Savvy Cookbooks: Slow Cooker Revolution (+ Slow-Cooker Pho)

Slow Cooker Pho

Somehow, my weekends have recently become more busy and jam-packed than my weekdays. On Saturday, for instance, I spent the morning at the Farmer’s Market, the afternoon visiting wineries for my freelance job, and the evening at a game night with one of Dan’s coworkers and his wife. On Sunday, we went to brunch with friends in the morning, and then I spent the afternoon and evening turning an entire bushel of tomatoes into crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce. While batches processed in the water bath canner, I cleaned up around the house, caught up on some work, and started testing for one of my Brain Food 101 experiments.

Everything was fun, to be sure. But by the end of the night Sunday, I was in no mood to make dinner…and I didn’t have the empty counter or stove space to do so anyways. Luckily, I had been testing some recipes from Slow Cooker Revolution, from the people at America’s Test Kitchen, so I had pho all cooked and ready to go by the time dinnertime rolled around.

Last winter, when I was looking for a great slow cooker cookbook (this is the slow cooker I use), I flipped through lots of books that had the same focus on soups, stews and chilis, with the occasional meatballs or pasta dishes thrown in. But what drew me to Slow Cooker Revolution was the focus on explaining why the dishes work, and the more varied menu presented throughout.

The first few chapters focus on exactly what you’d expect: Soups, Stews, Braises and Chilis. But then, it branches out to Barbecue Favorites and More; Pasta Sauces; Meatballs, Meatloaves and More; Enchiladas, Tacos and More; Casseroles; On the Side; Eggs & Brunch; Desserts; and Basics.

Sprinkled throughout the chapters are full pages of advice on topics like choosing a good stock if you go with store-bought, using tomato products in the slow cooker, and how to keep your slow cooked chicken from drying out.

Each recipe’s headnote explains exactly why a recipe works, going into detail on what other methods or ingredients they tried before landing on this exact recipe. It makes it easier to figure out what tweaks or adjustments you might want to make.

There are also a ton of sidebars with smart shopping tips. Granted, some of them strike me as unnecessary – do we really need frozen chopped onions? Isn’t it easy to just chop a bunch at once and keep them in the fridge for later? But to each their own – if you’re really in a rush, I could see where that might come in handy.

I love that many of the recipes end with “Quick Tips” that are relevant for non-slow cooker cooking as well, like how to prepare leeks, salt-soak beans, or mince garlic to a paste.

Slow Cooker Pho 2

Unfortunately, a lot of recipes only call for 2-5 hours in the slow cooker, which may be great for weekends, but don’t necessarily appeal to the “set it before work and go” mantra that a lot of slow cooker enthusiasts abide by. When I was out of town for the Summit, Dan decided to test a slow cooker recipe, and struggled to find something that wouldn’t be done hours before he was done with his workday. He did end up making the Easy Taco Chili (page 121), though, and found it easy to follow along with the recipe…and the final chili was delicious!

So far, I’ve tested a handful of recipes from the book. Everything has been excellent, though I often choose to quickly saute the aromatics before adding them to the slow cooker, rather than microwaving them, as most of the recipes suggest. It only adds a minute or two to the prep time, and the cast iron skillet is so easy to clean anyways, that it almost seems simpler to saute them myself.

All in all, I like that the book has plenty of creative recipes and lots of tips on making better slow cooker meals. But, the fact that many of the cooking times are so short is definitely a downside. I give America Test Kitchen’s Slow Cooker Revolution….

3 out of 5 stars

Slow Cooker Pho

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 11 hours

Yield: Serves 4-6

Slow Cooker Pho

If you want to use beef broth instead of the water, cut the soy sauce and fish sauce amounts by half. Adapted from Slow Cooker Revolution


  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 3" fresh lemongrass
  • 3 whole star anise
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 pound minute steaks
  • 4 ounces rice noodles
  • Cilantro, for garnishing
  • Sliced green onions, for garnishing
  • Bean sprouts, for garnishing


  1. Warm the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and tomato paste, stirring so that the tomato paste coats the vegetables. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-6 minutes. At this point, the onions and garlic should be soft and fragrant. Scrape them into the slow cooker.
  2. Pour the water, soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar into the slow cooker, stirring a bit to mix it all together.
  3. Cut the bottom off the lemongrass, and peel off the tough outer layer. Use the flat edge of a chef's knife to "bruise" the lemongrass, pressing down in a few spots until the lemongrass is fragrant. Tie the lemongrass, star anise and cloves into a piece of cheesecloth, and add to the slow cooker.
  4. Nestle the minute steaks into the slow cooker, cover and cook on LOW for 9-11 hours, or until the meat is tender.
  5. The minute steaks may be thin enough that they fall apart on their own at this point. If not, remove the steaks to a cutting board, and allow it to cool for 5-10 minutes. Slice into bite sized pieces.
  6. Add the noodles to the slow cooker and increase the heat to HIGH. Cover and cook for 10-20 minutes, or until the noodles are tender. Return the steaks to the slow cooker and serve with the garnishes.

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  1. says

    I agree on the short cooker times – but I bought a timer plug for the socket so that the slow cooker can only switch on at, say, 2pm, then dinner is ready at 7, rather than at midday from a 7am switch-on. I’m sure the same thing must be available in the US?

    • Julie says

      That’s a really great idea! What do you do for meat containing dishes? I’d be a bit concerned about the meat sitting out on the counter for that long before the cooking starts!

  2. says

    I usually prepare the slow cooker the night before (inc meat) and put it in the fridge overnight, then just grab it out of the fridge and put in the casing before leaving the house in the morning. that way the meat stays near fridge temp all morning, with its lid on, but the bowl is starting to come to room temperature before the heating element switches on (so that the bowl doesn’t crack from sudden heat application).

    I figure it’s no worse than leaving the meat out on the counter to defrost before cooking that eve – admittedly here in the UK the kitchen temp never gets above high teens C (low 60s F) because it’s not very hot!