First of all let me try and ease the anger of those people who think that any association of barbecue with a slow cooker is the work of the devil. I fully agree that true barbecue requires a fire, smoke, and lots of time. However, modern convenience has brought the world an appliance that cooks low and slow, and though there is no fire, it still produces tender meat. Whether this is real barbecue or not, I'll leave that up to you.
But before you fly off the handle remember that many people, for whatever reason, just can't go out back and smoke up some meat.
While slow cookers (like Rival's Crock-Pot) can do the low and slow part of barbecue, you will not get the authentic flavor of the dry heat and smoke that a backyard smoker will provide. That doesn't mean you can't have great food from a slow cooker. To make meats tender, especially meats like pork roasts, brisket, or ribs you want plenty of cooking time. Slow cooking for 8 hours will generally do the trick, but you will need to make sure that it is fork tender before you take it out of the slow cooker.
Many people attempt to add that smoke flavor to their Crock-Pot barbecue by adding liquid smoke. I'm not going to tell you what to do, but in case, you're interested I don't use the stuff myself. Liquid smoke is a product made from water, natural hickory smoke flavor, vinegar, molasses, caramel color, and natural flavoring.
It adds a smoky flavor to foods and can be used in lots of dishes. Many commercial barbecue sauces (especially the big brand names) have liquid smoke in them. How natural hickory smoke flavor is made is a mystery to me.
An alternative to adding liquid smoke is to add foods that contain a smoky flavor.
One of my favorite alternatives is smoky paprika. Made from smoked and dried peppers, paprika adds a smoky flavor to foods that are mild and delicious. You can also buy a number of smoked chilies and peppers, like chipotle peppers.
Slow cooker barbecue is a very easy process. You can literally throw in your meat of choice, add barbecue sauce, and let it cook all day long. You can also take more extravagant measures. If your meat of choice is fatty then you will probably want to cook it first on a low temperature setting with just a hint of seasoning to liquefy most of the fat. Pour this excess fat off before you add any sauce or other ingredients.
When slow cooking meat for sandwiches, like pulled pork or barbecue beef, start with medium sized chunks of meat. This reduces the cooking time but makes the meat easier to shred. It's my opinion that shredded meat is better than chopped because it has a better texture.
If you haven't been introduced to the real flavor of true barbecue this is a good place to start. If you catch the bug then come back and I'll show you how to make real barbecue that has a flavor you just can't beat. In the meantime, you can check out my Slow Cooker Barbecue Recipes to get ideas of what you can make.
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