Do you have a crockpot that you haven’t used much? Or maybe you’d like to get one but aren’t quite sure what you can cook in it. And if you do use your crockpot, you may have just a few favorite dishes you cook in it and that’s it. Well, get it out or go buy one, because we’re going to change that! Here are some tips and suggestions for choosing recipes for your slow cooker.

1. All-Day Cooking

As you choose recipes for your slow cooker, it’s a good idea to consider how long you have to cook your food. Some foods just don’t hold up well for many hours of cooking. For example, if you’re going to be assembling everything in the slow cooker in the morning and coming home to a cooked dinner, then consider recipes that involve roasts like beef or mutton. Other foods that do well over 8-12 hours of cooking include:

* Beef and chicken stock: pile bones, meat scraps, and vegetables (for flavor) like carrot, celery, and onion into your slow cooker. Add water to cover, salt to taste, and let it cook for hours. This one’s hard to cook too long, and you can even add water and keep cooking if you aren’t ready to take the broth out and strain it yet.
* Beef roast
* Lamb or mutton
* Pork roast
* Brisket
* Dried bean dishes (using dried beans that you’ve soaked overnight)
* Round steak or other tough cuts of beef

Foods like these are pretty forgiving when it comes to long cooking times, and are pretty hard to overcook. And tougher cuts of meat will tenderize quite nicely during the long cooking time.

2. Just a Few Hours

Certainly crockpots aren’t known for their speed – they’re called slow cookers after all – but sometimes you don’t need something to be in the slow cooker for 8 to 12 hours. Sometimes, you can simply adjust the temperature; on High, foods are going to cook faster. Here are some suggestions for recipes that don’t take a full day:

* Baked potatoes: Simply rub scrubbed, pierced potatoes with butter or oil and place in the slow cooker on High for 3 to 4 hours. Other potato dishes, like scalloped potatoes, can be cooked on High for about 4 hours.

* Fish fillets can cook completely on High in 1 hour.

* Canned bean dishes

* Vegetable soups, chilis, and stews (generally, chopped vegetables cook pretty fast)

* Poultry

* Pasta, like macaroni and cheese, where you assemble the dish using pre-cooked pasta: mix 4 ounces cooked macaroni elbows with 2 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup plain yogurt, 1 cup milk, 1 egg, and half a teaspoon each of dry mustard, salt and pepper. Cook on Low for 3 hours.

* Beverages like mulled wine or cider

3. Budget

Another way to determine what recipes to use with your slow cooker is your budget. You can make some very low-cost meals in a slow cooker, because you can use ingredients like dried beans and cheap cuts of meat.

Did you get any ideas yet? I can’t wait to hear what ideas you came up with. Be sure to let me know in the comments below.