The Joys of Crock Pot Cooking

By Carole Gorney

To take liberties with the lyrics of Sammy Cahn’s famous seasonal song: Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but a hot meal is so delightful. Let it cook. Let it cook. Let it cook.

There is no better meal when the weather turns cold than succulent Yankee pot roast or steaming hot vegetable soup, and there’s no easier way to cook these and many other nourishing dishes than in a slow cooker or crock pot as they are often called. Besides allowing quick and easy preparation and eliminating the worry of burning and overcooking, the slow cooking method of crock pots makes it possible to use cheaper cuts of meat, while still achieving tender results. The long cooking time is perfect for people who work away from home, and who want a hot meal waiting from them when they return from a hard day at the office.

Before we go any further, however, I should inform you that the name Crock-Pot™ is a trademark of the Rival Company, but like so many other name brands, such as Coke™, Kleenex™ and Xerox™, it has become a generic term to mean any type of slow cooking appliance with a ceramic pot or “crock.”

By way of history, the pot was first developed in Chicago by The Naxon Utilities Corporation as the Naxon Beanery All-Purpose Cooker. In 1970, Rival bought Naxon, and a year later the cooker was re-introduced as the Crock-Pot—a much snappier name. Since then the Crock-Pot brand, which now belongs to Sunbeam Products but is still sold under the Rival name, has continued to dominate the market.

If you are like me, you have at least one crock pot stashed away somewhere. I actually have two. I decided that now was a good time to dig them out, clean them up and, in the spirit of the film, Julie and Julia, try at least a few of the literally hundreds of recipes from main dishes to desserts that can be made the slow cooking way.

My first attempt was pot roast. This was a Sunday staple when I was growing up but my mother cooked it the conventional way in a metal pot in our gas oven. The chuck roast took several hours to get tender, and it had to be checked frequently and water added to make sure the meat didn’t burn. The crock pot recipe I found was almost identical to my mother’s, except for the onion soup mix.

The first time I tried pot roast in the slow cooker, I put the meat in without browning it first. That’s the quick and easy method when you are really in a hurry. Just put all the ingredients in, cover, and cook for eight to 10 hours at the low setting. The meat gets tender, but everything is a bit pale. The roast, water and soup mix make the gravy, but it isn’t rich and flavorful. This time I browned the meat as directed in extra virgin olive oil in a separate pan first, then deglazed with water before putting it in the crock pot. It also helps bring out the flavor of the onions and celery to sauté them in the meat juices and oil in the browning pan before deglazing.


• 4 pounds chuck roast
• salt and pepper to taste
• 1 packet dry onion soup mix
• 1 cup water
• 3 carrots, chopped
• 1 onion, chopped
• 3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
• 1 stalk celery, chopped

Take the chuck roast and season with salt and pepper to taste. Brown on all sides in a large skillet over high heat.
• Place in the slow cooker and add the soup mix, water, carrots, onion, potatoes and celery.
• Cover and cook on low setting for 8 to 10 hours.

1. Take the chuck roast and season with salt and pepper to taste. Brown on all sides in a large skillet over high heat.
2. Place in the slow cooker and add the soup mix, water, carrots, onion, potatoes and celery.
3. Cover and cook on low setting for 8 to 10 hours
The problem I have with recipes is that I can never resist tampering with them. I like to add lots of herbs and seasonings, but that is a personal choice. For the pot roast recipe, try using beef or vegetable stock instead of water. Or, in the tradition of Julia Child, add some red wine. For a richer gravy, remove the cooked meat and vegetables, turn the heat setting to high and stir in a half-cup of sour cream. Cook just until heated through. With crock pots you can tamper to your heart’s content, as long as you follow some basic rules:

• Don’t overdo the amount of meat. Follow the recommended poundage for the size of your crock pot.
• Don’t use too little or too much liquid. The amount depends on what you are cooking, but should never fill more than two-thirds of the pot.
• Be sure the meat is immersed in liquid. This will keep it moister.
• Trim excess fat from meats. Fats melt with long cooking times, and add an unpleasant texture to the finished dish.
• Most meats require eight hours of cooking on LOW. Since vegetables take longer to cook, they should be placed on the bottom of the pot.
• Add most spices, cayenne pepper and hot sauce in the last half hour of cooking.
• Resist the temptation to lift the lid, especially when cooking on low. Enough heat escapes each time you peek that the cooking time needs to be extended by 20 minutes to half an hour.

Probably the all-time easiest crock pot recipe is for sauerkraut and pork. You can use any pork meat from country style ribs—my favorite—to a butt or loin roast or even tenderloin. Drop the pork in the pot, cover with sauerkraut with enough liquid to cover the meat, season to your liking, set and forget. The acid in the sauerkraut tenderizes the cooked pork so that it is falls off the bone. I’ve made this family favorite in the crock pot dozens of times over the years, and I can’t imagine cooking it any other way.


• 1 (4 pound) pork loin roast
• 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
• salt and pepper to taste
• 2 cups sauerkraut with liquid

1. Cut pork loin, if necessary, to fit in the slow cooker. Season with caraway seeds, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour sauerkraut over the roast.
2. Cook on HIGH for 1 hour, then cook on LOW for 5 to 6 hours. Internal temperature of the roast should be at least 160 degrees F (70 degrees C).

Next, I decided to try something that one wouldn’t ordinarily think of cooking in a crock pot. I looked at recipes for Beef Bourguignon, Pepper Pork Chops, Southwestern Soup, Swiss Steak and Chili. All were either similar in preparation, or were typical crock pot basics—soups, stews or roasts. I kept hunting; from chutneys to Banana Nut Bread. I had trouble seeing the advantage of making quick breads in a slow cooker. Finally, I settled on the recipe for Apple Cranberry Crisp. I was skeptical, but you know what they say: nothing ventured and all that…


• 10 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
• 1 cup cranberries
• 1/2 cup brown sugar
• 3/4 cup oats
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/2 cup butter, softened

1. Combine all ingredients in slow cooker.
2. Cover; cook on HIGH 2-3 hours.

I followed the directions, including “combine all ingredients in slow cooker.” A couple of things bothered me about the recipe, but I was determined to test it as is. For one thing, crisps require the topping to be mixed separately and sprinkled on top of the fruit, not combined together. Second, the type and size of apples was not specified. I used Granny Smiths, but they were so large I only used five. Ten apples would have overcrowded my ample oval crock.

My skepticism was validated three hours later. There was no “crisp” anywhere to be found. Nonetheless, the concoction was otherwise delicious, and the apples were firm but tender. Next time I’ll put the oat mixture on top of the apples and see what happens.

If this article has inspired you but you don’t own a crock pot, or if you want to upgrade, there is a lot to choose from these days. There are the original manual versions with low and high speeds, but now you can get a dial option for “warm” as well. For only a bit more in price, you can get a variety of programmable pots. If you want to get really serious, try the Trio Cook and Serve slow cooker. It allows you to cook an entire meal in three pots set in individual receptacles, each with separate heating settings. That one’s on my Christmas list this year!

Carole Gorney admits to loving cooking almost as much as she enjoys eating, and uses recipes from her cookbook collection from the many countries around the world where she has either lived or visited.

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