Slow Cooker Mistakes – 15 Crock Pot Blunders and Solutions

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.

A crock pot is a great kitchen tool, but are you making one of these 15 common slow cooker mistakes? See them all (and my solutions!)

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.)

Don't open the crock pot to check on the cooking or you will lose heat.

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.

Trimmed meat for the crock pot.

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.

Browning meat in a sauce pan

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.Bottles of wine

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!)Seasoned chicken pieces

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.

The solution to this problem 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 fresh herbs 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 fresh herbs to the crock pot during the last hour of cooking.

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.

Layer a crock pot with the slowest cooking ingredients on the bottom

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. Slow cooker spiced wine

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.

Add dairy products later in the cooking time in a crock pot

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.Settings on a crock pot

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. This gives tender, juicy meat and veggies that are fill of flavor.

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.Add some liquid over the meat in a crock pot

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 to make sure that the recipe won’t be too watery.

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.Fill a crock pot only 2/3 full for best results

It pays to think 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.Salmon and asparagus

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.

However, the turnip in the photo above is another story. That guy LOVES the crock pot since it is a dense root vegetable that likes a long time to cook.

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, unless your idea of a good party time is sending your friends home ill!Use the liner of a crock pot to reheat the food in the oven (not in the crock pot itself)

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 your slow cooker is 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)

Slow cookers 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?

Proctor Silex Crock pot

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.

Would you like a printable for the back or your cupboard door?  Print out the list of crock pot errors below on the card and laminate it.


Yield: One tasty meal

Slow Cooker Mistakes Printable

Crock pots are a wonderful kitchen tool that will give you great tasting, fall off the bones, meals. But you could be using yours incorrectly if you are not careful
Prep Time 10 minutes
Active Time 4 hours
Additional Time 30 minutes
Total Time 4 hours 40 minutes
Difficulty easy
Estimated Cost $5-$10

Materials

  • Meat that needs a long slow cooking time
  • Sauces that will enhance the flavors of protein

Tools

  • Crock Pot
  • Crock Pot Liner
  • Crock Pot Timer

Instructions

To get the most out of your crock pot, don't make these mistakes:

  1. Don't remove the lid
  2. Don't use tender meat types
  3. Don't forget to brown meat
  4. Don't use too much alcohol
  5. Don't forget to remove chicken skin
  6. Don't add fresh herbs too soon
  7. Don't forget to layer
  8. Don't cook too quickly
  9. Don't add dairy too soon
  10. Don't over cook
  11. Don't forget to cover the meat
  12. Don't overfill
  13. Don't reheat in a crock pot
  14. Don't under cook
  15. Not everything can be cooked in a crock pot

Notes

Print out this list and laminate it to add to the inside of your cupboard door so that you can remember these tips later.

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."

  44 comments for “Slow Cooker Mistakes – 15 Crock Pot Blunders and Solutions

  1. 01/07/2015 at 10:23 am

    Great tips! I too sear my meat before I place it in my crockpot!

    • admin
      01/07/2015 at 10:56 am

      Hi Marilyn. That is such a big one! The meat tastes so much better if that step is followed. Carol

  2. Stephanie
    01/07/2015 at 11:19 am

    Great tips!

    I bought myself an 8.5 qt crock pot for Christmas and I am SO in love with that thing! I have a smaller one, maybe 4 qt., and it just frankly sucked.

    Not using enough liquid has been the one mistake I’ve made so far, but I am just starting to use my crock pot more now that I have the big one.

    • admin
      01/07/2015 at 1:54 pm

      Been there Stephanie. I also went from a small to a big one and love it. Carol

  3. 01/07/2015 at 12:33 pm

    Thanks for the great tips. I am determined to learn how to get this crockpot to work for me. I need to!

    • admin
      01/07/2015 at 1:54 pm

      My pleasure Sinea. Carol

  4. 01/07/2015 at 4:12 pm

    I learned a LOT from this post. I love using the crockpot for convenience, but the food doesn’t always come out great, and I see some mistakes I’ve been making. This was really helpful – thank you!

    • admin
      01/07/2015 at 4:38 pm

      Hi Stephanie. so glad you found it useful. I made tons of mistakes with my crock pot when I started but once you iron them out, it is a game changer in the kitchen.
      Carol

  5. Robyn
    01/08/2015 at 7:27 am

    You also don’t want to under-fill your crock pot. If it’s less than 1\2 full, there’s a good chance your meal will burn by the end of the cooking time (been there, done that!)

