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Hot slow cooker tips for cooler days

Close-up of a ladle and a slow cooker full of stew.

Oct. 20, 2022—There's nothing like coming home to a warm meal on a chilly autumn day. But making time for home-cooked meals can be a challenge. That's where slow cookers come in.

Slow cookers make it easy to prepare warm and cozy comfort foods—and cut down on expensive and unhealthy prepared foods. With a little preparation, you can simply add your ingredients and go about your day. Set it and forget it, and come home to a healthy home-cooked meal with minimal effort.

How to make the most of your slow cooker

Follow these tips from the American Heart Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to make your next slow cooker meal your best one yet.

  • Consider using tougher cuts of meat, which cost less and are ideal for slow cooking.
  • Sear meats in a skillet before slow cooking to enhance flavor.
  • Prep your ingredients the night before and place them in the cooking insert in the refrigerator to save time.
  • Layer your ingredients properly, with the denser items along the bottom of the pot.
  • Don't lift the lid unless you have to—opening the slow cooker can add to the cooking time.
  • Add fresh herbs and lemon juice right before serving to brighten flavors.

What to know about slow cooker safety

As with any kind of cooking, it's important to follow safety tips so you don't get sick with a foodborne illness. Here are some guidelines specific to slow cookers:

  • Keep perishable items at the proper temperature until you add them to the pot.
  • Store meat and vegetables separately before cooking.
  • Defrost your meat or poultry before putting it in the slow cooker.
  • Don't overstuff the slow cooker—fill it to a maximum of two-thirds full.
  • Cut meat into smaller pieces to help make sure it cooks completely.

How do you know when your meal is done?

Check your food with a food thermometer to be certain that it has reached the proper internal temperature and is fully cooked. That's 145° F for meat, 165° F for poultry, 160° F for ground meat, and 165° F for casseroles.

Need some inspiration? Try this delicious slow cooker risotto recipe!

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