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!
my corned beef recipe said 8 hrs on high then another 2hrs after adding cabbage..don’t have that setting so I’m cooking 10 hrs on low…will that cook right? Thanks for some advice
Yes that should work just fine!
Evangeline Peoples says
My crockpot only has a timer for 8 or 10 hours on low so I turn it on without putting anything in it and go to the gym and get ready for work. Before I leave I put in the insert knowing that (hopefully) it will switch to warming mode when the timer is up and dinner wobt get scorched.
Wow, super helpful post. I too will be away from home 12hrs and I had all of these questions. I also thought about cooking the slow crock pot meal over night while I’m sleeping so it will be ready in morning, but I’m stuck there. The meal will be too hot to put inside fridge when I wake up and I wouldn’t be able to wait till it cools. Any ideas? I thank you. Keep up the good work!!!!
Why not make it the night before and stick it in your fridge and then start cooking when you wake up? Would that work?
Jual Masker Spirulina Tiens says
Good Idea, Thank For Information
Linda Fenwick says
Thanks for your great article. Your article is very helpful to me. Because now I know which way I can cook. Is slow cooker make any differences in normal cooking and slow cooking? If it is. Please suggest me which cooker I should use.
Linda Bates says
I have used a piece of aluminum foil to cover the top part of meats I have in my crock pot and have never had dry or overdone tops of roasts. The pre cut sheets of foil work great. I use a lamp timer too to preset times.
GREAT IDEA! Thanks Linda!
Jen Wemp says
My meats are almost always overcooked and dry and the edges of dishes often burnt. I think it is my make/model of crockpot. I tried to see your two recommendations but the links aren't active. What do you recommend?
[email protected] says
Here is a link to my amazon store. I write about each slow cooker that I personally own and why I like it. Hopefully this will be helpful to you! http://astore.amazon.com/365dayofsloco-20
Marcia, good idea with the cooking bags! I love those things.
Hi just bought a new slow cooker and just wondering does the water when cooking and how much water should you put the in . Liz
Even if you don't put the whole insert in the fridge the night before, you can use those cooking bags and put all the ingredients in there and then stick the bag inside the crockpot in the morning. That is another good tip.
Thanks for the article. I think I am going to have to order a new crockpot so that I can control those options more with time and temperature. Mine tends to burn everything if it cooks all day.
Jenny Lowe says
Cooking bags? I have heard of over bags. Thanks
[email protected] says
They have slow cooker liners or oven bags that are next to the foil and plastic bags at the grocery store.
yeah, Amy I've read that before. But since my family isn't a high risk group either, I don't worry about it. We haven't gotten food poisoning (that I know about anyhow) yet! It's up to each, I guess.
Any concerns about frozen meat in the crock pot? I saw this online and now I have concerns about this (though I have definitely done this in the past…). Thoughts? http://busycooks.about.com/od/slowcookerrecipes/a/crockpot101.htm Go down to the first point where it says "Experts recommend…"
This might not work for everyone but I have a big fridge at work so depending on the recipe I throw it all in the crock pot the night before or in the morning and take it to work with me. Then I can start it when I need to have it ready to take home and have a hot dinner with no work.
Bruce Russell says
I was having problems with soggy vegetables and over cooked meat so I just ordered a timer like the one described above, from Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005MMSTNG/ref=oh_details_o01_s02_i02. It won't go to warm like the crock pots you talked about will, but I can time it to start say at noon and be ready when I get home instead of me worrying that it is over cooking my dinner and being disappointed with the quality of the dinner or trusting that someone would be home to unplug it and have to reheat the food when I get off. I will be able to use my crock pot a lot more if it works for me.
Do you put content frozen or thawed to start cooking at 12p?
I’d do thawed
I have the same issue so I do freezer crock pot meals (chop up/prep, bag, and freeze everything beforehand), then I put them in the slow cooker overnight while I sleep. It's ready in the morning and I have lunch and dinner for the day.
Kalyn Denny says
Great tips. Just linked this post on my Tips page on Slow Cooker from Scratch.
For years I would use a lamp timer (you know, the ones that you can set to turn your lamp on or off at a certain time). I'd put my food in the crock pot in the morning (usually frozen meat) and my crock pot would turn on when I needed it to so that it would be ready when I got home from work. Worked great for me!
How does this timer work? I have one but I can’t get it to turn the crock pot on.
Beth, are you talking about the timer that’s on the kitchenaid slow cooker?
Carrian Cheney says
Great tips and great crockpots!