MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A hot home-cooked meal is what most of us love to have waiting for us, but who has the time? Behold the wonders of cooking with a Crock Pot or slow cooker.

Basically you drop in your ingredients, turn it on, and in 8 to 10 hours you’ve got a meal ready to eat. WCCO got some advice from a chef on how to step up your slow-cooking game.

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“The beauty of a slow cooker is that it allows you to be cooking when you are basically not there,” said chef Jeff Woodward, who teaches cooking classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill.

Increasingly, he is working with people who’ve switched to low-carb and gluten-free diets because of health issues. He says he shows them how to cook in crock pots because it is so easy.

“Beef stew meat … could be chuck roast, brisket, bottom part of sirloin, but something that is a tougher meat that needs to cook longer to soften,” he said.

Woodward says with red meat you want the tough stuff. With chicken, avoid breasts and go for the pieces with dark meat or ideally the whole chicken. And if you really want to ramp up the flavor of any dish, take time for one extra step.

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“One of the ways you get flavor is by sautéing or caramelizing the foods before they go in. With vegetables, things like onions and carrots, it is good to sauté it and then put it in the pot, and if it is meat, brown it before it goes in.”

For his grass-fed beef stew, Woodward sautés onions, mushrooms, carrots and adds them to chicken broth, potatoes, and tomatoes in the slow cooker.  Then he flours and browns the meat and adds it in. After covering it and cooking for 8 hours, the meal is ready.

“As you can see it has some thickness to it which came from that little bit of flour, plus the potatoes breaking down,” he said.

Woodward says not everything is Crock Pot-friendly. In general, you want to avoid fish and other seafood, but if you do use it, add it towards the end of the cooking process.

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Jeff is teaching a couple of classes later this month that deal with slow cookers. One is this Sunday at Cooks of Crocus Hill in Stillwater and the other is next Tuesday at the Wedge in Minneapolis.