Slow Cooker Freezer Meals for Week Night Convenience!

August has arrived and before we know it, our kids will be headed back to school. Our nights will be consumed with all sorts of school activities that fill the calendar and make us long for the weekends. Add to that, we adults are just as busy with the job, commuting, transporting kids and all of the extra things we volunteer for. Who has time to cook healthy meals for the family?

Thankfully, all is not lost! A slow cooker and a vacuum packaging machine can help alleviate some of the stress and hurried meals you’re probably accustomed to during the school year. The concept basically involves placing all ingredients for a complete meal into a vacuum bag and vacuum packaging for the freezer. Then, when you’re needing a quick and simple meal, thaw a bag in your refrigerator overnight, cut open and empty into a slow cooker (such as a Crock Pot) before heading out for work. When you get home, you’ll open the door to a great smelling meal, ready to enjoy! And if you use a slow cooker liner bag, even clean up will be a breeze!

The Web is full of great recipes for slow cooker use that will work great as freezer meals. Google “slow cooker freezer meals” or “Crock Pot freezer meals” for all sorts of possibilities. Many of the sites you will find will list several recipes and shopping lists so that you can spend a day during the weekend packaging weeks worth of easy meals! Here are some of my favorite recipes for slow cooker freezer meals.

Slow Cooker Hawaiian Chicken

(serves 4-5)

3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ cup white sugar
½ cup vinegar
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbp soy sauce
½ cup of pineapple juice
½ can of pineapple chunks

Add all the ingredients to a VacMaster bag, vacuum seal, label and freeze. When ready to use, thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Before leaving for the day, empty into a slow cooker. Cook 4-5 hours on high or 6-7 hours on low. Use a timer switch in your outlet to turn on your slow cooker at the appropriate time so that your meal is ready and not over-cooked when you get home. Serve over rice. While cooking rice, shred the chicken and add back to the juice.

Peppered Steak

(serves 4-5)

1 ½ lb boneless beef round steak
2 medium onions, sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
½ teaspoon finely chopped ginger (or ¼ tsp ground ginger)
2 medium green bell peppers, cut into ¾ -inch strips
1 cup water
2 Tbp beef bouillon
3 Tbp soy sauce
2 Tbp cornstarch (do not put in the bag)
¼ cup cold water (do not put in the bag)


Cut up beef into strips (about 1 ½ inches long). Place beef, onion, garlic, peppers, ginger, water, beef bouillon, and soy sauce to a VacMaster bag. Vacuum package and label the bag. Freeze until ready to cook. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or 6-7 hours on low. Use a timer switch in your outlet to turn on your slow cooker at the appropriate time so that your meal is ready and not over-cooked when you get home. When the beef is almost cooked, whisk cornstarch and water and mix into beef mixture. If cooked on low, now increase heat to high. Cook 10 to 12 minutes or until it’s thickened. Serve over rice.

Slow Cooker Creamy Ranch Pork Chops and Potatoes

(serves 4-5)

1 1/2 lbs pork chops, boneless (about 4-6 chops, thick sliced)
6-8 medium potatoes, chopped into large pieces
2 (10.75 oz each) cans cream of chicken soup
2 (1 oz each) packages dry Ranch dressing mix
1 cup milk
Dried parsley to sprinkle on top (optional)


In a bowl, mix together the soups, milk, and ranch dressing mixes and pour into a VacMaster bag. Combine all other ingredients together in the bag. Vacuum package, label and freeze. When ready to eat, remove from freezer and thaw in the refrigerator for overnight. Cook on HIGH for 3-4 hours or LOW for 6-7 hours. Use a timer switch in your outlet to turn on your slow cooker at the appropriate time so that your meal is ready and not over-cooked when you get home. Use the extra sauce in the slow cooker as a gravy for the potatoes and the pork chops. Sprinkle with dried parsley if desired.

National Hot Dog Month – just in time for summer cookouts!

Has there ever been any food holiday with better timing than National Hotdog Month in June? School’s out, grills are being fired up and camp grounds are full of weekend outdoor chefs! Even if you’re just hanging out on your patio or deck for a few hours, it’s like a mini-vacation, bringing back all those childhood summer memories. So let’s get to cooking up some tasty hotdogs and show off your mad grill skills to your family, friends and neighbors! Here’s a few of the most creative dogs that have stood the test of time in America! Pick your favorite or try all of them!

