The slow cooker, or crock pot, is certainly one of the most popular kitchen items. Who doesn’t like the idea of dumping in a bunch of ingredients, turning it on and leaving it to cook? I love using my slow cooker, and I’m always adding new crock pot recipes to my collection. But many cooks don’t use the crock pot correctly and the results show it. Are you making one of these 15 common slow cooker mistakes?
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.
Are You making one of these 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 any of the mistakes and you will love to use your crock pot as much as I do.
1. Don’t raise the lid. I’m not kidding. Not for a peek. Not “just to see how it is cooking.” Keep the lid on during the whole cooking process. A crock pot is designed to cook food over a long period of time and 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 time (dairy and fresh herbs.)
2. Don’t use the wrong meat. Cheaper, and less tender cuts of meat like flank or chuck are ideal for the crock pot. Save the 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.
3. Don’t use raw meat. For me, on of the biggest slow cooker mistakes is to use raw meat in the cooker. Browning 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 it first. (I often coat it in flour before I sear, since this also has the benefit of thickening the sauce without adding extra flour or cornstarch later.
4. Don’t use too much alcohol. Wine and other alcoholic spirits reduce in volume to capture the flavor on the stove top. In the crock pot, this does not happen, so the end result with be too much like raw alcohol, which is not what you want in a recipe. Use broth, or reduce the amount of wine (or reduce it on the stove first and then add to the crock pot.)
5. Don’t use chicken with skin. 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. Bones are different though. Use these with abandon. They make the chicken more tender and flavorful.
6. Don’t add fresh herbs too soon. One of the most common slow cooker mistakes it 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 early. Save them for the final half hour and you will get their burst of flavor through the dish.
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.
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 if your recipes will be done in just four hours. (affiliate link) 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.
9. Don’t add dairy products too soon. If you do, they may curdle and spoil the whole dish. Dairy products like milk, cheese, sour cream and yoghurt are best added during the last 30 minutes, just like fresh herbs.
10. Don’t forget to vary you cooking times. Experimentation is the best here. If a recipe says 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low and you will be serving it more than once, try it both ways and see which ones does the best for you.
11. Don’t forget to cover the meat. A crock pot works best when all of the ingredients are submerged, so that the food cooks evenly. Don’t just plop that cut on meat on the top or it will dry out. Place it in the center, over tougher vegetables and surround it with those that will cook more quickly and then add the liquid.
12. Don’t fill the crock pot too full. Most crock pots suggest that you only fill it 2/3 full. If you fill it to the top, the ingredients will steam instead of simmer. I have gone through many crock pots to get the size that I wanted – a BIG one. I always love left overs of slow cooker recipes, so I use an 8 quart model so that there is always room on top when I add my ingredients. (affiliate link.)
13. Don’t believe that you can cook anything 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 al dente (not mushy) pasta? Some things are just better made on the stove top.
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. One size does not fit all here folks.
15. Don’t under fill the crock pot. This tip comes from a reader of the blog Robyn. She suggests that 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.
Even though I use a large crock pot, smaller crock pots like this one from Proctor Silex and great for making meals for just two people, when you don’t want a huge amount of food cooked. (affiliate link) They are also great for serving hot dips at parties!
Can you think of some other crock pot mistakes that you would like to share? Please leave your comments below! We’d love to hear from you.
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."