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January 24, 2019

Not Your Grandma’s Crockpot: 6 Slow-Cooking Recipes for the Modern Man

It’s likely that you have some stereotypical associations with slow cookers, none of them particularly manly: Midwestern grandmothers making cheesy potatoes for a church pot luck, your mom serving up slow-cooked stew after you came home from football practice, or your wife and her girlfriends trading recipes on Pinterest.

In reality, however, the slow cooker is in many ways the perfect kitchen appliance for the modern man. Besides its affordability and convenience, it can turn even the most cooking-averse fella into a confident amateur chef. 

If you’ve never used a crockpot much or at all, below we highlight the benefits of doing so, and then provide some dishes to get you started. At the end, we’ll even show you how to take your slow-cooking skills up a notch with recipes from a professional chef. 

The Benefits of Using a Crockpot 

They’re convenient and can have dinner ready to go when you walk in the door. The last thing you often want to do after walking in the door from a full day of work is prep and cook a nice dinner made with real food (let alone clean it up too!). It’s just so hard to get motivated. So you resort to take-out, frozen dinners, and the like. In using a crockpot, and front-loading your meal prep effort at the more bushy-tailed part of the day, though, you can have a meal started when you leave the house in the morning, and have it ready when you walk in the door at night. Instant dinner, whether it’s just for you or the whole family. Bonus: clean up is often as simple as throwing the crockpot container in the dishwasher. 

They make meal prep easy for beginners (even healthy foods!). There are plenty of slow cooker recipes that involve as much prep as any other stovetop or oven-cooked meal. But surely one of the primary benefits of slow-cooking is that it’s quite often as easy as doing some chopping and then plopping all the ingredients in the pot for 8 hours or so. For someone who’s new to cooking, it’s truly the way to go. The Weekly Chicken recipe below is something you can do even if you’ve lived your life under a rock and have never been in a kitchen before. 

And while your crockpot memories may primarily be comprised of loaded quesos (which have their place — see below!), creamy mashed potatoes, and other yummy, fatty, processed-food filled dishes, the appliance actually makes cooking on the healthier side a breeze. Soups, lean meats, seafoods, veggies — you name it, the slow cooker can cook it. Preparing paleo meals, for instance, doesn’t have to be so hard if you just use the right tools (there are in fact numerous paleo slow cooking cookbooks out there). 

It’s affordable! Just like with anything, you can find fancy models of slow cookers. There are indeed $100+ crockpots out there in gigantic sizes and/or with whiz-bang features that will literally let you control the device from your smartphone. If that’s your thing, go for it. But one of the real benefits of slow cooking is that it’s a dang affordable appliance. You can get well-rated models for between $20-$30. And since it’s such a simple machine — just a controllable heating element and a big ceramic/metal dish — even those cheap versions should last many years. 

It’s not just the appliance itself that is cheap; the food you make with it can be too. Whole meats and vegetables are cheaper than premade frozen meals, and, especially if you’re a bachelor or have a small family, a crockpot recipe can not only make a meal for that day, but plenty of leftovers for the days to come.

It tenderizes meat and melds flavors. Using a crockpot is pretty much braising made easy. It especially works wonders with meat; cooking at a low heat for extended periods of time breaks down the fat and tenderizes the fibers, making for moist, truly delectable dishes. You’ll be amazed at what happens to a roast or a chicken breast after slow cooking it for a number of hours — it will literally fall apart at the touch of a knife or fork. 

Beyond just tenderizing your meat, the crockpot really melds flavors together — allowing juices and spices to be fully incorporated into whatever you’re cooking. 

Holds food at the proper temperature for a long time. When it comes to entertaining, one thing that can trip up even seasoned hosts is not only preparing large portions of food, but timing everything to be done at the same time. And then keeping those dishes warm through everyone being served (not to mention seconds!). One solution? Break out the slow cooker! Just about anything — from meat-heavy main dishes to veggie sides to warm appetizers — can be cooked in advance and held at just the right temperature until ready to serve. 

Now that we know the benefits of using a slow cooker, it’s time to get to work – slowly.

A Few Beginner Recipes 

These recipes are super simple, and super delicious.

Weekly Chicken 

Weekly chicken, in chile relleno form.

I call this recipe such, because it’s usually a Sunday ritual in my home to cook this chicken for use throughout the week. The chicken shreds beautifully, and it always turns out flavorful and juicy. I like to use this chicken in sandwiches, quesadillas, or as the base for chile rellenos.

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 Tbsp. taco seasoning
  • 1 jar salsa, whatever brand you prefer

Directions

Place the chicken breasts in a slow cooker and season with taco seasoning. Pour salsa over chicken. Cook on high 4 hours, or low 8 hours. Shred chicken in juices and serve immediately, or pack tightly and refrigerate for use throughout the week.

To make chile rellenos: Char the skins of 2 poblano peppers, then remove. Cut peppers in half. Pour enchilada sauce into the bottom of a baking dish, add peppers, and stuff with chicken. Top with grated cheese, and more sauce if desired. Bake at 350 degrees F until warmed through and cheese has melted. 

