Crockpots tend to fall into the same category as KitchenAids and Vitamixes: They have a dedicated cult following of users who swear they're the ultimate cook's sidekick. If you've bought a crockpot and wondered what all the fuss is about, chances are that you're only using it for a fraction of its potential.
Beyond perfectly braising meats and slow cooking stews, crockpots have a ton of other functions. Top chefs are even hooked—cookbook author Sarah DiGregorio told us that award-winning chef Grant Achatz uses the device for everything from steaming fish to making British puddings. Who knew?
Soups and stews are just the start: Here are seven ways to use your crockpot to its full potential.
Triple Chocolate Brownies
The Recipe: You'll want to bookmark Martha Stewart's Slow Cooker Triple Chocolate Brownies—over 400 home cooks have given the recipe glowing reviews. It's a bonus for those who live in a small apartment and don't want to invest in baking accessories. Just toss the ingredients in your crockpot and set the timer.
Time to Cook: The recipe takes four hours to cook, so it might be ideal when you're expecting guests and need a sweet treat. Turn the crockpot on in the morning, and they'll be greeted by the smell of warm brownies when they arrive.
Mac and Cheese
The Recipe: If you prefer mac and cheese to be gooey with a custard-like consistency, Fake Ginger's recipe creation is spot-on.
Time to Cook: It takes two to three hours to cook. "This is a weird slow cooker recipe because it's not designed to cook all day long, so it wouldn't be good to do on a workday," says founder Amanda. "But if you're cooking for a crowd and need to free up space on the stove, this is perfect!"
The Recipe: "I've long been a fan of making my favorite Extra-Bold Chex Mix recipe in the microwave, but this crock-pot method seemed too tempting not to try," says Ali Martin of Gimme Some Oven, who found out about this recipe by word of mouth. "So I pulled out my slow cooker and decided to make a test batch." This recipe calls for Chex cereal, pretzels, peanuts, and Cheerios to be combined in a slow cooker, drizzled with topping, and set on high for three hours.
Time to Cook: It takes three hours and 10 minutes to cook this dish. It's ideal "if you happen to be hanging near the kitchen for a few hours—when you're cooking another meal or having people over for a party or to watch the big game," she says.
The Recipe: Crockpots can do more than cook food—they're also ideal for simmering warm drinks to bring out the flavor. Master this Slow Cooker Apple Cider in time for winter.
Time to Cook: Cook on high heat for up to four hours or low heat for six to eight hours. "You can also transfer the cider to a heat-safe sealed container and refrigerate for up to five days," notes Martin. "Just rewarm the cider to serve."
Three Cheese Mashed Potatoes
The Recipe: Tieghan Gerard of Half Baked Harvest says this Three-Cheese Mashed Potato recipe takes "crockpot cooking to a whole new level." An easy Thanksgiving side, she says it's basically foolproof. "Not only does it free up space on the stove, but there's no boiling the potatoes and so much less cleanup and the crockpot will keep your mashers warm until ready to eat, meaning no reheating necessary." Genius, right?
Time to Cook: Allow five hours to cook this dish to perfection.
5-Ingredient Chocolate Bars
The Recipe: Apparently, this chocolate bar recipe is "as easy as it gets," says Gerard. "These are not only great as a homemade candy bar for your Halloween festivities, but they would be perfect as holiday treats and homemade gifts as well!"
Time to Cook: It takes just five minutes to prep this minimal-effort recipe and three hours to cook.
The Recipe: Chowhound's Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oats is made for people who skip breakfast. "Before bed, coat the inside of the cooker with butter to keep the oatmeal from sticking, and then add the oats, water, coconut or whole milk, and brown sugar. Stir it together, set the cooker to low, and wake up to a hot breakfast." It's that easy.
Time to Cook: It takes seven to eight hours to cook, so it's perfectly synced to your sleep schedule.
Convinced you need a crockpot? People are obsessed with this seven-in-one device.