One question that I get a lot is “What happens if I’m gone from my house for 10+ hours at a time…can I still cook in my slow cooker?” A lot of time these are busy working professionals, such as a nurse, that have long shifts at work a few days a week. They want to be able to still provide a home cooked meal for their families but don’t have the energy and time when they get home late. Today I want to share with you some of my favorite tips for working around this barrier. I hope that you’ll pin this post for later and share in with your friends on facebook!
(this is an updated post from 2012)
Today we are answering a question from Amy. She writes:
“Help! I’m a busy working professional and leave the house at 7am each morning. I’m not home until 6pm each evening. I LOVE the idea of slow cooker recipes and meals that are ready for me after a long day, but have NO CLUE how I could ever make this work, seeing as I’m away from the house for 11 hours each day. Do you have any suggestions/ tips for me? Are there ANY recipes that could work for this time frame?”
Thanks for your question, Amy. It’s the predicament of many people!
Tip: Invest in a good slow cooker with a timer
My first suggestion is to invest in a slow cooker that has a timer on it. One that will automatically switch to warm after the time that you set it for. For example, I own this slow cooker and it works great for that purpose. I like it so much that I even created a video about it showing all its features. Only ever cook on LOW and have it switch to warm after suggested cooking time is up. Some slow cookers these days cook way too HOT and it’s annoying. I prefer this slow cooker because it seems to cook evenly and fairly low.
Tip: Fill your slow cooker 3/4 full.
I also suggest using the smallest slow cooker that you can. The more space that you have in the slow cooker the faster it’s going to cook. So if you’re only cooking for 3 people in a 6 quart slow cooker it is going to be waaaay too big. Invest in 2 different sizes. I like the small 3 quart slow cooker and a 6 quart. Here is a 3 quart slow cooker with a timer!
When considering a size to purchase, keep in mind that the cooker should be 1/2 to 3/4 full for the most efficient cooking.
1 to 2 Quart Mini Slow Cookers: This size slow cooker is generally used for hot dips and spreads or for cooking a 1 or 2 serving dish.
3 to 4 Quart Slow Cookers: This medium size is great for fixing dishes for 3 to 4 people. It also works well for larger quantity dips or appetizers, such as meatballs or chicken wings.
5 to 6 Quart Slow Cookers: A cooker of this size is necessary when preparing a dish that needs to feed more than 4 people. It works great when you need to make a dish to take for holidays or for potluck suppers. It is also useful when trying to make complete meals that consist of meat, potatoes and vegetables in the slow cooker.
7 to 8 Quart Slow Cookers: These extra large slow cookers are used when extra capacity is necessary. They are nice when making meals for large families or when you are having extra guest. They work well when cooking a large chicken and you want to slow cook other vegetables along with it.
Tip: Make food that is best suited for longer cook periods.
Some foods just do a lot better than others. Like a pork or beef roast, dried beans and soups. Here is a list of all my recipes that need more than 6 hours to cook. And here are a few from that list that you may be interested in:
- Cilantro Lime Shredded Pork–6-8 hours
- Skinny Crockpot Pulled Pork–8-10 hours
- Coconut Chicken Drumsticks–6 hours
- Pork Gyros–6 hours
- Ham, Lentil and Barley Soup–8 hours
- Easy Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce–8-12 hours
- Shepherd’s Pie Chili–8-12 hours
- Peppery Beef Noodles–8 hours
- French Onion Beef Stroganoff–8-10 hours
- Turkey Breast–7 hours
- 15 Bean Chili–8-12 hours
- Cheesy Chicken and Lentils–6 hours
- Cauliflower and Potato Soup–6-8 hours
- White Bean Soup with Ham and Cheddar–8-12 hours
- Creamy Chicken and White Bean and Pinto Bean Soup–8-10 hours
- Cajun BBQ Pork Steaks–6-8 hours
- Bacon Kalua Chicken–6-8 hours
- 3 Envelope Crockpot Roast–8-12 hours
- Sloppy Joe Beef Quesadillas–8-10 hours
- Better than Cafe Rio Black Beans–8-10 hours
- Hoisin Shredded Pork Sliders–8-12 hours
- Fork Tender Ribs–7-9 hours
- Beef Stroganoff–6-8 hours
- Asian Pulled Pork–8-12 hours
Tip: If possible use frozen foods (or partially frozen) in the slow cooker.
This will extend your cooking time by a couple of hours. I’ve heard that you aren’t supposed to do this (because of food poisoning risk) but I do it all the time (especially with chicken). So if you feel comfortable with it, then do it. If not, that is fine too. Even if you prepare everything the night before and stick it in the fridge this will add some time since it will all be cool.
Tip: Consider using a pressure cooker.
Yes, it’s not a slow cooking tip but pressure cookers are great for busy people. Put all the ingredients together before work. Then when you get home you’ll have a few minutes and dinner will be ready. Go here for good ideas on pressure cooking.
You will definitely be limited on what you can make when you are gone that long but at least one or two days a week you could have something in the slow cooker ready when you get home!