Lots of people love their slow cookers. Just as many folks don't. We tend to be in the latter group. Not because we don't appreciate the dump-and-go convenience. And we certainly enjoy being greeted at the end of the day by delicious smells before we've even taken off our coats.
Our objections come down to taste and texture. Too many slow cooker recipes taste just like every other slow cooker recipe, no matter what the ingredients. And after bubbling away for so many hours, most recipes end up with that just-shy-of-mush texture. No thanks.
So we decided to see whether we could come up with a stack of slow cooker recipes that didn't sacrifice ease but satisfied our need for variety. Our inspiration? Barbecue pulled pork and chicken.
The process is simple. You start with either boneless, skinless chicken thighs or country-style pork ribs or rib chops. Throw them in the slow cooker with a handful of aromatics and a flavorful liquid. Put your cooker on low and head off to work. When you get home from work, you'll have a tender meat ready to shred and turn into an easy dinner.
No time for a slow cooker? Combine all the ingredients plus an extra 1/2 cup of liquid in a large saucepan. Simmer, covered, for 1 hour, then proceed with the recipe.
Simple Crock Pot Shredded Meat
• 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
• 1 cup white wine, low-sodium chicken broth or apple cider
• 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or country-style pork ribs or rib chops
• 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
• 2 bay leaves
• 1 tablespoon Italian herb mix
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
In a 4-quart slow cooker, combine the onion, liquid of choice, meat of choice, peppercorns, bay leaves, Italian herbs and salt. Cover and set to cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or on high for 4 to 5 hours. The meat is ready when it is fork tender and falls apart easily. Remove and discard the peppercorns and bay leaves. Shred the meat using 2 forks, discarding any fat or bones.
Use the meat in one of the following dinner ideas:
- Quesadillas: Drain any extra liquid from the meat. Spread over large tortillas, sprinkle with shredded cheese, black olives, scallions and diced jalapenos. Top each with another tortilla. Toast on both sides in a dry skillet. Cut into wedges and serve with sour cream and salsa.
- Sloppy Joes: Mix in 1 cup barbecue sauce, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and 2 tablespoons brown sugar. Serve on bulky rolls.
- Coconut curry: Stir in 1 can of coconut milk, 2 cups chopped cooked vegetables (such as broccoli and roasted red peppers) and 2 tablespoons red curry paste. Serve over rice.
- Upside down cottage pie: Whisk together 1/2 cup half-and-half with 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Drain the liquid from the meat into a saucepan. Stir the half-and-half mixture into the meat liquid and cook over medium heat, stirring continuously, until it simmers and thickens. Stir in 1 1/2 cups thawed corn kernels and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme. Stir together with the shredded meat and serve over mashed potatoes.
- Pesto pizza: Stir 1 cup purchased pesto into the shredded meat. Spread over 2 prepared pizza crusts. Sprinkle each with grated Parmesan cheese, then top with slices of fresh mozzarella and sliced roasted red peppers. Bake at 450 F until golden and melted, about 20 minutes.
- Marmalade nachos: Drain the meat and stir in 1/2 cup orange marmalade, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes and 1 tablespoon cider vinegar. Spread over tortilla chips. Top with sliced scallions, sliced Peppadew peppers or pickled jalapeno peppers, and shredded cheese. Heat in a 350 F oven just until the cheese is melted.
- Picatta pasta: Add the meat to a pound of pasta, cooked according to package instructions. Stir in 1/4 cup capers and the zest and juice of 1 lemon. Serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese.
- Greek pitas: Drain the meat and mix with the zest of 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano and 2 minced cloves of garlic. Combine 1 peeled, diced and seeded cucumber with 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt and 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese. Serve in pita pockets with chopped fresh tomato.
- Sesame noodles: Cook an 8-ounce package of udon or soba noodles according to package directions. Whisk together 2 tablespoons honey, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil and a splash of hot sauce. Toss with the meat, 1 thinly sliced red bell pepper, 1 thinly sliced bunch scallions and the noodles. Top with 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds.
- Lemon-ginger barley soup: Add 1 quart low-sodium chicken broth, 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger, the zest and juice of 1 lemon, and 3/4 cup quick-cooking barley to a large saucepan. Cook for 10 minutes, then add the meat and its cooking liquid. Season with salt and pepper.