06 January 2009

The Slow Cooker

The slow cooker has gotten a bad reputation over the years, at least that's what I've gathered from reading various recipes, cookbooks and talking to friends who enjoy cooking. Everyone seems to have an older relative who has served them a soggy meatloaf or a dry pot roast that has spent untold hours in a crock pot.

I bought a slow cooker a while back because I read a recipe for pulled pork - and I love pulled pork - that the author promised would be fantastic. Now, a slow cooker (for those lucky enough to not have had grandma make soggy meatloaf in one) is essentially a countertop cooking device that applies low heat to food over a long time and is suitable to leave unattended while off doing more important things, like...well, there are few things as important as cooking, but let's pretend "going to work" is and leave it at that.

After having owned the slow cooker for about six months, I can safely say it was well worth the investment ($20 at Target) and I've made a few dishes in it that were really, really good. The fact that you can take a cheap hunk o' meat, stick in a pot and leave it for 8 hours while at work to come home to a house that smells fantastic is actually not a bad idea at all. Maybe grandma was right after all, but the application was a tad off? (I use the term "grandma generically here, both my grandmothers are great cooks and I've never seen them use a crock pot, nor have they served me soggy meatloaf.)

I generally make the pulled pork or a chili in the pot (the picture above is of my chili on chips with some melted Mexican cheese), but have tried other recipes too and I'm always on the lookout for new things to put in there. We had pulled pork sandwiches tonight (made coleslaw from scratch, served in pita bread) and it was pretty damned great.

So give the crock pot a chance - and share your interesting recipes with me! Here are a few:

Slow Cooker Chili
1 lb ground beef
1 medium yellow onion
5 garlic cloves
2 shallots
2 cans diced tomatoes (or fresh, peeled and seeded)
1 small can tomato paste
2 cans chili beans, black beans or red kidney beans, or any mix thereof (or roughly 2 cups dry beans that you let soak overnight)
2 large jalapeƱos
black pepper
red pepper flakes
ground cumin

Start by browning the beef in a large skillet. I generally add a little salt and pepper at this point, but it's not necessary. Once browned, drain in a sieve to get rid of most of the liquid (which is basically fat and a little water). Place the browned beef in the slow cooker. Peel and dice the onion, peel and slice the shallots, and peel and finely chop the garlic. Dump it all in the slow cooker.

Next, I highly recommend putting gloves on. No, not the kind you wear when you go outside in North Dakota in January, I mean the disposable plastic gloves you steal when you go to the doctor and get bored in his office. We're chopping jalapeƱos and trust me - you do not want to touch your nose or eyes after chopping these spicy little peppers. Slice them in half, remove the seeds, chop them up and add to the slow cooker.

Next, open up your cans. Drain and rinse the beans if you're using canned ones. Add everything to the pot. Next, add about half a tablespoon of red pepper flakes and half a tablespoon of cumin. Add a few pinches of kosher salt and some black pepper.

Next, turn the slow cooker on. Aim for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low - a little more than that won't hurt either. If possible, stir occasionally. If you find, when time is up, that the chili appears a bit too "wet", feel free to put it in a large pot and place over medium high heat on the stove, stirring frequently until the liquid is reduced to your preferred consistency.

Serve with rice, or over chips with shredded cheese (cheddar or provolone are good, I use a Mexican tri-cheese for this). The chili will freeze well, and be fine in the fridge for up to about a week. I usually freeze mine in smaller batches to be brought out and heated for a quick dinner or snack.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork with Cole Slaw


1 large pork shoulder or "Boston butt" (bone-in or not, your choice)
1 yellow onion
8 tbsp apple cider vinegar
4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
brown sugar


4 cups shredded white cabbage (or red, but that will color the mayo and make pink coleslaw)
1 carrot, shredded
1/3 cup mayonaise (light, if you must)
1 tbsp white wine vingegar
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Start by coating the pork with brown sugar. If there is a large piece of fat at the bottom, feel free to cut it out now (although leaving it on won't hurt, you can just remove it later). Quarter the onion and place in the bottom of the pot. Place the pork on top of the onion - if it does not fit, you can cut the pork in half to be able to squeeze it in there. Next, pour the vinegar and Worcestershire sauce over the pork, cover and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4-5 hours. If possible, flip the pork halfway through cooking.

Once finished, remove the pork from the pot and shred. I usually use two forks to do this. Throw out excess fat when shredding.

To make the coleslaw, shred the cabbage and carrot into a bowl. Add the mayo, vinegar, oil, salt and sugar and stir. Taste it and add more salt/sugar as needed.

Serve the pork with the coleslaw on a soft bun or in a pita bread or just eat it straight out of the bowl if you want to. I usually mix a bunch of BBQ sauce with the meat too, which gives it some extra flavor.

I was going to post a picture of the pulled pork sandwiches I made tonight in this blog, but once I checked them and found they were out of focus, we had already consumed them. I might add one later, if I make more (since I still have plenty of pork left in the fridge, where it will last up to a week).


  1. I just realized that it might have been a good idea to include the salsa chicken in this post. But you can always do it later. :)

    This recipe is for a spicier version of chili than what we usually have, right?

  2. Yes, this is for a spicier version for sure.

    I can post that recipe, it's just so simple... :)