Slow cookers are typically viewed as a good way to make soups and stews but that’s about it. Many of us simply don’t venture outside of our comfort zones with these kitchen tools and we may even find that other types of recipes simply don’t turn out too well.
Yet, slow cookers are actually extremely versatile as a kitchen tool. There are a number of different ways that you can use them, ranging from the simple to the complex. So really, it’s no wonder that slow cookers have become the go-to option for many people.
As such, it really is worth taking the time to learn some new ways to use your slow cooker, especially if it is sitting in the back of your cupboard somewhere and hasn’t been touched for years.
Making Soups And Stews
Admittedly, using your slow cooker to make soups and stews is fairly obvious. After all, this is the typical way that most of us tend to use slow cookers. And, unless it is the dead of winter, this type of use can be fairly uninspiring if you do it weekly. However, with the right recipe and good techniques, you can still make some amazing soups and stews in a slow cooker, including variations that are fairly unusual.
Still, that’s not really what we’re interested in with this list. Instead, we want to focus on more unusual uses of slow cookers.
Baking In A Slow Cooker
The concept of baking suggests that you need to be using an oven but that isn’t really true. Instead, you can bake pretty effectively in a slow cooker as well.
This use might seem a little strange. After all, why bake in a slow cooker when you have an actual oven? Well, for one thing, a slow cooker doesn’t heat up the house in the same way that an oven does. Plus, it is a great choice if your oven is already full.
Besides that, some people have a tiny kitchen or may not have an actual oven. So, baking in a slow cooker may be especially relevant for them. One final advantage is that you don’t have to pay as much attention to a slow cooker as you do to an oven.
But, regardless of practical reasons, you can also bake some pretty amazing food in a slow cooker. For example, I made Gooey S’more Brownies in a slow cooker and I loved how easy they were to make. Another delicious thing I made was lemon cookie bars.
In fact, slow cookers do work especially well for desserts that are a little bit gooey or messy. Cobblers are another example that seems to work exceptionally well in a slow cooker. My chocolate lava cake was a perfect example.
You can also make more traditional baking options as well, such as cakes and muffins. There is no shortage of recipes out there for achieving this.
In addition to baking desserts, you can also actually make bread in a slow cooker. This use is particularly appealing because most of us don’t have a bread maker and making bread in the oven can be difficult
Instead, a slow cooker can end up being the perfect tool for baking bread and the finished product does end up surprisingly good.
Theoretically, you can use any slow cooker for making bread, as you shape the loaf yourself rather than relying on the shape of the slow cooker. Nevertheless, a small slow cooker will limit your final product, as you might expect. Likewise, you can make fairly typical loaves of bread with an oval slow cooker, while you may be limited to round loaves in circular slow cookers.
Another thing, ovens tend to reach their highest temperatures faster, which contributes to the rounded tops of oven-baked bread. That doesn’t happen with a slow cooker, so bread tends to flatter. Slow cooker bread will also have a softer crust that doesn't brown. This is great for people who prefer soft crusts but may not be great for those who love crusty bread.
Still, if you're limited to a small kitchen or just want to experiment with an easy way to make bread, “set and forget” could be fun.
Using A Slow Cooker As A Steamer
Steaming food in a slow cooker is a surprisingly simple task. This even means that you can cook meals fairly quickly with a slow cooker.
The simplest way of achieving this is to add a layer of water into the slow cooker insert and heat that using the high setting on the slow cooker. Then you can add in your food using a heat proof dish.
A slightly more complex method is to steam your food on a rack made out of lemongrass or ginger. Doing so allows your food to take on the flavors of the rack, along with any flavors from the liquid itself.
You can also skip liquid altogether and instead place your food on ingredients that will naturally release moisture. For example, fish can be steamed by placing it on a bed of fresh chopped herbs. This can create an amazing flavor and a healthy meal.
So far, all of the alternative ways to use your slow cooker apply to pretty much any make or model. But, there are some options that are offered in specific models. Often, these features may be reason enough to pick a certain model, especially if you’re looking for a slow cooker that is a little bit more flexible.
One such option is pan frying. The best example that we found of this came from the West Bend Versatility model, which I was particularly impressed with. The slow cooker itself is designed to be light weight and easy to move – and it certainly lives up to those goals.
The slow cooker is unusual because the pan is non-stick aluminum, which isn’t typically used in slow cookers. This dramatically increases the versatility and allows you to use the pan over an open flame on the stove.
Being able to do this is great for making slow cooker meals, because it makes prep work simpler and increases your options for what you can make in the slow cooker itself.
Browning and Sautéing
A similar option that you can find in a number of different slow cookers is the ability to brown and sauté food. This is an especially appealing feature because many recipes do call for browning meat or vegetables before you start the slow cooking process. Doing so can dramatically improve the flavor of your overall meal, so it is worth the extra effort.
However, there are undeniable advantages to being able to do the browning within your slow cooker, particularly as it helps you to reduce the cleanup. Plus, this process means that all of the browned meat and juices end up as part of your final dish. It’s easy to see how that would impact the quality of your meal.
There are a number of different models that include this feature, many of which also have other interesting functions and programming options. You can find a few of them in our list of Top Five 5-6 Quart Slow Cookers Under $120.
In fact, that list is the perfect place to start if you’re looking for a slow cooker with more versatility, since many of the options include multiple functions in addition to browning and sautéing, like steaming and pressure cooking.
One other interesting option with a slow cooker is pressure cooking. In many ways, pressure cooking is the reverse of slow cooking. The process involves putting your food under a high degree of pressure, which dramatically speeds up the cooking process. This also helps to infuse the food with flavor, resulting in some amazing meals.
Now, slow cooking and pressure cooking are mutually exclusive processes, so you can’t do them at the same time. However, there are some slow cookers that have the ability to do both, providing you with much more versatility.
In many cases these will be marketed as multi-function cookers or multi-function pressure cookers. We highlight one of these in our Top Five 5-6 Quart Slow Cookers Under $120 list.
Getting a multi-function product may be a bit more expensive but if you’re looking for flexibility in the kitchen, they can be worth the cost. Additionally, this type of tool is great if you are limited in bench space because you don’t have to worry about multiple different products. This is perfect for someone who lives in a small apartment without an oven. You can slow cook one night, pressure cook the next, sauté something the next day, and steam some stuff after that. That's four nights of cooking with one device!
There are actually many more uses for a slow cooker that aren’t directly related to cooking food at all. As this site does strongly focus on food, we’re not going to go into these areas in depth but I do want to mention them.
One surprisingly common example is using a slow cooker to create your own natural air freshener. The heat of the slow cooker allows you to draw out the natural scents of various ingredients like nutmeg, lemons, vanilla and lavender. Likewise, rosewater can be easily made in a slow cooker.
You can also use your slow cooker as a humidifier by filling it with water and leaving it on high with the lid off. Just make sure you keep an eye on the water level.
A more unusual technique is to use a slow cooker to keep moist towels warm, such as for a hot compress or a face mask. Another option is using a slow cooker as a tool to make handmade products like soap, lip balm and candles.
For the most part, I wouldn’t recommend these techniques if you plan to cook food in your slow cooker as well. However, they are options and they could be viable if your wash out your slow cooker really well between uses.