKER

  • Be careful to not overfill or under-fill your slow cooker: When learning how to use your slow cooker, one of the top rules to know is to put the correct amount of food and liquid in the pot. The heat must be able to circulate properly and a steady temperature is essential, too.
  • Prep ahead: Wash, chop, and otherwise prep your ingredients ahead of time for even more time-saving. Consider prepping and filling the pot the night before and putting it in the fridge for cooking the next day.
  • Resist opening the lid: Tempted to taste the food or curious to see how it is coming along? Don’t be  – you will slow down the cook. Only open the crock pot lid if the recipe calls for it.
  • Dairy goes in at the end: If the recipe calls for dairy, remember to add this ingredient at the end or risk curdling.
  • Watch the spices: Spices that have simmered all day will get more potent than spices cooked for only one hour.
  • Use fresh ingredients: Clean-eating is so healthy. Using fresh and wholesome ingredients for a delicious, good-for-you meal. 
  • Get to know your cooker: Read the slow cooker manual, and when first using the appliance, take notes of how long your favorite dishes take to cook. Because all crock pots are different, the cook times can vary a bit.
  • Save money on meat: Less expensive cooks of meat cook very well in the slow cooker. Bottom roast and chuck roasts turn out very tender with a long, low-temperature cook.
  • Sear and sauté first: The best results with meat are seen when the meat is seared before placing in the pot. And onions, for example, taste better when sautéed first.
  • Layer ingredients: Firm veggies (potatoes, carrots, turnip) should be placed on the bottom. Meat goes in the middle and lighter vegetables on the top.
  • Pay attention to the liquid: Too much liquid is not ideal. A slow cooker is designed to be used with a low amount of liquid because there is little evaporation. 

Overhead view of a white bowl full of Slow Cooker Split Pea Soup, topped with ham.

HOW TO USE A SLOW COOKER FOR STOVE POT RECIPES

I think that you will love your slow cooker so much that you will want to use it to cook just about everything – including recipes that you would normally do on the stove. This is not a guaranteed conversion of recipes from stovetop to slow cooker, but I’ve compiled some estimates:

  • A stovetop recipe from 15 to 30 minutes will take approximately 1-2 hours on high or 4-6 hours on low
  • A 30-minute to one hour stovetop recipe may take 2-3 hours on high and 5-7 on low
  • One to two hours on the stove will require 3-4 hours on high for the crockpot and 6-8 hours on low
  • A recipe taking 2-3 hours on the stovetop may take 4-6 hours on high and 8-12 hours on low

SLOW COOKER PANTRY STAPLES TO KEEP ON HAND

Once you get used to using your slow cooker, you’ll soon have a list of favorite meals to prepare. It’s always nice to have the staples you need on hand to put the slow cooker to use in a flash.

  • Quinoa is a plant-based protein, power-packed with nutrients
  • Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are the ideal fiber source
  • Canned, no-added-sugar, diced tomatoes
  • Low-sodium broths
  • Arrowroot starch for thickening
  • Your favorite spices

Line of seven slow cooker freezer meals packed into 1 gallon size ziploc freezer bags, ready to freeze.

HOW TO USE YOUR SLOW COOKER FOR FROZEN MEALS

The slow cooker is all about saving time. Just pop a few ingredients in the pot, and then you can go about your day.

And, there is another way to save even more time ← bonus!

Look at my post on slow cooker freezer meals to get all of the details, but in the meantime, I’ll tell you a little about it.

Prepping the ingredients ahead of time for a few meals and throwing them in a reusable freezer bag for storage up to 3 months is super easy. It’s so convenient, and you can feel good about serving a tasty meal even on the busiest of days. 

In my slow cooker freezer meals post, you will find the Slow Cooker Meatloaf, one of my go-to freezer meals. Another one is Slow Cooker Minestrone. Need I say more?

Overhead view of the slow cooker containing shredded chicken for the Shredded Chicken Meal Prep recipes.

SLOW COOKER MEALS FOR MEAL PREP

I am fan of meal prep – y’all know that by now! And I am pleased to say that the slow cooker can be used for meal prep, too! Slow cooker shredded chicken turns out just divine. It is easily incorporated into recipes that can be stored in meal prep containers for up to 5 days in the fridge and 6 months in the freezer.

An absolute favorite of mine is Slow Cooker Chicken Burrito Bowls, another amazing way to enjoy chicken. 

Why do I like chicken so much in the slow cooker? It’s simple. Because chicken is full of protein, and that means it helps build muscle mass. It’s also a good source of vitamins and minerals essential for cell repair, defense against disease, and more.

And on top of chicken for meal prep, there is chicken in soup. On a rainy day, nothing beats a bowl of yummy and hot goodness. Take a look at these slow cooker chicken soup recipes:

MY GO-TO HEALTHY SLOW COOKER RECIPES

Side view of two Best Crock Pot Pulled Pork Sandwiches on white plates, ready to eat.

Now that you know all about the convenience of the slow cooker, go ahead and try one of these awesome recipes! I know for a fact that several of these will make it to your roster of family favorites.

SLOW COOKER BEEF AND PORK RECIPES

Every one of these dishes are savory and full of flavor!

Overhead view of the Slow Cooker Chicken Burrito Bowl, including avocado tomatoes, and black beans.

SLOW COOKER CHICKEN RECIPES

Chicken is one of the best proteins to cook with and everyone loves it, too.

Overhead view of a bowl of Slow Cooker Hot And Sour Soup, including mushrooms, pork shoulder, and red chile peppers.

SLOW COOKER SOUP RECIPES

I just LOVE a bowl of soup, any day of the week!

Overhead view of Crock Pot Mashed Potatoes in a bowl, garnished and ready to eat.

SLOW COOKER SIDES RECIPES

This post contains affiliate links for products I use regularly and highly recommend.

Lacey Baier

Hey y’all, I’m Lacey Baier and I’m so glad you’re here! I’m a healthy lifestyle influencer and the creator of this clean-eating blog and YouTube channel, A Sweet Pea Chef. My recipes have been published on Food Network, Good Morning America, FoxNews, Tastemade, Fitness Magazine, and much more. I live in Dallas, Texas with my husband and four kiddos. Let’s get started!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Content