Many people have slow cookers and love their convenience, but they don’t use the cookers anywhere close to their full potential. Hope Comerford, author of the popular Fix-It and Forget-It cookbooks, shares her tips and tricks on how you can use your slow cooker to make even more delicious dishes…

You can make a large slow cooker smaller. If you cook a small batch of food in a large cooker, it will cook too quickly and dry out, possibly even burn. If you have a seven-to-eight-quart slow cooker, you still can cook a small batch of food by putting the ingredients into an oven-safe baking dish or baking pan and placing it on a trivet in your slow cooker. Make sure that it’s a truly heat-proof trivet, and use the cooking time called for in the recipe.

Slow cookers work best when they are two-thirds to three-quarters full. If you are going to exceed this guideline, it would be wise to reduce the recipe or split it between two slow cookers. Or you may need to increase the cooking time. Conversely, if it is less than two-thirds full, you may need to reduce the cooking time called for in the recipe.

Resist the urge to open the lid. Every time you peek (and let heat escape), you add more required cooking time than you might think! Try to assess how your meal is progressing by looking through the lid. If you simply can’t help lifting the lid, remember that it will lengthen your required cooking time depending on how long you leave the lid off.

Remove the lid…sometimes. If you need your dish to thicken, such as for a sauce or a casserole that looks like it has too much liquid, it may be wise to remove the lid for some of the cooking time. Take off the lid for the last half-hour to one hour of cooking time.

Do not start your cooking with frozen meat. The meat typically will not reach the proper internal temperature in the time allotted for the recipe. This is particularly true for thick cuts of meat.

Keep your vegetables at the bottom. This keeps them in more direct contact with the heat, which is best because veggies typically take longer than meat to cook.

Beware of your slow cooker’s “hot spot.” After using your slow cooker several times, you will notice a spot in which the food is a little more well-done and/or where you tend to have to scrape off burned food. You are most likely to notice this when baking in your slow cooker. To make it so that food doesn’t burn in that spot, lay foil over the spot when the cooker is empty, spray the foil with nonstick spray and leave it there throughout the cooking time.

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