Chicago Dog:

My personal favorite, the Chicago Dog has a long history in the Windy City. Originating on Maxwell Street in Chicago during the Great Depression, this Culinary treat was originally known as the “depression sandwich”. Because it contains so many great veggie toppings, it is often referred to as being “dragged through the garden”. Just a word to the wise though – if you’re ever in Chicago getting an authentic Chicago dog, it is in your best interest to not even mention the word catchup! To Chicagoans, this is one condiment that has no place on a hotdog and they aren’t shy about telling you so. Some hotdog joints even have signs telling visitors not to ask.

Chicago Dog

To start, a Chicago Dog must be an all-beef hotdog in natural casing that has been steamed. Some places will grill them and these are known as char-dogs. The hotdog is placed in a steamed poppy seed bun and then the fun begins! They’re topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, sliced tomatoes, a dill pickle spear, bright green sweet relish, sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. Some vendors will serve Chicago Dogs with other toppings such as lettuce, cucumbers and more traditional green relish.

If you’re making these at home, the order of toppings isn’t too important. I like to add the mustard and relish first so they tend to “hold” on to the other toppings to keep them on the dog. I then add the onions and tomatoes and wrap it all up by adding the dill pickle spear and sport peppers. The celery salt always goes on last.

Coney Dog:

Contrary to what many believe, the Coney Dog did not originate on Coney Island, New York. This chili-laden dog became popular in Michigan, especially around the Detroit area, in the early 20th century. When it comes to the toppings, there is no debate or deviations from how it was originally made: The hotdog itself is an all-beef dog in a natural casing. Add to this, an all-meat, beanless chili, diced white onions and yellow mustard. That’s it. Adding anything else is grounds for being removed from Michigan! Now in other areas, you’ll find cheese added to the fray. A Cheese Coney became popular in the Cincinnati, Ohio area and adding shredded cheese is almost always the norm there.

Coney Dog

There is only one variation with true Coney Dogs. It involves only the amount of liquid in the chili used to grace the top of the dog. “Detroit style” uses a more runny chili while the “Flint style” uses a dry chili. Remember though – neither can include beans! They’re frowned upon almost as bad in Michigan as catchup is in Chicago!

I prefer the wetter “Detroit style” Coney and like a lot of onions on mine. And don’t tell my Michigan in-laws … but when it comes to Coneys, I must have some Cincinnati influence – I enjoy a handful of shredded cheddar cheese on mine!

Slaw Dog:

Folks in the Carolinas put Cole slaw on their pulled pork sandwich so why not try it on hotdogs? Although this style is popular all across the South, it was the people of West Virginia who came up with this popular dog! It is commonly accepted that the Slaw Dog originated in Charleston, WV in the early 1930’s. Some places will include a heavily seasoned “chili” type sauce as well as the slaw.

Slaw Dog

To properly construct an authentic West Virginia Slaw Dog, slather a bit of yellow mustard on a steamed hotdog bun. Add a grilled hotdog and some diced onions, then pile on a creamy, sweet mayo-based slaw. If you prefer to add chili, do so just before adding the slaw. Adding “chili” to the Slaw Dog is referred to as an “All the Way Dog”. If you’re like many places in the South, you might enjoy the Slaw Dog with a bit more of a vinegar-based slaw instead. Either way, it’s best if the cabbage you’re using is finely chopped.

Sonoran Dog:

If you try this relatively new hotdog, be prepared for a flavor explosion! There are so many southwest style flavors on this dog, you will be amazed! No one knows for sure when this style was developed (probably in the 1950’s or 60’s) or even where it originated. Some claim it was in southern Arizona while others claim it originated in Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora, Mexico. Regardless, this style of hotdog is extremely popular in the Tucson, Arizona area. There are versions of this dog that vary with the vendor but one thing remains constant: It all starts with a hotdog that is wrapped in mesquite smoked bacon and grilled to perfection! While they had me at “bacon”, there’s so much more to a true Sonoran Dog.

Sonoran Dog

Though most Sonoran Dogs are served stuffed inside a split fresh-baked roll, you’ll find them on regular hotdog buns as well. Inside the bun, layer a spoonful of pinto beans then add the bacon-wrapped hotdog. Top this with chopped tomatoes, onions, mustard, jalapeno sauce and a touch of mayo. Other variations include adding grilled onions and jalapeno pepper slices. Sometimes you might see a touch of guacamole as well. They’re almost always served with a side grilled pepper that looks like a very light colored jalapeno.

