It is straight up bonkers how few people are aware of the benefits of slow cookers. When I mention it to people – and I preach this sh*t like a religion – what enters most of their minds is the dusty pot in a forgotten corner of their mom’s pantry, the vessel that’s used twice a year for greyish stews that all taste the same.
The widespread association of crock pots with “bland stews” is a grave injustice, and a costly one at that, because here’s the truth.
1) They Save Money
Think of steak versus brisket or pork loin versus pork shoulder; the second option is much cheaper because it’s tough and requires more “labor” to be palatable. By making that labor a snap (see the next point), crock pots let you eat more meat for less.
Because you can cook such large portions at a time, you can also save more money by purchasing ingredients in bulk, plus crock pots use very little energy so you can even shave some money off your electricity bill.
2) They Save Time
Forget the words “slow cooker” and switch them for “time saver.” I’ll often drop some meat in the crock pot at night so that it’s ready for lunch the next day, and a lot of the time that’s all I’ll do: drop in some meat, maybe rub it with a pre-made spice rub or pour on some salsa, set it and forget it.
Ten seconds of prep time ain’t half bad, especially if you’re cooking seven pounds of meat at once for a dozen future lunches. Pro tip: freeze individual portions in sandwich bags and nuke ‘em whenever. Just make sure to eat it within three months.
3) They’re Cheap
Maybe I’m spending a little too much time on the money aspect, but as an avowed cheapskate, you should also know that this is one life-changing gadget that you won’t need to pay in installments. You can buy a big, six-quart slow cooker with a thermometer probe and a programmable timer for less than fifty bucks.
If, say, your typical lunch is twelve-dollar pulled pork from Chipotle and instead you start making your own for about four dollars a serve, it’ll pay for itself in no time.
3 of the Easiest Recipes On Earth
My brisket recipe needs about ten seconds of my time: I rub four or five pounds of meat with a pre-made spice rub, drop it in the pot, set the timer for at least twelve hours on “low,” and walk away. If you’re low on time, it doesn’t make a huge difference to just cook on “high” for less time. (Say, two thirds of the “low” cooking time.)
If I’m feeling really fancy, I might cook it on some chopped onions, but it’s not all that important and, to be honest, I’ll often be even lazier and ditch the spice rub for plain old salt. Some might insist that you throw in a cup or two of water, and there’s no harm in doing that. But since over time, the meat will release a lot of fat and cook itself in that, I’ve never found it necessary.
If you’d like to make your own rub, brisket works well with spices like paprika, cayenne, cumin, and garlic. (What doesn’t?) In a jar, mix four tablespoons of salt, four teaspoons each of pepper, paprika, and garlic powder, two teaspoons each of oregano, cumin, and cayenne.
2) Pulled Pork
The most versatile pulled pork recipe is the simplest: five pounds of pork shoulder, three teaspoons of salt, and ten cloves of garlic. Use a knife to make holes all over the meat, insert the garlic cloves, rub it with the salt, and cook it on low for sixteen hours. Everyone will say it’s the best food they’ve ever had.
This recipe is inspired by Nom Nom Paleo’s outstanding Kalua pork recipe, which recommends using smoked salt and cooking the pork on top of a few strips of bacon. To get a pretty similar effect, I just splash the meat with a few drops of liquid smoke.
Feeling tropical? Throw in a few chopped bananas before you press “cook.” Feeling Southern? Empty a couple of bottles of cheap BBQ sauce on top—just remember that those calories will be pretty hard to track when everything’s shredded up.
3) Pulled Chicken
Because it’s so low in fat and prone to drying out, chicken can be a little trickier in a slow cooker, but that’s also why it’s so versatile—it can work with low-fat meals or low-carb meals. You just need to make sure it cooks with some liquid.
Your basic pulled chicken is just a couple of lightly salted chicken breasts in a half cup of water, cooked on “low” for five or six hours. It’s incredibly bland, but when it’s finished I usually douse it in sauce or drop it in a stew that contains a decent amount of fat (like this one) and it works great.
A better idea is to buy an array of salsas and enchilada sauces: sweet, smoky, spicy, fruity, green, red, you name it. Then you just pour a jar of sauce over two or three chicken breasts and let things cook. Remember, salsa is very low in calories and packed with vitamin C.
When everything’s finished, shred with two forks and presto: as much delicious, low-fat, low-calorie protein as you can eat. This works great on its own, on top of rice or beans if you need carbs, or with a big pile of avocado and sautéed peppers and onions if you’re after something more low-carb and fat-rich.
Hitting your protein is always the hardest, costliest, and most laborious part of dieting. Whether you’re a fan of gourmet, long-and-slow cooking or if you don’t even like cooking and just want something tasty with minimal effort, the slow cooker is an indispensable part of an athlete’s toolkit.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Featured image via @cleaneatsfromafilthymouth on Instagram.