To use a slow cooker, simply place the ingredients in the appliance, put on the lid and set the cooking time. To make the most of a slow cooker, choose dishes that benefit from a wet heating method, and use plenty of liquid to promote steam cooking.
While the heat settings on a slow cooker keep food out of the microbial danger zone for long periods, avoid using frozen meats or vegetables without thawing them first. Since a slow cooker by definition heats up slowly, it can leave frozen food lingering below 140 degrees Fahrenheit for an unsafe amount of time, increasing the risk of food borne illness.
While these devices are well suited to bean dishes, dried beans can contain toxins that the low temperature of a slow cooker does not destroy. Dried beans should be soaked for 12 hours and boiled for 10 minutes before being placed in a slow cooker to avoid potential problems.
Patience is a virtue when using a slow cooker. Repeatedly removing the lid to season, stir or taste can slow down cooking. Each time the lid comes off, the temperature can drop by as much as 15 degrees, and the cooking time can increase by as much as 30 minutes.