Slow cookers are a boon for busy chefs who like to prepare a meal in the morning and have it braise or stew all day, but the devices are bulky, and not everyone has one. That doesn't mean a long-cooked meal is off the menu, though. You can use a Dutch oven and the oven to duplicate the process. Dutch ovens are often easier to use as you can sear the vegetables and meat in the same pan in which you're going to long cook, reducing clean-up. Before plug-in, countertop devices, a Dutch oven was the only way to produce these meals.
Generally, a meal that's to be cooked on low in a slow cooker needs about as half as long at 325 degrees Fahrenheit in the oven. If the recipe calls for a high setting, it'll take about a quarter as long in the oven. So, for example, if you have a recipe that calls for 12 hours of cooking on low in a slow cooker, it'll take about 6 hours in the oven. If your oven holds a temperature of about 200 degrees, the cooking times with a slow cooker need no conversion.
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Braising in a slow cooker or the oven isn't an exact science either. Different types and cuts of meat do require slightly altered conversions.
- Chicken: 2 hours in a slow cooker is equal to 1 or 1 1/2 hours in a Dutch oven.
- Stew meat: Cook it in an oven for about as long a you would in a slow cooker. Stew meat is usually heavy in connective tissue and benefits from long cooking times.
- Whole shanks or large cuts of meat (such as pork butts or beef brisket): Need 4 hours or more in a slow cooker on high, but will take more like 3 hours in a Dutch oven.
- Beans: Dried beans must be soaked overnight to start the softening process. Then they need 2 to 3 hours in a high-temperature slow cooker or 1 to 2 hours in a Dutch oven.
Keep in mind that when cooked in an Dutch oven, the liquid in a braise or stew evaporates more quickly and may result in a drier dish. Check it every hour or two to ensure the liquid doesn't evaporate completely. Before converting a slow-cooker recipe to a Dutch oven, make sure you have a comparably sized Dutch oven or you'll need to adjust the ingredient amounts.