Slow Cooker Mistakes – 15 Crock pot Blunders & How to Fix Them

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?

a crock pot is not just "set and forget." See these common 13 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.)

#1 slow cooker mistakes - don't raise the lid

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.

use cheap cuts of meat in the slow cooker

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.

sear the meat

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.)

Keep alcohol to a minimum in slow cooker recipes

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.

remove chicken skin for slow cooker recipes

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.

add fresh herbs last in slow cooker recipes

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.

add root vegetables on the bottom of a crock pot

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. 

Add dairy products last in a slow cooker

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.)

slow cooker mistakes - only fill a crock pot only 2/3 full

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!

Proctor Silex slow cooker

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."

  41 comments for “Slow Cooker Mistakes – 15 Crock pot Blunders & How to Fix Them

  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. 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. 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.

  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.

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