Crock Pots are a huge help in the kitchen. They make meal prep a cinch and give a wonderful aroma as the meal cooks, almost by itself. But be sure to avoid these slow cooker mistakes. If you open the lid, fill pot too full or add ingredients in the wrong order, you may end up with a mess instead of a great tasting meal.
The slow cooker, or crock pot, is certainly one of the most popular kitchen utensils. Who doesn’t like the idea of dumping in a bunch of ingredients, turning it on and leaving it to cook while you tend to other things? I love using my slow cooker, and I’m always adding new crock pot recipes to my collection. There are a few things to keep in mind, though, when cooking with a slow cooker.
I love my slow cooker and use it year round. The food makes my house smell good while it is cooking, and I love to prepare early in the day and then get on with other things, even though I am normally home all day long.Be sure you are not making one of these slow cooker mistakes to get the best out of your crockpot. I ♥ #crockpotrecipes. Click To Tweet
Are You making one of these Slow Cooker Mistakes?
Are you a cook who doesn’t use the crock pot correctly and ends up with results that show this? It might be because you are making one of these common slow cooker mistakes.
While the slow cooker can make meal planning a cinch, there are still some rules to follow to get best results and many people make at least one of these slow cooker mistakes as they are getting used to using it. Just be sure you don’t make these crock pot errors and you will love to use your slow cooker as much as I do.
1. Don’t raise the lid.
This tip is at the top of my list of slow cooker mistakes for a reason. It’s the most important one!
Don’t raise the lid. I’m not kidding. Not for a peek. Not “just to see how it is cooking.” Instead, follow the directions carefully. It will tell you when to open the lid to add other ingredients. Often, the lid is kept on during the whole cooking process.
The reason for this is that a crock pot is designed to cook food over a long period of time at an evenly low temperature. Taking the lid off even for a few seconds means that the crock pot will lose the heat it has built up. The only exception is when you add food at the very end which needs a short cooking time (dairy and fresh herbs fall into this category.)
2. Be sure to use the correct cut of meat.
A crock pot will save you lots of money by allowing you to cook cheaper, and less tender cuts of meat that get amazingly tender. Save the more expensive cuts like round steak, sirloin and other more tender cuts of meat for the grill or stove top. Why waste money when the aim is to get tender results from cheaper cuts? Inexpensive cuts will cook beautifully and won’t fall apart like cuts that are already tender.
Also make sure to trim some of the fat. Fat in the crock pot will rise to the top during the cooking process. If you don’t trim the meat before you start, you’ll end up with a greasy and oily pool of liquid at the top, or a watered down sauce at the end of the cooking time.
If you do use a leaner cut of meat, be sure that it is submerged in your cooking liquid so that it doesn’t dry out while it cooks. Good choices are flank steak, chuck roast, short ribs, beef stewing meat, lamb shanks, chicken thighs, and pork shoulders. They will become fork tender as they cook in the crock pot.
3. Don’t use raw meat.
For me, one of the biggest slow cooker mistakes is to use raw meat in the cooker. Can you do it? Yes of course. Will the meal taste as good? No way!
Browning the meat in a skillet on the stove top caramelizes the flavor and seals in the juices. Adding raw meat to the slow cooker will work, but the meat just won’t have the same flavor. Sear the meat before you add it to the slow cooker. (I often coat the meat in flour before I sear it. Doing this also has the benefit of thickening the sauce without adding extra flour or cornstarch later. This recipe for slow cooker pot roast shows how to do this step.
Just a quick sear is all you need. You don’t want to cook the meat, you just want it to get brown before you add it to the crock pot. A couple of minutes on each side will work just fine.
4. Using way too much alcohol is a problem.
When you add wine and other alcoholic spirits to a pan on the stove top, they will reduce in volume and the flavor is captured in the pan. (See how to do this for a chicken and mushrooms in a red wine sauce.)
In the crock pot, this reduction does not happen, so the end result would end up with a sauce that is too much like raw alcohol, which is not what you want in a recipe. Use broth instead, or reduce the amount of wine used in the recipe.
Another way to get the great wine flavor is to reduce it on the stove top first. You can do this right after you sear the meat to make use of the bits in the pan! After the liquid is reduced, you can then add it to the crock pot.