Ham + White Bean Soup

This is one of my holiday favorites — a great, comforting soup to make use of all that leftover ham. But it makes for a hearty, tasty dish any other time too. I prefer using dry beans over canned, but you can always use that shortcut and cut your cooking time in half.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups dry white navy beans (soak overnight, per directions on bag) 
  • 1 lb. shredded ham
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. fresh cracked pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. hot sauce
  • 2 quarts chicken stock

Directions

Combine all ingredients into slow cooker and cook on high 4 hours, or low 8 hours until beans are tender. Taste occasionally, adjusting seasoning with salt and pepper as necessary.  

Loaded Queso 

A queso of Velveeta, Rotel, and ground beef is one of the most popular of all slow cooker recipes. I make my own twist on this classic, subbing the ground beef for country sausage and the Velveeta for cream cheese. The result is a richer, sturdier queso.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. country sausage
  • 2 8 oz. packages cream cheese
  • 1 can Rotel tomatoes
  • Tortilla chips, to serve

Directions

  1. Brown the sausage until cooked through; drain fat. 
  2. Add cooked sausage, cream cheese, and tomatoes to slow cooker, cook on high until cheese is melted through and creamy, about 75 minutes. Reduce heat to low and serve with tortilla chips.

Taking Things Up a Notch

Believe it or not, it’s not just home cooks who like the commonplace crockpot — top chefs even use them. In fact, renowned chef Hugh Acheson devoted an entire cookbook to the device. I got in touch with him and was passed along the following recipes that will raise and diversify your slow cooker game once you’ve got the basics down. 

Basic Chicken Stock 

Chefs like Acheson will always tell you that a homemade stock will beat the pants off of anything you can buy in the store. You can use the stock immediately in your favorite recipes, or freeze for later use.

Ingredients

Makes 4 quarts

  • 1 chicken, head removed but feet are good if they are attached
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 branch of fresh thyme (or several sprigs)
  • 2 branches of fresh parsley (or several sprigs)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 medium white onions, quartered
  • 3 large carrots, scrubbed and cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 3 branches of celery with leaves, cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 6 black peppercorns

Directions

  1. Butcher the chicken into 8 pieces. Keep the gizzards, heart, neck, and backbone for the stock, but set the liver aside for another day. (Livers are great to accumulate in the freezer for a pâté or to finish sauces.) Season the chicken pieces with ½ teaspoon of salt.
  2. Place the chicken pieces into a large slow cooker. Add the garlic, thyme, parsley, bay leaves, onions, carrots, celery, coriander, and peppercorns. Add 4 quarts of cold water. Turn the cooker on low and walk away for 8 hours. After 8 hours strain the stock, discard the solids, and freeze what you won’t use within 5 days.

Boiled Peanuts

“Green” peanuts are the raw peanut, before curing and roasting. They have a season that runs from August to November, but it can be challenging to find them north of Virginia or so. Still, you should make the effort to find them, because they are an amazing snack when boiled until soft in water that’s spiked with vinegar and red pepper. They end up like beans that have a rich, nutty flavor.

When we cook them, we end up giving them to friends and neighbors — it’s a natural way of demonstrating that innate Southern hospitality. And if you like a little kick to your nuts, add some cayenne to the mix before cooking them.

If you can’t find them at a local grocery store, try looking in the produce section of Asian markets, or buy them online. 

Ingredients 

Makes 4 quarts

  • 2 pounds green peanuts
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • ½ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

Directions

  1. Using the lid of the slow cooker as a stencil, trace its outline onto a piece of parchment paper with a pencil. Cut out the shape with scissors and set it aside.
  2. Place the peanuts, salt, vinegar, and red pepper flakes in a slow cooker and add 4 quarts of water. Cover with the lid and cook on high for 1 hour. Then place the piece of parchment directly on the peanuts, reduce the setting to low, and cook for 11 hours, or until the peanuts are tender, like well-cooked beans. Serve them warm, or cool the peanuts in their cooking liquid and store them in it too. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Catfish Stew

A recipe that blends Hugh’s Southern style of cooking with the philosophy that great meals can be cooked, and held, in the slow cooker. If you want a change of pace from Grandma’s pot roast stew, this is your new go-to.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes
  • ½ pound slab bacon, diced
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 branch of celery, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 cups clam juice
  • 2 cups fish stock (or vegetable stock)
  • 1 pound fingerling potatoes, cut into 1-inch long rounds
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1½ pounds catfish filets, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup minced parsley
  • ½ cup pickled banana peppers, thinly sliced
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat a slow cooker on high for at least 15 minutes. Empty the can of tomatoes and their liquid into a food processor and pulse to break them down a bit.
  2. Set a large skillet over medium heat, add the bacon and cook for 10 minutes or until most of the fat has rendered. Add the onions, peppers, and celery and cook for 2 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Remove from heat and add the mixture to the slow cooker. Add the tomatoes, cloves, mace, allspice, clam juice, stock, potatoes, and 1 teaspoon of salt to the slow cooker. Cook for 4 hours on low heat. The potatoes should be fork-tender at this point.
  3. Add the Worcestershire, hot sauce, and ½ teaspoon of salt. Season the catfish pieces with ½ teaspoon of salt, then add them to the slow cooker and cook for 20 minutes.
  4. Add the butter to the pot, stir gently, then ladle the stew into individual bowls. Garnish with the parsley, banana peppers, and finish with a grind of black pepper and additional salt to taste.

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Matt Moore is a regular contributor to the Art of Manliness and the author of The South’s Best Butts.