How to Slow Cook Without a Slow Cooker (Using Cast Iron Cookware)

Slow cooking is a basic culinary technique that should be in every home cook’s repertoire. Not only is it easy, it can also bring out unique flavor combinations, and make particularly tough cuts of meat tender.

Many modern kitchens rely on a specialized appliance called a crockpot to conveniently slow cook for them. And why not? Just put some vegetables, meats, herbs, and broth, and set the timer, and you’re good!

Don’t have a slow cooker? Don’t worry. You can use cast iron instead. Your cast iron cookware can create incredible slow-cooked homemade meals the old-fashioned way. 

For more valuable slow-cooking tips using cast iron cookware, continue reading.

What is Slow Cooking?

Slow cooking is a gentle, extended, low-temperature cooking technique that results in tender, flavorful dishes boasting enriched taste profiles and delightful textures. 

The electric slow cooker, commonly called a crockpot, is a favored choice for convenient slow cooking due to its ceramic or porcelain pot nestled within an electric heating element. Crockpots are designed to cook food in a modest temperature setting (typically not exceeding 100°C (212°F) for hours on end.

The prolonged breakdown of connective tissues and the gradual infusion of flavors render slow cooking ideal for dishes such as stews, soups, sauces, or tougher cuts of meat.

If you lack a crockpot—alternatives are available. Cast iron cookware emerges as a standout option, offering a versatile solution for slow cooking without a slow cooker. Let’s explore why cast iron is an exceptional substitute for electric slow cookers.

Why is Cast Iron a Great Alternative to Electric Slow Cookers?

Cast iron cookware’s remarkable heat retention abilities make it a superstar in slow cooking. When it comes to this culinary technique, maintaining a consistent and low temperature is key, and that’s precisely where cast iron shines. 

This material absorbs heat and disperses it evenly, creating a controlled environment ideal for the gentle, prolonged cooking that defines slow cooking. But here’s the bonus: cast iron isn’t confined to a single cooking method. It’s the ultimate multitasker! 

The two most common types of cast iron cookware used for slow cooking is the Dutch Oven and the Braiser. However, even the humble cast iron skillet can used for slow cooking in small quantities – you’ll just have to find a heavy lid for it.

With cast iron cookware, you can seamlessly switch between stove, oven, and even coals. This versatility gives you the freedom to choose your slow-cooking adventure. 

Want to start on the stove and finish in the oven? Cast iron’s got your back. Do you want to sear your vegetables and meats first to add more flavor to your stew? Well, it’s more convenient with cast iron as you can do it in the same pot. Feel like embracing outdoor cooking with coals? Cast iron’s there, ready to play its part. 

So, whether crafting a hearty stew or braising succulent meats, cast iron opens up a world of slow-cooking possibilities, even without a dedicated slow cooker.

Cast Iron Slow Cooking Guide

Cast iron cookware is a fantastic tool for mastering the art of slow cooking. If you’re wondering how to slow cook without a slow cooker, here’s a guide to making the most of your cast iron for this delightful culinary journey:

Choose the right pot size

The pot size should match the quantity of ingredients you’re working with. It ensures that each component receives the right heat, leading to even cooking, balanced flavors, and the desired texture. Moreover, it ensures that your guests will have plenty of grub to go through! Here is a quick size guide for Dutch Ovens, and to some extent, braisers too!

<1.0Best for side dishes or individual plating
1.0 – 2.01 – 2 people
3.0 – 4.02 – 4 people
5.0 – 6.04 – 6 people
7.0 – 8.06 – 8 people
9.0 – 12.0+8+ people

Lower temperature settings

Whether using the stove, oven, or coals, maintain a low-temperature setting throughout the slow cooking process. This gentle heat ensures that your dish simmers perfectly without rushing the flavors. At most, aim for a simmer, not a boil. 

Avoid enameled cast iron over coals

If you’re slow cooking over coals, it’s best to avoid enameled Dutch Ovens. Direct exposure to high heat from coals could damage the enamel, so stick to plain cast iron for coal-based slow cooking. A Camp Dutch Oven should do the trick. It also has a special lid designed to hold coals over the top, ensuring even heating around the pot.

”Brown” your ingredients first

Searing or sautéing ingredients before slow cooking enhances flavor and texture. This step adds complexity to taste and introduces textural contrast. While it demands extra effort, the resulting richness is well worth it. For an easier time, you can roast the ingredients on the same pot (but uncovered) in the oven.

Layer ingredients strategically

Arranging ingredients with longer cooking times at the bottom of the pot ensures uniform cooking and consistent tenderness. By positioning these ingredients closer to the heat source, you give them ample time to break down and infuse their flavors into the dish. In general, place root crops near the bottom, while meat should go on the top.

Use moderate oils and liquids

While some oils and liquids are required to get the ingredients going, try not to use too much as it can lead to flavors becoming diluted. You also have to take into account that fats from the meat will be rendered down eventually, and that the moisture from your vegetables will be drawn out to the stew. By exercising restraint and adding enough liquids to cover the ingredients, you can ensure that your dish remains flavorful and concentrated. 

Keep it covered

As the dish simmers away, the lid acts as a guardian of flavors, ensuring that steam and moisture are trapped within the pot. This controlled environment not only prevents excessive evaporation but also fosters a harmonious mingling of flavors as they infuse into every ingredient. 

The Slow Cooker’s Partner

Discover the benefits of using your cast iron pot for slow cooking. You can create delicious dishes with rich flavors and tender textures, such as stews, braises, and one-pot meals, that will delight your taste buds.

To learn more about cast iron cookware, check out Cult of Cast Iron. We have many guides and blog posts to satisfy your cast iron curiosity. 

Join the Cult of Cast Iron today and explore the world of possibilities that cast iron offers!

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