5. Don’t use chicken with skin.
Skin your chicken before you add it. That is, unless you like the taste of rubbery, tough chicken skin. Chicken skin will not “simmer to a crisp” in the crock pot any more than it would on the stove top over a low heat. The fat of the chicken skin will also make the sauces oily.
If you brown the chicken first, this is not so much of a problem, but generally I remove the skin of any chicken pieces that I cook in the slow cooker. (See my recipe for chicken pot pie in a crock pot using skinless chicken thighs. It’s so yummy!)
A note on chicken bones
The bones of chicken could become very soft and break down if the recipe is cooked for too long a time. This could be a potential choking hazard. AThe solution to this is to remove the chicken half way through and remove the bones and add it back. You’ll get the great flavor that the bones give to a recipe without worrying about them being a health hazard.
Bones of other meats in a crock pot recipe are not a problem and will make the meat more tender and flavorful.
6. Don’t be too hasty with fresh herbs.
One of the most common slow cooker mistakes is to add fresh herbs too early in the cooking process. Fresh herbs have a very delicate flavor and will simply get lost if you add them too soon. Save them for the final half hour and you will get their burst of flavor through the dish. You will also keep more color in the herbs by adding them last.
Add the fresh herbs with other ingredients that need less cooking time so you don’t have to open the lid more than once. Dried herbs can be added in the first stages of cooking time, but add a pinch or too more of dried herbs that you would for a normal stove top recipe.Don't lift the lid, don't over fill the pot and don't forget to layer your food. Are you making crock pot blunders? Check out these slow cooker mistakes. Click To Tweet
Don’t Make these Crock Pot Errors!
7. Don’t forget to layer properly.
The bottom of the crock pot should be used for foods that take the longest time to cook, such as root vegetables. Doing this insures that the food layers cook evenly with everything being done at the same time. (See my recipe for slow cooker beef stew with root vegetables here.
Adding the meat over the top of the vegetables also ensures that the juices from the meat will drip down and flavor them, as well as adding taste to any liquid that may lie below the meat. This is what gives you those great tasting crock pot sauces!
8. Don’t over cook.
Just because a crock pot will let you cook something for 10 -11 hours, does not mean you should cook it that long. Invest in a crock pot with a timer (affiliate link) if your recipes will be done in just four hours. The house will still smell great when you come home and the food will taste great too, and not be over cooked and dull tasting with a lack luster flavor.
I have a slow cooker recipe for mulled spiced wine that requires just two hours in the crock pot. Can you imagine what it would taste like if I let it cook all day long?
Long slow cooking for hours and hours should be saved for those very tough cuts of meat that need this extra time.
9. Don’t add dairy products too soon.
If you add dairy products early on in the cooking time, they may curdle and spoil the whole dish. It’s best to wait until the last half hour or so of the cooking time to add them to the slow cooker.
This goes for dairy products like milk, sour cream and yogurt (as well as coconut milk and evaporated milk). Cheese is an exception. Many slow cooker recipe that include cheese ask for it to be added in the first stages of cooking.
10. Don’t get confused by cooking times and settings.
Number 10 in my list of slow cooker mistakes has to do with the way a recipe is written, so I can’t blame you for making this mistake.
Many crock pot recipes will say something like this: Cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours. This is done more to accommodate a cook’s schedule more than the taste of the meal.
However, the two results won’t be the same. The appliance is called a slow cooker for a reason. It is meant to extract lots of subtle flavors after a long slow cooking time. Just because it can cut a cooking time in half doesn’t mean that this is a good idea.
Experimentation is the best answer here. If a recipe gives both settings, and you will be cooking it more than one time, try it both ways and see which ones does the best job for you. (I can almost guarantee that you’ll enjoy the taste of the version with the low setting better!)
Also, many recipes call for low for the first part of the recipe and high for the last part. This is done for a reason – get the most of the tenderizing slow cooking and speed up the process towards the end for the less dense ingredients.
11. Don’t forget to cover the meat, too.
A question that I often get from readers is “does the meat have to be submerged in a slow cooker?” There is no hard and fast rule, but generally the answer is yes.
