I almost gave up on my crockpot a few years ago. I had cooked a roast that, after several hours of cooking, turned out to be a sort of grayish green. Who wants to eat grayish green meat? Not this girl. So I put the slow cooker away with some disgust and didn’t drag it out again until I heard a the Splendid Table podcast interview with the Kitchn’s Faith Durand, who described the crockpot as a kind of sous chef.
She recommended using a crockpot to make oatmeal, veggie stock, or collard greens and also recommended it for cooking down down fruit like apples. After a visit to our local orchard, I decided to make All Night Apple Butter. It turned out to be just the thing for fall. Even after I put some of it away, and the boys spread it on toast and waffles, I had plenty left over.
A rainy day last weekend, some chicken thighs I bought on sale – 9 bone-in chicken thighs for $4.80 – and the leftover apple butter inspired this classic slow cooker apple butter BBQ chicken. The sweetness of the apple butter is perfectly balanced by mustard, hot sauce, and smoked paprika. For my Paleo readers, use a no-sugar added apple butter like this one sweetened by figs from PaleOMG.
A few tips for successfully cooking meat or poultry in a slow cooker:
- Take your time and set the heat to low.
- Don’t use too much liquid. I think this what happened to my sad grey-green roast – it was overcooked and kind of parboiled. Not good.
- Leave the lid on. Every time you take it off the heat escapes and you’ll need to add cook time.
About the photographs
Photographing food prepared in a slow cooker can be tricky because while it might be tasty, it usually isn’t the prettiest. The first thing I did to style this photo was to take the chicken out of the crockpot and put it into a pretty vintage bowl. The chicken was super tender and falling apart (yum! but oh no!) – some of the less attractive pieces are propping up ones that kept their shape well and were nicely broiled. The BBQ sauce wasn’t spread evenly across the chicken, so I brushed on some extra. Then I poured the rest of the sauce into a little salad dressing pitcher for serving, which I placed behind the bowl in the shot.
I took these photos with my Nikon D80, using a 28mm f2.8 NIKKOR wide angle lens. I used a Lowell Ego tabletop light like this one, positioned to the right and slightly to rear of the food. My ISO was set at 640 and the shutter speed was 320. In the shot at the top of the page the aperture was set at 2.8 and in the one just below it, the aperture is set at 3.5.
I have been experimenting with shadow for a few weeks. You can’t see them, but I’m using two black foam boards – one on the left and one behind the food – to absorb light. I have lots to learn, but I like the way the light catches on the bowl and particularly on the barbecue sauce, with everything else fading into the background.
- 3½ lbs bone-in chicken thighs (about 10)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 2 cups homemade or prepared apple butter*
- 2 Tablespoon mustard
- 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon sriracha
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- Preheat the broiler in the oven and place the top rack 4-5 inches from the heat. Place the chicken on an aluminum-foil lined baking sheet. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with salt and pepper. Broil the chicken for 4 minutes until top is lightly browned. Transfer the chicken to a large slow cooker.
- In a small bowl, combine the apple butter, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Sriracha sauce and smoked paprika. Pour over chicken; stir to coat.
- Cover the crockpot and cook on low for 8-9 hours, until chicken is fork tender.