Surprising uses for your crockpot

All hail the mighty crockpot! This handy and affordable kitchen apparatus is a multi-functional, culinary superstar, and a cinch to clean to boot. There is so much more to a crockpot than just chilis and stews, however. In fact, you might be downright surprised by everything your crockpot can do for you.

Make three-ingredient party meatballs

Looking for a super-simple party food that has a huge wow factor? These delicious sweet and sour meatballs are as easy as a quick trip to the supermarket. All you need are three ingredients: a large bag of your favorite frozen meatballs, a jar of chili sauce, and a jar of grape jelly. The jelly might sound weird, but trust us on this one. Dump it all inside the slow-cooker, and cook for 2-3 hours on high heat (or 4-5 hours on low) and you'll be the hit of the party. Don't worry, no one will divulge your three-ingredient secret!

Hot drinks

Any of your favorite hot drink recipes will do well in a crockpot, and will make your house smell absolutely dreamy as the scent of spices waft through the air. When making a drink that contains alcohol, don't pour the alcoholic ingredients directly into your crockpot. Your best bet is to add the alcohol to your drinking glass, and then ladle in your hot beverage. This is because the heat of the crockpot, while low, could potentially cook off some — or worse, all — of the alcohol if simmered for a long period of time.

Cook a whole chicken

Dollar for dollar, purchasing a whole chicken is one of the best values for feeding a hungry family, and nothing could be easier than cooking up that bird in your faithful crockpot. Spray a bit of non-stick spray in the base of your slow-cooker (or use a plastic liner), lay the chicken inside, and cover with salt and your favorite spices. No additional liquid is required! Set the crockpot to low for 7 or 8 hours, and you will be left with a scrumptious, falling-off-the-bone chicken with meat that is perfect as is, or for use in your favorite shredded chicken-centric recipe.

When dinner is over, add the bones back to the crockpot, along with a few cups of water and some veggies like onions and carrots. Set the crockpot to low overnight, and you will wake up to homemade chicken stock that you can use right away, or store for later use in your freezer.

Cook dried beans

Economical, super-nutritious, and incredibly versatile, beans are the star-ingredient for dishes throughout the world. While readily available in cans, it's hard to beat the taste, texture and wallet-friendliness of dried beans. Dried beans typically require a long overnight soak before cooking, but a crockpot can eliminate that need. Add dried beans to your slow-cooker, cover with about two inches of water (be sure not to add any salt, which can toughen the beans,) and set the crockpot to high for 5-6 hours. Check the beans for doneness, and lengthen the cooking time until the beans are tender.

It is important to note: caution should be used when preparing red kidney beans, which contain a toxin that requires pre-soaking and boiling to remove.

Keep mashed potatoes warm

Traditional mashed potatoes, while delicious and easy, can only be kept around for so long before they turn into a congealed, unappetizing mess. If you're interested in making your mashed potatoes before your dinner guests arrive, consider keeping them in your crockpot, set to warm. Keep some additional cream or broth set to the side, stirring a bit in every half-hour or so before you are ready to serve. Your mashed potatoes will be as creamy and luscious as when you first made them.

Bake a cake

It may shock you to know that a crockpot can be used for baking desserts! Grab your favorite homemade recipe or store-bought mix, prepare according to directions, and pour into a crockpot insert sprayed with non-stick spray. Set the slow-cooker to high for 4 hours, or low for 6 to 8 hours. When done cooking, turn your crockpot off, and allow your cake to cool inside for about an hour before attempting to remove. Frost, and enjoy!

Cook baked potatoes

Looking for a fantastic and easy way to have baked potatoes ready for when you come home from work? Simply wash your potatoes, pierce with a fork, rub them with a bit of cooking oil and salt, and wrap them individually in foil before adding them to your crockpot. No liquid required! Set the slow-cooker to low for 6-8 hours, and walk away. All you need now are your favorite baked potato toppings.

Make lasagna

That's right, the granddaddy of all baked pasta dishes can be made right there in your trusty slow-cooker. The key to making a crockpot lasagna is making sure a layer of sauce, either with or without meat, is the first layer you start with in your crockpot insert. Then, top with layers of your favorite cheeses, and no-bake lasagna noodles (broken down to fit if necessary). Cover the crockpot, and cook on low for 5 or 6 hours, until noodles are tender. The easiest lasagna ever is now yours to munch!