A crock pot works best when all of the ingredients are at least partly submerged, so that the food cooks evenly. You CAN put a big cut on meat on the top of the vegetables without any liquid, but it won’t cook as well that has at least some liquid added. Even just some crushed tomatoes with juice will help the meat.
Crock pot recipes almost always call for a significant amount of liquid of some type. Place your veggies first, add the meat and then pour the liquids over the top.. The meat will tenderize without drying out and the tougher vegetables surrounded by liquids will be fork tender and flavorsome.
Can you add too much liquid to the slow cooker?
Be careful of adding too much liquid to the slow cooker. If you do, the food will get very hot and let off a LOT of steam. When this steam hits the lid, the condensation will drip back into the pot and you’ll end up with a watery mess. If you are adapting a stove top recipe for the slow cooker, it’s a good idea to add about half the amount of liquid.
12. Don’t fill the crock pot too full.
Are you guilty of filling the slow cooker too full? The ingredients in a crock pot need some room above them and below the lid to ensure that they simmer slowly and not steam. For most recipes,(like this crock pot jambalaya) this means filling the slow cooker 2/3 full.
This means thinking ahead when you purchase a crock pot. Crock pots come in many sizes from 3 1/2 quarts to big 8 quart models. How many people will you be feeding? If you have a large family, a really big crock pot may seem like over kill when you look at it but when you account for the extra room, it will be just right.
How full should a slow cooker be? Err on the side of “less is more” when you add food to the slow cooker. If you overfill a slow cooker and add food right to the top, not only will the cooking time be longer, but the results will not be as flavorsome.
13. Don’t believe that you can cook everything in the crock pot.
Sure, you will find recipes for crock pot peanut brittle and crock pot pasta this and that. But don’t you want peanut “brittle” and pasta al dente (not mushy)? Some things are just better made on the stove top.
Certain foods and vegetables cook very quickly anyway. Adding them to a crock pot is not the way to go. Salmon and asparagus are a lovely combination in a recipe, but cooking them in a slow cooker would give you a watery mess that no one will want to eat. Now the turnip in the photo above is another story. That guy LOVES the crock pot.
14. Don’t use a crock pot to reheat food.
First of all, you will want to be safe, and secondly, why? The microwave reheats in minutes and a crock pot is meant for long slow cooking. A crock pot is not meant to do everything, folks.
If you read the instructions that come with your crock pot, it will tell you not to use it for reheating food. The reason is that food takes a long time to get to a safe temperature and the low setting for a short period could allow harmful bacteria to build up. This means no taking a filled crock pot to a pot luck dinner and turning it on for just 15 minutes when you arrive!
15. There is a way to use the crock pot to reheat food.
Most crock pots made today have removable stoneware liners. These liners are normally oven safe to about 400 º F. If you cook in the slow cooker often, you will know that the meals are often better on the second day. Put that liner to good use by reheating the whole thing in the oven and you will know that the food is perfectly safe.
16. Don’t under fill the crock pot.
The last of my slow cooker mistakes tips comes from a reader of my blog – Robyn. She suggests that you also don’t want to under-fill your crock pot. If it’s less than 1\2 full while you are cooking, there’s a good chance your meal will burn by the end of the cooking time especially if the liquids cook down too much.
Sizes of Crock Pots
I get questions from readers that ask me “is my 6 quart slow cooker too big?” Once again, this is hard to answer so I usually ask a question back of them “How many people do you normally cook for?” If you cut down a recipe meant for 6 to feed two people, but still cook\ it in a 6 quart crock pot, Then yes, it’s probably too big and the meal will likely burn. Using a smaller size will solve that problem.
Even though I use a large crock pot, a smaller crock pots like this one from Proctor Silex are great for making meals for just two or three people, when you don’t want a huge amount of food cooked. (affiliate link) They are also great for serving hot dips at parties! Why not keep one pot for normal cooking and have a smaller one to use for smaller tasks?
Can you think of some other slow cooker mistakes that you would like to share? Please leave your comments below! We’d love to hear from you.
Admin note: This post first appeared on my blog in January of 2015. I have updated the post to add new photos and a additional crock pot errors that many people make when using a slow cooker.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."