    • admin
      01/08/2015 at 10:42 am

      Thanks for the tip Robyn. I had not thought of that. I will add your info to the post. Carol

  6. Terina
    01/08/2015 at 10:55 pm

    I never know what temp to set it on recipes usually say low or high

    • admin
      01/09/2015 at 12:08 am

      HI Terina. I use low for most recipes so that it will cook longer, but if I get started later, I use high so that it will cook in about 4 hours. Carol

  7. Brooke
    01/10/2015 at 12:31 pm

    Years ago I learned that if I turn the heat up to high for the first hour and then down to low for the remainder of the time needed, the heat boost helps shorten the total time by a couple of hours. It works great if you’re in a time crunch!

    • admin
      01/10/2015 at 12:48 pm

      Hi Brooke. That’s great tip. I also do that…although there were a few times when I forgot about the turning it down part! Carol

  8. Samm
    02/04/2015 at 2:43 pm

    what are your views on self stirring crock pots ? I am so bad at lifting the lid to stir what I’m cooking but I got a self stirring pot and since I have to lock the lid I’m getting better

    • admin
      02/04/2015 at 5:15 pm

      Hi Samm. I have never even heard of them. There are times when I want my ingredients stirred but normally, they come out just fine without this step.

      Carol

  9. Peggy clinger
    10/13/2015 at 10:20 am

    Want to know when to use the rack in the crock pot

    • Carol
      10/15/2015 at 9:25 pm

      Hi Peggy. A meat rack is not normally used in a crock pot but if the meat is very fatty, a rack will keep it up off the bottom of the pot instead of having it sit in the fat while it is cooking.
      Carol

  10. Sandy
    01/16/2016 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks for these tips! I have a large Ninja crockpot that sears, bakes and slow cooks; it also has a timer. I can sear my meat in it using the Stovetop setting, then turn it to slow cook. It is wonderful!

    • Carol
      01/16/2016 at 9:49 pm

      I’ll have to look into one that sears. Sounds great!

  11. Judy Black
    01/16/2016 at 2:18 pm

    Is # 10 backwards on the 4 and 8 hours or am I reading it wrong?

    • Carol
      01/16/2016 at 9:51 pm

      Hi Judy. You are absolutely right! Whoopsie! I fixed the post. Thanks for alerting me to my typo. Carol

  12. Tim
    01/16/2016 at 4:54 pm

    Hope you can help. Are you aware of recipe collection of crock pot recipes for two?

    Thanks for your help…

    • Carol
      01/16/2016 at 9:52 pm

      Hi Tim. Not specifically for two, but any recipe can be cut down from the original and will still cook well in the crock pot. I love left overs, so even though I cook for two, I don’t mind and don’t adapt them. Carol

  13. Judy
    01/16/2016 at 11:09 pm

    To cook smaller servings in a large crockpot, use a small oven safe baking dish with a lid, put dish inside crockpot with ingredients, add water to within about an inch from the top, cover and cook as instructed; no need to have more than one size crockpot (slow cooker).

    • Carol
      01/17/2016 at 10:26 am

      Great tip Judy.

    • Lamb
      06/23/2018 at 8:52 pm

      Half an inch from the top of…the oven safe dish with the top on? I think I’m having an unfortunate moment…..

  14. Tracy
    01/17/2016 at 9:57 am

    Great ideas that I will use. However, I was disappointed that I couldn’t read parts of article because of ads on the side.

    • Carol
      01/17/2016 at 10:26 am

      Hi Tracy. Hmmm…that is odd. The ads on the side bar should not interfere with an content. Did you try reading it on a PC or on your phone. The site should be mobile friendly. Can you remember where the ads were that interfered with reading? Carol

  15. Marilyn
    02/25/2016 at 7:47 pm

    I’m on my iPad and like Tracey mentioned, the ads kinda block some parts. Anyways! Why I’m really commenting lol …..