Next to the Chicago Dog, the Sonoran Dog is one of my favorites but then again, anyone who knows my love for all things bacon would not be surprised.

VacMaster Note: If you’re headed out to a picnic or the lake, use your VacMaster to vacuum package all the tasty hotdog toppings to save time when you get there. They’ll ride safely in your cooler and make clean up a breeze when done!

Competition BBQ Season is in Full Swing – Team VacMaster is SMOKIN’!

Although you’d never know it by the weather we’ve had recently, the calendar says spring and that’s got competition barbecue teams all across the nation in action. VacMaster is proud to be a sponsor for four successful teams in different regions of the U.S. These teams are not only experiencing great success on the competition circuit but they’re also out there showing off VacMaster to other competitors and to the public out visiting the events.

Rooftop BBQ – Menefee, California

Led by pitmaster Andy Allen, Rooftop BBQ has been on fire in 2013. In only five contests thus far, their awards include 14 finishes in the top ten in chicken, ribs, pork and brisket categories and two times being named Reserve Grand Champion (2nd overall). In these four categories, the team has received a 2nd place chicken score, two 2nd place pork scores, two 2nd place briskets and a 3rd place brisket. This past weekend in the West Coast BBQ Classic in Long Beach, California, Rooftop BBQ finished 14th overall out of 54 teams competing. They are currently ranked 56th in the nation out of more than 2,000 competing teams in the Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) sanctioning body. If you’re near Boulder City, NV (May 25) or Temecula, CA (June 22), you can find Rooftop BBQ working hard in competitions and demonstrating VacMaster machines.

Rooftop BBQ displays their prizes from the Stagecoach Music Festival and BBQ in Indio, CA
Rooftop BBQ displays their prizes from the Stagecoach Music Festival and BBQ in Indio, CA

Deep South BBQ – Cumming, Georgia

Pitmaster Randall Bowman heads team Deep South BBQ and has also done quite well so far this season. In six competitions, Deep South has finished in the top ten twice, including a third place overall. They have finished in the top ten in categories seven times, including a 2nd place pork, 2nd place chicken and a 4th place pork. Bowman’s team is currently ranked 102nd out of more than 2,000 teams in KCBS. You can find Deep South BBQ in the coming weeks competing and demonstrating VacMaster equipment in Marietta, GA (May 18), Ashville, NC (June 8) and Tryon, NC on June 15.

Deep South BBQ
Deep South BBQ competes throughout the southeastern U.S.

R Butts R Smokin – Blue Springs, Missouri

Randy Robinett, one of the Kansas City Area’s many excellent pitmasters, is the head guy with R Butts R Smokin competition team. The weather has played havoc with contests around the Midwest and Randy has cooked in only four events thus far. He has, however, gotten two top ten finishes in those four contests, including a 3rd place. He has a 3rd in ribs and both a 3rd and 4th in pork. Additionally, R Butts R Smokin finished 6th overall at the Kansas city Local Sam’s Club BBQ Tour and qualified for the Sam’s Club Regional event to be held later this year in Oklahoma. Randy is also ranked 127th place in the nation (over 2,000 teams competing so far). You can see Randy and the R Butts R Smokin crew competing and demonstrating VacMaster machines at Lake of the Ozarks, MO (May 17), Mayetta, KS (June 7) and Seymour, MO (June 21).

Randy Robinett, pitmaster of R Butts R Smokin' demonstrates how the VP112 packages his competition chicken.
Randy Robinett, pitmaster of R Butts R Smokin’ demonstrates how the VP112 packages his competition chicken.

3 Men and a Babyback – Montvale, New Jersey

Headed by pitmaster Dana Reed, 3 Men and a Babyback team is just getting started for 2013, having only competed at one event (another was canceled due to Hurricane Sandy destruction from last November). In this event on Staten Island, New York, the team took 2nd place in pork and 2nd place in a people’s choice event. This team also vends barbecue and you can sample their food, see the VacMaster machines and watch them compete upcoming at the Roc City Ribfest in Rochester, NY (May 27) and at Rock, Ribs and Ridges in Vernon, NJ (June 9).

Dana Reed, pitmaster of 3 Men and a Babyback talks VacMaster with passers-by at Staten Island.
Dana Reed, pitmaster of 3 Men and a Babyback talks VacMaster with passers-by at Staten Island.

