Pork roast in a slow cooker can make for a satisfying meal that is warming, hearty and requires minimal attention. For the best results, choose a cut of pork that takes well to slow cooking at low temperatures. Browning and seasoning your meat before or during cooking gives the flavors time to penetrate the meat. Store slow-cooked pork in the fridge for several days to be reheated for a fast, homemade meal.
Choosing the Right Cut
Because of the long, slow, low-temperature cooking method, certain pork roasts are not as ideal for cooking in slow cookers. In general, choose fattier, tougher cuts with a lot of connective tissue, such as a pork shoulder. The fat keeps the meat moist during the long cooking time and the connective tissue breaks down after several hours, creating an unctuous, velvety roast.
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Leaner cuts, such as pork tenderloin, can be successfully cooked in the slow cooker, but they require a shorter cooking time and a lot of added liquid to keep them moist.
Defrosting the Roast
Frozen pork roast, no matter which cut, must be defrosted prior to cooking in a slow cooker. Safe thawing methods that follow the guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are crucial for food safety reasons.
The appropriate methods for defrosting are:
- Keep in the fridge until fully thawed;
- Submerge in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes, until thawed; and
- Defrosting in the microwave.
All three methods have their pros and cons. Thawing in the fridge is the safest method and the thawed meat can be stored for several days or refrozen if you change your mind. However, it can take up to 3 days to fully defrost a 3-pound pork roast.
A cold water bath is faster than the fridge method, but it requires changing the water every 30 minutes. It will still take between 2 to 3 hours for a 3- to 5-pound roast to fully thaw. The meat must be cooked that day and cannot be refrozen.
Microwave defrosting is the fastest method -- your roast can be thawed in a matter of minutes -- but it may lead to uneven warming. This can cause parts of your roast to become cooked rather than just thawed. Roasts defrosted in the microwave must also be cooked immediately and cannot be re-frozen.
Because the pork roast is slow roasted over several hours, it naturally absorbs the flavors of seasonings added directly to the slow cooker. However, marinating the roast before cooking can help tenderize it further, as well as add greater depth of flavor.
Use a mix of fresh and dried herbs, rubbed onto the exterior of the roast, and add only a minimal amount of acid and fat to the marinade. More seasonings can be added during the cooking process. Common flavor combinations include:
- Fresh garlic with minced thyme, oregano, rosemary, and lemon juice and zest
- Dijon mustard, brown sugar, hot sauce, and ginger and garlic powder
- Apple cider vinegar, beer, onion powder and tomato juice
Benefits of Browning
Browning the roast before slow cooking adds depth of flavor. This is because slow cookers can't caramelize the roast, as it only cooks at low temperatures.
To Brown a Roast
Heat a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pan large enough to hold the roast over high heat. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
Pat the roast dry with a paper towel and place it in the pan when the oil is smoking. Leave untouched for 2 to 5 minutes, until the outside turns a rich brown color.
Flip the roast, browning it on all sides. Remove from the pan and transfer it directly to the slow cooker.
Adding the Ingredients
Add vegetables -- or even fruit -- to the slow cooker when you add the roast, as this will add to the overall flavor of the dish.
Layering the bottom of the slow cooker with root vegetables, sliced onions, fresh herbs or even sliced fruit -- such as apples -- helps the roast cook more evenly, as it will not be directly touching the hotter part of the cooker.
Watch Your Added Liquid
Keep the amount of added liquid to your slow-cooked roast to a minimum. Vegetables, fruits and the roast itself will all exude juice during cooking. Adding too much liquid -- such as wine, stock or water -- can create a flavor imbalance.
Start with 1 to 2 cups of liquid per 3- to 5-pound roast. If the pot begins to look dry, add a small amount of extra liquid, no more than 1/4 cup at a time.
Doneness and Slow Cooking
Cook your roast until it reaches the desired degree of doneness. Tough cuts, such as pork shoulder, will be fork-tender when done, meaning the meat can be shredded easily with a fork. Leaner cuts, such as a tenderloin, will be ready when the internal temperature reads 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you are adding dairy products to your slow-cooked roast, such as cheese, yogurt or cream, wait until the roast is finished to mix them in. Adding dairy products too early can cause them to curdle because of the low temperature and long cooking time, or in contact with any added acid.
Avoid opening the slow cooker during the cooking process. Every time you do so, heat is released from the cooker, leading to uneven heating and longer cooking times.