    Just bought my crockpot and made a successful batch of red lentil dal the other day….. So was excited to do “baked potatoes” in it today. Prepped the potatoes last night, then this morning turned it on low…. For 10 hours LOL needless to say, they didn’t turn out. And now I’m hungry with no potatoes 🙁

    Thanks for this article! I’m still very new to slow cooking and these tips will help me a lot! I got a 4 quart one. Onwards and upwards I guess!

    Cheers,
    Marilyn #2

    • Carol
      02/25/2016 at 10:16 pm

      Hi Ashley. Thank for letting me know how the ads affect on IPads. I have them set not to interfere with content, so it is good to know. The crock pot takes some getting used to, but once you do, you will love cooking with it. Carol

  16. lo
    05/25/2016 at 10:01 am

    Seem when I cook pork roast in crock always seems dry what am I doing wrong?

    • Carol
      05/25/2016 at 10:45 am

      I have have not had that problem but it would depend on the type of pork roast and cooking time. If you use a pork loin, it has very little fat and would cook more quickly and thus dry out more. A normal pork roast with marbled fat can cook longer. I would suggest either lowering the setting to low if you use high, or shortening the cooking time. Carol

  17. Thos
    10/14/2016 at 6:59 am

    No chicken bones because it breaks up especially chicken curry. Watch the bones in the Meats because other s I have seen first hand choke.

    • Thos
      10/14/2016 at 7:02 am

      It should say bones in meats. This is the unintelligible auto correct of the Internet!

    • Carol
      10/14/2016 at 10:21 am

      That is a good tip that I hadn’t thought of. Thanks Thos.

  18. Skip
    02/17/2018 at 10:18 am

    My Compliments, your site is as nicely done as it is helpful.
    About to “pile it all in” for a crock-party tonight, it being Saturday.
    Thought to share a tip that shortens cook time a little: First, have ALL of the ingredients ready to go (in order). Next, run your tap till as hot as it gets. Remove and invert the c/p ceramic (best performed with the c/p empty-wink-) under tap. Run about 5-8 minutes; then turn over and fill with hot water. Let sit for 5-8 minutes. Turn on c/p. Pour out water. Quickly make SURE the outside is dry then put ceramic bowl in cooker and fill.
    In “short talk”, preheat the liner with hot water.
    Thanks,
    Skip

    • Carol
      02/17/2018 at 11:07 am

      Hi Skip. Thanks for the great tip. I have never though of doing this but it makes perfect sense.
      Carol

  19. Joyce
    03/02/2018 at 11:38 pm

    I made Broccoli Cheese soup on the stove and transferred it to the C/p. The soup is a little thicker than some other soups. After I transferred it and put the lid on the steam formed on the dome lid and water was running back in the soup. I was taking the soup to be a part of a church supper. When I got there 20 -25 minutes the soup was no longer thick. I took the lid off and used some flour and water to thicken it up. I did not put the lid back on for obvious reason.
    I plugged the C/p in and left the lid off. I could not get the soup hot enough. I had to transfer it to another pan and bring it to temp. on the stove. Any suggestions for me?

    • Carol
      03/03/2018 at 11:01 am

      Hi Joyce. One thing came to mind. Recipes made on the stove usually are a bit different in ingredients than those designed for crock pots as to amounts of liquid (a crock pot is meant to retain moisture without having to tend to it.) The recipe itself may just not have been a good one for a crock pot meal. The only thing that I can think of to fix this problem is to adapt the recipe by using less liquid ingredients, or to use a recipe designed for a crock pot and not the stove top. I’ve made cheesy soups in the crock pot and they did turn out fine and not watery at all. (four cups of stock and a cup of coconut milk went into this recipe Carol

  20. Tony
    07/29/2018 at 6:45 pm

    set the crockpot up on warm for last 8 hours is there anything wrong

    • Carol
      07/30/2018 at 11:27 am

      You can continue cooking on warm without a problem. But a crock pot should not be used to reheat cooked food that has been in the fridge, since it won’t get hot enough. Carol

  21. Michelle
    09/30/2018 at 3:09 pm

    I DID burn some of my food in the crockpot. I scrubbed and washed the residue where the burned food was really stuck on, but is there any product I shouldn’t use to clean/scrub the liner? Thanks!

    • Carol
      09/30/2018 at 3:55 pm

      Hi Michelle. I’ve never had a problem getting my liner clean but I have heard that vinegar can help. Also some liners are dishwasher safe. Carol

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