Crockpottery

As in “crockpots”, not “crackpots”.

I am once again reminded of the incredible ease, efficiency, frugality, and usefulness of a chest-type freezer + crockpot combination.

S.O. caught a nasty bug, and is down for the count. Leaving yours truly to act the part of Knuckledragger. (I.E. Take care of S.O.)

Leaving one person to take care of an entire pile of rocksĀ  + primordial scrub is a LOT of work.

Here’s how we make it easier:

  1. Get a decent freezer chest. This will run you $250 – $300, new.
  2. Get a decent crockpot. This will run you about $50, new. I strongly recommend avoiding the flimsy, break-if-you-look-at-me-hard handles, especially on the lid.
  3. Pick up several rolls of masking tape (cheap at your local dollar store) and permanent markers. (I’m partial to Sharpie markers)
  4. Hit the grocery stores and local farmers markets during sales and when local (and less expensive) foods are in season.
  5. Store your produce appropriately. The freezer chest will come in handy because you can pack it with loads of meat acquired during those discount sales or Buy One Get One (BOGO) free sales.
  6. Focus on getting that meat! Veggies and fruits won’t survive long in your refrigerator. But we’re going to do a few things to fix that.
  7. Freezer-safe and microwave-safe containers for your food. You can probably get decent Rubbermaid containers at a yard, garage, or estate sale. If you do, I strongly recommend sterilizing them by dipping them in a 10% bleach solution (this means you need TAKE APPROPRIATE SAFETY PRECAUTIONS), then washing thoroughly.

OK, with me so far? Your total outlay for buying all the equipment new is going to run $350 – $450, excluding food. You can buy used and cut that price in half (or better). However, your new 5+ cubic foot freezer chest more than triples your freezer capacity. This means that you can put more food into long-term storage. So every extra food purchase you can get on sale, in bulk, or at discount will end up stockpiled for around 6 months, give or take. The additional utilities (electricity) cost is minimal. By comparison, our equipment paid for itself within 8 months.

Here’s the trick:

Buy lots of the meats when they’re on sale. Stick the meat in the freezer chest. (Budgeting and using a pricebook are a necessity for this.) Don’t fill your freezer chest past 3/4 full. Maintaining a list of what you have in stock is important.
When veggies go on sale, stock up in your refrigerator.

On the day that you buy the veggies, take enough meat out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator to fill half the crock pot. Keep doing this every day after, until you run out of veggies or frozen meat. (Or your life’s schedule requires a break.)

When the first batch of meat is thawed enough to cook in the crockpot, fill half the crockpot with meat, half with veggies, add spices, add water. Now cook the heck out of it. With a bit of planning and preparation, you can chop up your veggies and pre-measure the spices the night before, then dump the whole lot (meat, veggies, spices, water) into the crockpot in the morning (before work), and cook it on low. If you’re interested in some recipes, the Intertubes are loaded. Google is, once again, your friend.

When you come back that evening, you’ve saved time: Dinner’s already ready. After dinner, take the leftovers, put them in the freezer-safe containers, create a label describing the contents and the date it was cooked (example: Beef + Potato Stew, 09/15/2009). Then chuck it in the freezer chest. Update your freezer chest inventory. Clean out the crock pot.

Repeat the next day with more meat, veggies, and so forth until your freezer chest is full, or your S.O. and/or kids are sharpening the knives for use on you.

Now, when someone gets sick, or you don’t have time to cook, or the food prices are unreasonable (as in the dead of winter), pop your oldest frozen crockpot meal from the freezer chest and into the microwave (or back into the crock pot) for reheating and serve.

How Much Time Does It Take?

The initial setup is hard for us. We’re still working on getting the freezer chest inventory. But since S.O. is down for the count, and I’m pulling double-duty, that inventory is getting partly done. It has to – I can’t take care of S.O. and keep up the pile of rocks without it.

Initial setup also requires a number of trips to the grocery stores and farmers’ markets. But once we got rolling, and figured out what recipes work best for us, we cut our grocery store trips down to once every two weeks. Occasionally, such as with unexpected sales, we will slide another one in as part of another trip. Considering that a single grocery store trip takes an hour (including transport time) and half a gallon of gas, the time savings more than meets the extra meal preparation time.

Cooking time is another net gain. Prepping the food takes a bit extra, but the crockpot does its work while we’re doing other things. The crockpot doesn’t require constant vigilance like stove-cooked stews, soups, and meats do. It’s literally load the crockpot up, go to work and forget about it until you come home. Opening the door to the smell of well-stewed or -souped food is a delight. Especially with fresh herbs from the garden.

With S.O. in bed with an infection, I can maintain the household solo. When S.O. gets better and starts picking up the normal routine, I’m going to keep restocking our freezer chest and updating the inventory. The medium and long term benefits make it a no-brainer. Best of all S.O. will get some time freed up also: Both of us will spend less time cooking.

Bottome line: The prep time requires a little more planning and organization, but I spend less time in the kitchen. Since meal prep and cooking normally take about 45 minutes to an hour, followed by another 20 minutes of packaging and freezing the leftovers, I’m cutting out the cooking time entirely. Figure a net gain of 30 minutes per meal this way.

How Much Money Can You Save This Way?

S.O. and I are not coupon royalty — we don’t get eight pounds of ground beef for a dollar, or a truckload of pasta for free. We just hunt the sales.

Would $20/week all year long interest you? That’s an extra $1040.00 per year, more than a mortgage payment for most people.

If you really use this trick for taking lunch to work, you can save $40/week or more.

That’s an extra $160 in your monthly paycheck.

Still think buying a freezer chest + crockpot isn’t a good idea?

Full disclosure:
At the time of this writing, I am only a customer of any products or sites mentioned in this article. I have no other association (that I know of) with them.

Leave a Reply