Crockpot meals prepared the night before
August 25, 2016 2:24 PM   Subscribe

I am after your proven, delicious crock pot meals where all the prep can be done the night before and stuck in the fridge overnight. In the morning, everything is just dumped in the pot.

My best crock-pot meals involve some time-sensitive prep in the morning (pre-cooking a sauce, pre-cooking some ingredients, etc.). There are also plenty of FREEZER crockpot meals online, which is not really what I'm after. Due to our baby's current sleep schedule, I'm up very very late with her, and my husband is up in the morning. I have PLENTY of time to do meal prep around midnight, but I'm too wrecked at 8 a.m. to cook. My husband is a less-experienced cook and is trying to deal with getting our older kids off to school in the morning so doesn't have time to mess around. An ideal crock pot meal for this scenario will let me prepare it the night before and put all the ingredients in the fridge (chopped, mixed, etc.) and my husband in the morning just finds the tupperwares with the post-it flags on them, dumps them in the crock pot, and hits the "8 hours" button.

The recipes I currently make require fairly substantial "messing with" in the morning, and a lot of freezer meals NEED the ingredients to be frozen or it messes up the cooking. Some freezer meals are fine, but I want to be able to do more night-before prep and less all-day Sunday prep. I will take your favorite freezer crock pot meals as well (since I have none in my rotation right now and online recipe sites are so chancy), but what I'm really after is the night-before preparation.

I don't want to run the crockpot overnight. I can put either the crock itself in the fridge or use various containers/ziploc bags. Ideally there wouldn't be more than three sets of ingredients -- like one container of chopped vegetables, one container of prepared meat, one container of sauce -- for my husband to combine, but again I am flexible as long as he's just dumping things in the pot and doesn't have to PREPARE anything. It's okay if I have to do some final prep with the meal an hour before it's done (like, cutting up chicken that's cooked whole and putting it back in or whatever). Side items are also fine (like buns to make a chicken sandwich or whatever) as long as they're relatively easy and can be made in a few minutes at dinner time.

No seafood. Meat, chicken, etc., is fine; vegetarian is also fine. We're okay with spicy, not okay with cilantro, and one of my kids has an issue with mushy textures. (Stews are fine, but casseroles often bug him because of the texture.) Eggplants can die in a fire.
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 119 users marked this as a favorite
This al pastor recipe is amazing. All of the prep can be done the night before in about 15 minutes (20 minutes if you include cleanup time), and it's just a single bag to dump in the slow cooker.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 2:34 PM on August 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

This Cajun Slow Cooked Pork recipe is a family favorite. Basically, the andouille adds enough zest to enliven simple pulled pork into something more interesting. It's a preferred rainy day dish for us, as it scratches a pretty similar itch to when I smoke a pork shoulder.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:35 PM on August 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Crockpot beef stew - I've totally done this all in advance, left the liner in the fridge overnight and then popped it in and turned it on in the morning. Use the variations recommended in the "most helpful positive review" by "Corrine". I have a slow cooker with a liner that works on the stovetop, so I do all the browning etc in that, stick it in the fridge covered, and insert in the slow cooker in the morning. No pots to wash!
posted by handful of rain at 2:43 PM on August 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Every time I make this people are surprised that all that's in it is the sweet potatoes, potatoes, onion, garlic and corn. It's so freaking satisfying.
posted by atomicstone at 2:49 PM on August 25, 2016 [11 favorites]

This is probably the world's most well known crock pot recipe, but here's my version of it. We make it to use up canned foods.

Taco Soup!

1 can each of: Rotel or Mexican recipe tomatoes, pinto beans, white beans, corn. 2 cans diced tomatoes, 2 cups water or broth. 1/2 packet each of taco seasoning and ranch dressing mix. It can be completely mixed together at night.

After cooking, you can add leftover chicken literally minutes before serving. Or not!
posted by peep at 3:23 PM on August 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

Recipes SHOULD NOT have morning of preparation required (dredging and browning meat, cooking sauces that congeal if cooled) or I need details of how to adapt the recipe to night before prep, and I WILL NOT leave the crock pot on overnight so 16 hour cooking times are right out. I'm looking for crock pot recipes within specific preparation constraints, not just "great crock pot recipes."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:37 PM on August 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

You can't do pasta in a crockpot because mush would be your destiny, but if you can boil noodles/macaroni before dinner, then you're golden with making meaty pasta sauces like ragout that can stew all day.

