Crockpot dilemma
November 10, 2007 7:47 PM   Subscribe

Calling all cooks: I was given a 6-quart crockpot by my mother in law -- yay. The problem is that I don't intend to make more than very small batches of food (1-2 qt) at a time. I'm worried that I'll scald or dry out the food by cooking tiny batches in it. Should I get a smaller pot or can I use this one ok? Also as a tagalong question feel free to mention your favorite recipe that you like making in your crockpot.
posted by hodyoaten to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My understanding is this: liquids don't cook off in a crockpot because the lid stays on the whole time, so any liquid you put in to start with stays, and any liquid that leaches out of the food accumulates. Unless you're cooking on HIGH for long periods of time with no liquid in the pot, your food should neither dry out nor scald regardless of the size of the batch. Small batches will, however, probably cook faster than you expect. When using a crockpot, you're advised to place the ingredients with the longest cooking times on the bottom of the pot--and since all your ingredients will be on the bottom of the pot, you may have to adjust the total cooking time.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 8:15 PM on November 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

You can use a great big one to cook small amounts, but you have to stay right on top of it. The high settings can get up to a boil if the pot's not very full, and boil away whatever you're cooking. It's also hard to use recipes for a big pot for small amounts- since it only has two settings (low/high) you can't really adjust it.

Since the whole point of a crock pot is pile it in and forget it, I'd suggest getting the small pot and saving the big one for special occasions. They make great, Sterno-free chafing dishes!
posted by headspace at 8:16 PM on November 10, 2007

The manual for my crockpot suggests that it works best if 1/2 to 2/3 full so I think you will be happier with the results if you buy a small one too.
posted by metahawk at 8:44 PM on November 10, 2007

Generally I find that I'm ok as long as the contents cover the bottom for a good inch or so. However both of my crock pots have more than a simple high/low setting. One has four settings and the other an infinite heat setting dial.

Even if things get to bubbling the lid holds the moisture in so that things don't dry out. However when the pot gets that hot cooking times are reduced.
posted by Mitheral at 8:57 PM on November 10, 2007

Could you think about making larger amounts of food and then freezing the leftovers? (Not sure what your kitchen/freezer situation is ...)
posted by mccxxiii at 9:05 PM on November 10, 2007

I think just turning down the temperature should be okay. Are you afraid to experiment because you're thinking about taking it back?
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:00 PM on November 10, 2007

What mccxxiii describes is how it works at my place. (I've always assumed this was the intended use of the crockpot.) I find most crockpot-cooked food tastes better as leftovers anyway.
posted by Reggie Digest at 11:51 PM on November 10, 2007

My crockpot is the old-fashioned kind where there's an outer metal case designed to conduct the heat, the heating element in the base, and a removable earthenware lidded dish which fits inside the metal case. Similar to this, different design on the case.

So if yours is the all-in-one kind I don't see why you couldn't just put a smaller, lidded, heat-proof dish inside it. If you're worried about the heating element burning out, add an inch of water to the crockpot before putting your smaller dish in it.
posted by essexjan at 12:20 AM on November 11, 2007

Mine is identical to this, and the pictures here show how the crockpot is removable. The basic idea of all crockpots and slow cookers is a heating element with a pot, so using a smaller pot inside the big one should work just fine.
posted by essexjan at 12:23 AM on November 11, 2007

I use a small 3.5 quart (model 3150/3152) "Crockpot."

Seek "slow cooker" recipes in your favorite cookbooks or online ( example searches 1 and 2). Recipes with the slow cooker are always more moist than I expected.

Each time I peek under the lid or/and compulsively stir the contents, (the spinning-the-lid trick to see beyond moisture droplets does not work on mine), I add twenty minutes to the low cooking time. I use the high setting for the first hour only.

If you have any doubts that you won't arrive home in time to shut it off (unless yours is one of those fancy, new-fangled ones with it's own shut-off timer) buy a simple, single-outlet timer that you can program to start and end when you want.
posted by bonobo at 2:59 AM on November 11, 2007

I live alone, have a small slow cooker, and really wish it was larger. I'd recommend making more than you need and freezing (as stated above). Most of the recipes you'll find are for a larger pot, so it just seems easier.
posted by backwards guitar at 6:24 AM on November 11, 2007

Crock pots really are best used according to the manual's suggestion of at least half full. I learned the hard way that food does get dried out, crusty, and overcooked when cooking smaller volumes, and bought a 2 quart for regular use, saving our 6 quart for freezable batches or feeding guests.

Margaret Kaeter has 'The Everything Slow Cooker Cookbook,' which is bound to have something for almost any taste and gives a lot of good usage suggestions.
posted by notashroom at 8:53 AM on November 11, 2007

I do okay cooking small amounts in a large cooker, but I wish I had a smaller one for foods that don't freeze well--I'm happy to make four quarts of chili and save half of it, but not so inclined to do that with other dishes.

I'd recommend "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook" for good, healthy recipes that don't rely on processed ingredients and that don't all taste alike.
posted by padraigin at 9:11 AM on November 11, 2007

Two crockpot recipes we like:
- Mediterranean Roast Turkey
- Spiced apple/cranberry cider: fill crockpot with half apple juice and half cranberry juice (not cocktail), or proportions to your liking, add 2-3 tablespoons of mulling spices in a cheesecloth bag. Toss in a few cranberries, set crock on low. Makes the house smell wonderful, too!
posted by DakotaPaul at 9:12 PM on November 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

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