Throwing a hunk of meat along with some vegetables into a crockpot is great for weeknight meals. However, there is a myriad of ways to maximize the slow, even heat from the slow cooker which you may not know about. Here is a whole host of ways to more efficiently and creatively use your crockpot.

1. Slow Cooker Liners

liners

No mess and no fuss! These thick plastic liners can be purchased from Amazon. At $3.00 for 6 liners, they are totally worth it! They allow your food to cook and stay warm while minimizing the mess. Chili, for example, tends to stain and create a crisp ring at the top making clean up a bear. These liners make it simple: remove it, throw it away, wash the pot where ever it needs it and you're finished. No scrubbing or soaking is involved!

2. Clean Like A Pro

baking soda clean

If you don't have the liners and have to clean it, you can still make it easy on yourself. A simple recipe from Life Should Cost Less, of baking soda, white vinegar and water allows your slow cooker to virtually clean itself.

3. Double Up Dips

rotelle

You can use aluminum foil to create a divider in the middle of a crock pot to maximize the space for two dips. Covering it with a liner isn't totally necessary but it ensures that your guests will get as much of your delicious concoction as possible because it won't become stuck in the foil's ripples. Also, as stated above, it makes cleaning up a cinch so why not do it?

4. Sear Your Meat

seared meat

Although slow cookers make meat nice and juicy, the color can be a little bit bland. Searing your meat in a hot pan beforehand ensures that the outer layer will be nice and golden. The beautiful color is from caramelizing the outer layer. The smoky flavor created will infuse the entire dish throughout the cooking process.

5. Cook Your Sides Separately

crock pot side

Vegetables cooked in meat juice creates a distinct flavor and texture. They soften root vegetables like potatoes and carrots making them fall about when you scoop them out. But perhaps you want to keep them separate without the mushy texture. You can achieve this by wrapping them in foil and placing them on top of the meat. You still cook them the same time - just don't let them into your liquid.

6. Add Soft And Dairy Ingredients Last

cream

Making something like chicken noodle soup or beef stroganoff, you want the noodles to be firm. If you cook them with the meat, they will disintegrate into the liquid or sauce. In order for them to maintain their texture, add them last after all of the meat and vegetables are cooked. The same goes for dairy (sour cream for example). Put that in last otherwise it will curdle.

7. Make Candles

candles in crock pot

Using whatever size glass you want, you can melt candle wax, add a wick, and create a simple homemade candle from Hello Glow.

8. Melt Chocolate

melted chocolate

Fruit, pretzels and even chips are delicious when dipped in chocolate. But melting chocolate can be a tenuous process as it burns easily thus destroying it. Utilizing a crock pot ensures a nice, even melt that you can keep warm without worrying about water evaporating like a in a double boiler or burn in a microwave. Simply put a jar of chocolate into the crock pot surrounded by water. Put it on high heat until melted them turn it down to warm.

9. Use An Outlet Timer

timer

Life gets in the way best laid plans. Despite a slow cooker's design to cook food without burning it, is it possible to overcook it. If you set the meal to cook for 6 hours before you go to work but are unsure if you'll have after school pick ups or appointments, simply plug the slow cooker into a timer that plugs in liek what you would use for Christmas lights.

10. Keep Food Warm

mashed potatoes

Sometimes you don't need or want to actually cook food in your crock pot but need to keep them warm. This little appliance will do that for you also. Mashed potatoes are a great food to try out in this situation because they aren't quite the same reheated. Just put them in a crock pot on a warm setting and whip up the rest of your meal.

11. Make Dessert

brownies

Crock pots aren't just for meals. You can actually make dessert in them too! Brownies from Spend With Pennies and cake from All Recipes are great recipes to try! You can surprise your little ones with some dessert that they didn't even see you slave over.

12. Make Breakfast

oats

If you can make dessert, it only makes sense that you can also make breakfast in a slow cooker. Oats from All Recipes can cook overnight and you can easily add some toppings quickly in the morning for the entire family. Just make sure to use steel cut oats.

13. Make Yogurt

greek yogurt

If you're feeling adventurous and have time, take a stab at making homemade Greek yogurt. It isn't difficult but you do have to have some patience. If you can, then it's a great way to cut down costs on this essential source for probiotics.

14. Use As A Humidifier

humidifier

With windows closed to protect us from the cold, the air inside gets super dry. It is also flu and cold season. Both are good reason to whip out the humidifier which can work great in a single room. A slow cooker converted into one, however, allows you to add moisture into your entire house. All you have to do is fill it with water, put it on high then let some of the steam escape. Keep filling the water as necessary.

15. Use For Potpourri

essential oils

You don't have to cook in order to make your home smell good. Fill your slow cooker about halfway with water and add some essential oils. The scent will permeate your entire house. If you don't have essential oils and want to make it pretty as well as aromatic, create your own potpourri using an assortment of fruits, flowers, and spices. You can try this recipe from Don't Waste The Crumbs for a great winter scent!

16. Use Cornstarch To Thicken

stew

A slow cooker retains moisture. If you're wanting a sauce to thicken such as this beef stew recipe from Taste of Home, create a rux by making a paste from cornstarch and water. The cornstarch acts like a thickening agent and the water dissolves it so it doesn't create little lumps. By doing this, you'll create that hearty, thick classic stew.

17. Keep The Lid On

lid

A slow cooker's name describes exactly what it does: cooks things slowly. The compact environment creates a lot of steam keep the liquids abundant. Cooking in this fashion makes things tender and juicy because it absorbs all of that liquid and flavor. Removing the lid periodically releases said steam and moisture. This not only causes the food to lose precious ingredients, but it also extends your time frame. So, unless a recipe calls for added ingredients or stirring in the middle of the cooking process, leave the lid on and let the appliance do its thing.

18. Bake Bread

bread

There is nothing like home cooked bread that you can get warm from the oven and slab a pat of butter or honey onto. Depending on what type of bread you are making, you can have the oven on for a good 45 minutes which take up precious space. By using a slow cooker to bake bread, you can allot yourself more time and space to multi-task. You can try out this recipe for regular sandwich bread from Delish as an easy introduction to slow cooker breads!

Now that you have new ways to maintain your crock pot along with recipes for crafts and dishes, plug that sucker in and let it work for you!

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