In the midnight hour you can brown the meat and make the sauce. When the rebel yells, you chop the vegetables, combine the lot into a container for dumping, boom.

When you chop vegetables, think about the size: you chop vegetables small when you need them to cook fast, but since you're not cooking fast, well, small veggies will be link and disappear into the sauce; big chunks will soldier on through the day and remain recognizable at the end of cooking.

Big veggies can be extracted by a finicky kid, so they also have those going for (and against) them. I speak as a recovering finicky kid who still doesn't like onions, but the days, I'd rather they vanish into the sauce than bother with fishing out large limp chunks of the stuff.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:44 PM on August 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I nearly always do crockpot meals by simply doing whatever the recipe calls for prior to "cook in the crockpot on [setting] for X hours" the night before, and then putting everything+crockpot insert in the fridge overnight. In the morning, I put the insert into the crockpot, switch it on, and leave for work. While I imagine that there are crockpot recipes that don't handle this well, this has worked just fine for me basically every time. I mean, yeah, stuff sets up in the fridge overnight, but then it cooks for ages and it's fine.
posted by Kpele at 4:01 PM on August 25, 2016 [9 favorites]

Side-dish-wise, a brick of cream cheese, a jar of salsa, a can of corn, and a can of refried beans is a really tasty and stupid-easy tortilla chip dip. (Optional add-ins: black olives, jalapeños, a gooey cheese.) 8 hours on the lowest setting should work fine, moreso if you are able to give it a few good stirs once the brick of cream cheese has heated through.

It freezes perfectly, too, should you end up with leftovers somehow.

Similarly embarrassingly open-some-cans easy: usually I sauté some finely chopped celery and onions in butter, but I expect they could be added raw if you wanted to skip that. Then: 1 L veg stock, 1 can tomatoes, 1 can tomato paste, and three cans of assorted beans -- I like black beans, chickpeas, and lentils. Futz around with seasoning when it's done (something to sweeten, something to spice, a dash of some sort of vinegar, additional salt prob not needed); it's a very hearty soup. (Also enjoys being frozen.)
posted by kmennie at 6:28 PM on August 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

In the traditional crock pot, I do these carnitas. Serve with warm tortillas, and some cabbage slaw (green cabbage, lime juice, and chopped radishes). Best part, leftovers are tomorrow's quesadilla for lunch.

Have you considered the Instant Pot? Like you, I do not leave the crock-pot on at night (thanks for that fire-safety anxiety Mom!) Instant Pot is crock pot easy, but super quick. You can do all the chopping at night, dump it in the liner pot and put the liner in the fridge. Then start the cooker 30 minutes before you want to eat.
posted by 26.2 at 6:54 PM on August 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is the only way I do crock pot recipes that require prep work. Either I don't do the prep work (which usually turns out fine), or I do all the prep the night before and keep the ingredients segregated -- browned meats kept separate from liquids that may have reduced or been used to deglaze, and from any veggies that have been browned, etc. Then in the morning, I just dump all the segregated ingredients into the crock pot (or sometimes I keep some of the segregated ingredients in the insert -- usually the meat), and go.

Two specific recipes that I have done this with successfully are both from The Kitchn.

First, I do the chicken enchilada soup recipe from The Kitchn this way (except that lately I don't do any of the prep and just dump all the ingredients in the pot in the morning). I sauté the onions/tomatoes/stock before bed, then transfer that mixture to a tupperware. The next morning, all that needs to be done is to dump the chicken straight from the package into the insert, add the canned beans and corn, pour over the soupy part you made the night before, and let it run.