For more information about these contests and others in your area, visit the Kansas City Barbeque Society and click on “Events”. Keep in mind some events charge an entry fee, mostly due to some additional festival or event that’s going on. Also, when visiting, be respectful of the teams competing and watch but do not interfere between the hours of 10 AM and 2 PM on contest judging day (usually Saturday in most of the country; sometimes Sunday, especially in the northeast).

May is National BBQ Month

In celebration of National BBQ Month in May, I’m going to share some tips for better barbecue. We’ve gotten by the April showers and with the longer and warmer days on the horizon, May is the ideal time to get out and cook! After being cooped up indoors for many cold months, the smell of hardwood smoked meats coming from my smoker is almost hypnotizing. For me, it is relaxing to put a brisket or ribs on the cooker and hang out on the deck with some good music, a cold beer and a couple of friends, talking about baseball, summer vacations or the good food we’re smelling. Before you start your smoker, be sure to brush up on your barbecue knowledge so you’re putting out meats that knock the socks off your friends and family! We all have our favorite little tricks we use. Here are some of my favorites …


If you’re cooking white meat, brining is almost a necessity. Barbecue is low and slow, often being on a smoker for many hours. Chicken, while not requiring as long a cook, will tend to dry out, especially if it’s white meat. To combat the drying effects of heat, white meat should take a bath in brine for several hours prior to smoking. It’s sort of complicated but the salt pulls the liquids into the meat and helps it retain those liquids during cooking. Your meat will not be too salty due to brining. There are many recipes out there but there’s really no need to get too carried away. A simple salt brine with sugar mixed in to offset the saltiness is really all you need. For every gallon of water, add 3/4 cup of salt (I prefer to use Kosher salt) and 1/4 cup of sugar (you can use any but I like turbinado sugar – a brand name you might recognize is Sugar in the Raw). Some people add rosemary, garlic, onion and other seasonings to add to the flavor. I find that these are often hidden by the flavors of your rub and sauces, along with the smoked meat and are a waste. To brine, add salt and sugar to warm water in a container that will hold at least two gallons and stir until dissolved. Refrigerate it until cool. Add your chicken and keep in the refrigerator for two hours for skinless breasts, four hours for bone-in pieces, and four hours to overnight for whole chickens. Drain and pat the chicken dry before cooking. One gallon of brine is enough for approximately six pounds of whole chicken or bone-in chicken pieces, and up to ten pounds of skinless, boneless chicken breasts.


I have to start out with the fact that ribs were not meant to be boiled! Any true barbecue expert will cringe at the thought of boiling ribs prior to cooking them on the smoker. Boiling ribs comes from people who thought they were difficult to cook and could not get them tender! A purist will come unglued over boiling ribs! Ribs are simple really. One thing that will make your ribs more tender is to be sure to pull off the membrane on the back of the slab. There are many ways to do this but a table knife to start the removal and a paper towel to grasp it to pull it off are good starts. Do a Google search to find other ways. Left on, this membrane makes any bite tough to chew through. With it gone, not only do you get an easier, more tender bite, but you also get more smoke flavor as the smoke cannot penetrate the membrane from the back. And to make the ribs really tender, I use the 3-2-1 method at home: Three hours in the smoke, two hours wrapped in foil in the smoke and one hour resting in a warm cooler before serving.


Brisket may be the most difficult barbecue meat to smoke correctly and get right. Once we achieve perfect brisket, many of us refer to it as achieving “brisket nirvana”. The key, in my opinion, to a good brisket is to focus on not drying it out. I like a lot of garlic and black pepper as well as a little cayenne but reduce the amount of salt I use. And when I season a brisket, I don’t have the rubs on it any longer than three hours before cooking so that it doesn’t dry out. Beef takes smoke really well when room temperature and it will quickly get TOO much smoke. After it reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees, it stops taking most of the smoke. Therefore, letting the brisket come up to almost room temperature prior to placing in the smoker will prevent it from becoming over smoked.

These tips will help you out this spring as you fire up the cooker. For complete details on how to turn your grill into a smoker, read more here. For a list of meat and wood combinations that work well, see this. If I can be of any help, look me up on our Facebook page or email me here through our blog. And be sure to watch our Facebook page and Twitter for more barbecue tips all May during National Barbecue Month! Happy cooking to you!