I have also successfully made The Kitchn's slow cooker boeuf bourguignon this way, except that instead of pouring the deglazing wine over the meat in the crock pot, I put it in a separate container so the browned stew meat isn't sitting in wine in the fridge overnight. I end up with the crock pot insert with the meat in it, a container with the wine used for deglazing in it, and a container with the browned veggies in it. (Oh, and one container with the mushrooms that you add at the end of the cooking time.) The next morning, I add all the containers (except the mushrooms) plus the rest of the wine and the stock, turn it on and let it go all day.
posted by devinemissk at 7:04 PM on August 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

My current favourite super-easy crock pot dish is a kind of chick pea stew with sausage. The only thing that needs to be pre-cooked is the sausage, but I normally do that while I am cooking something else, especially if we're making dinner on the BBQ.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:29 PM on August 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I adapt this hamburger soup recipe for the slow cooker by browning the meat and onions the night before. The browned meat goes in one container, the chopped veggies and spices in another (I usually add some grated zucchini or sliced kale, and 1/2 tsp dried thyme), and if you really want to make it easy on your husband, the tomatoes and liquids pre-measured into a large pitcher in the fridge. (I use a stock cube or Better than Boullion). I used to prep it like this for my nanny, so all she had to do was dump 3 containers in the slow cooker and turn it on. It's a classic.
posted by bluebelle at 8:49 PM on August 25, 2016

Lentil and ham soup. 11 hours is not necessary. Try after 9. Put everything, save broth, in a ziploc and dump it all together in the morning.
posted by kamikazegopher at 4:40 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

i have refigerated both of these for a few hours - i can't imagine a few more hours in the frigh would hurt anything. Maybe cook 30 minutes longer. I usually just put them in the liner of my crock pot and put that in the refrigerator.

French dips

dust a 3 to 4 pound chuck roast with flour, salt and pepper. Brown in small amount of oil.
Put in the crock pot with a can of beef consomme, can of french onion soup, can of beer, 4 T of Dales sauce and a teaspoon of garlic powder. Cook on low for 7 hours, then shred and serve on toasted rolls with juice as dipping sauce.

Short ribs

Brown 3 pounds of short ribs that have been seasoned and floured in butter or oil. Place in crock pot
chop a medium onion and saute in 4 T of butter
Mix 3/4 cup of ketchup
3 T of soy sauce
2 T of apple cider vinegar
3T of brown sugar
add to onion (can drain off some of the butter if you want)

Pour over the short ribs. Cook 8 hours on low. Pick up a salad somewhere and cook some quick cooking noodle or rice to serve with it.
posted by domino at 6:49 AM on August 26, 2016

I make wrap/burrito fillings this way on weekends. I don't even prep beforehand.

3 lb (ETA: skinless, boneless - not required but makes life MUCH easier) chicken thighs (you can use breasts, but they're drier in the end)
1 can corn
1 can black beans
1 can tomatoes OR 1 big jar salsa of any kind, really. I usually do verde. No harm in both, although it might be a bit salty.

6-8 hours on low. Drain. Serve.

It's nice to stir at some point if you can, but no big if you can't. Similarly, it's nice but not required to shred the thighs afterwards, especially to use as filling. It's pretty good with some melted shredded cheese in a tortilla. Or I will dump it on salad greens and just add dressing. You could probably add tortilla chips, etc. to that concoction.

Also, this gets soupy by the end. For me this is a feature, not a bug - it's amazing broth for a noodle soup! A treat for the chef, i.e. me. I prefer rice noodles, but then I'm Chinese.

You can mix it up any way you like. When I get bored with this I'll add or sub veggies in and out at will. Onions are always nice. We like squashes, not sure if that texture works for you. Or I'll add canned ancho chilis in adobo sauce to "simulate" Chipotle. (Beware, that gets hot!) Etc. The only thing I would stress is to add at least 2 cans of SOMETHING for the fluid content.
posted by aperturescientist at 9:50 AM on August 26, 2016

I like the following chicken recipe: Dump 1 can drained black beans, 1 can drained corn, boneless chicken breasts, 1 jar salsa in the crock pot and cook on low 6 to 8 hours. Last 30 minutes dump 1 8 oz brick of cream cheese (neuchatel is fine) in crock. When done, stir sauce to incorporate cream cheese. Serve with rice or tortias. Very good and easy, makes a lot of food.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 4:19 PM on August 27, 2016

Many of the Nom Nom Paleo recipes were like that a few years ago, when Michelle was working nights and would prep stuff for her husband or parents to cook during the day. Korean ribs, for example: you could do the ribs and the sauce separately, then dump them together in the morning. (That recipe is more complicated than it has to be, BTW.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:04 PM on August 29, 2016

This is going really good! I'm still testing recipes but the night-before prep is working!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:09 PM on October 11, 2016

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