10 Slow Cooker Mistakes That Are Wasting Your Time
This appliance should make life simple, so let it.
The slow cooker is an amazing kitchen tool. You can set your food inside it in the morning, press a few buttons, and come home to a warm, comforting dish that's ready and waiting. (And one that's filling your whole home with super scrumptious smells.) A slow cooker is also easy to use and ideal for dinners on chillier nights, ones when you want warm soups, casseroles, meaty dishes, and stews that'll stick to your bones.
Unfortunately, although it's a rather straightforward appliance, you could be making some common mistakes that will ultimately interfere with the flavors and textures of your dish — mistakes that take up some of your precious time, money, and effort. So, to make sure you're getting the most of your meals, avoid these errors.
1. Adding Excess Liquid
Did your soup or stew come up too watery?
"You may consider adding less liquid at the start of the recipe, but if it happens unexpectedly, remove about 50 percent of the liquid and boil it down in a saucepan on the stove," says Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, and author of "Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook" and "Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook."
You can mix it back into the recipe or serve as a dipping sauce on the side, she says. That way you can maintain the type of thickness you're looking for in the recipe itself.
Related: The Best Slow Cookers to Buy in 2019
2. Not Defrosting First
If your forgot to defrost your meat for the slow cooker recipe and are considering just tossing it in and increasing the cook time, think again. Yes, life gets busy, and it's hard to always remember meal prep before heading out the door. Yet, this is dangerous.
"This is a big food safety no-no," White says. "The low temperature of the slow cooker is not equipped to kill potentially harmful bacteria that could develop, and you might even end up with a pot roast that's raw in the middle."
"To properly and quickly defrost meat without the huge temperature swings, use the USDA recommended method of cold water thawing," she says.
3. Cooking Meat on Too High
Whether or not the meat has defrosted, you still shouldn't cook on a high temperature setting, as it'll make your meat taste not-so-great in the end. And that would be disappointing!
"One of the biggest mistakes with a slow cooker is cooking meats on high. Cooking meat, especially beef, on high makes it tougher," explains Ashley Nunez, a cookbook author and blogger. "I have found meat cooked on low comes out much more tender," she says. So, if you want something soft and juicy, be wary of the heat.
4. Not Prepping Big Flavor Ingredients Properly
You shouldn't throw raw onions and peppers into the slow cooker with meat and veggies. Instead, you need to prep them to let them brown a bit first, which will make them a whole lot tastier and help them tenderize more quickly.
"Saute onions and peppers on the stovetop first until tender. This gives them the deeper flavor you are looking for in most recipes," Nunez says. And that will create big flavors in your final dish faster.
5. Tossing in Veggies Too Early
Not all vegetables should go into the slow cooker at the same time, as some cook faster or slower than others or have a more delicate texture that'll break down easily in prolonged heat.
"Peas and mushrooms can be added to the hot dish closer to serving time," Nunez says. "That way they do not become overcooked and mushy."
For these two vegetables, along with carrots, Nunez adds them during the last 20 minutes of cooking.
6. Overfilling the Slow Cooker
Don't crowd the ingredients if you want even cooking and a mess-free kitchen.
"When slow cooking many recipes with vegetables and meat, [they] will produce more liquid than you are starting with. Make sure your slow cooker is large enough to accommodate the additional liquid so that it does not overspill," Nunez says.
Consider the portion size you're going for, and buy a slow cooker that can accommodate. If you cook for a family of four versus just yourself, you might go with a larger model, such as four- or six-quart version.
7. Taking the Lid Off While the Dish Is Cooking
"The slow cooker makes sure to cook your food at an even temperature over a long period of time. Removing the lid will lose the heat it has built up over the past hour or few hours," says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best-selling author of "The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook." That can slow down the cooking time and put more minutes on the clock that you must wait before eating.
Instead, keep the lid on your slow cooker for the length of time prescribed in the recipe, and do not "peek" inside (even for a few seconds), she says. You'll regret it!
8. Using a Tender Cut of Beef
When it comes to slow cookers, you want to use thicker cuts of meat.
"The slow cooker is used to make tougher cuts of meat super tender and delicious. More tender cuts of meat will end up falling apart," Amidor says.
Keep your expensive cuts, like filet mignon and top round steak, for the grill or stove top, and use your tougher (and usually less expensive) cuts in the slow cooker. Chuck roasts are always a good bet. They also happen to be cheaper by the pound than some grill-worthy cuts.
Related: 13 Best Slow Cooker Recipes
9. Reheating Food in the Slow Cooker
The slow cooker is meant to cook your food. It is not meant to be a vehicle to reheat your food.
"This is a food safety issue," Amidor says. "The reheating of food will take too long, and if there are any microorganisms in your food, the low and slow cooking of the slow cooker can actually create an environment where bacteria and other pathogenic microorganisms will thrive and potentially get you sick." Yikes.
Instead, use your slow cooker to only cook food and reheat elsewhere.
"In order to reheat food, use a microwave, the oven, stove top, or any other cooking method that is designed to quickly reheat food to 165 degrees Fahrenheit within a max time of an hour or so," she says.
10. Not Sautéing Meat First
Some slow cookers have a browning or sautéing function on the machine. Others, especially older ones, don't always. If a recipe requires browning meat in a slow cooker, don't use an appliance that does not have that function if you aren't able to sauté the meat prior to putting it into the slow cooker, says Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN. This initial heat step is accounted for in the recipe — skipping it could result in underdone meat — plus browning adds a great deal of flavor to the final dish.
"When cooking meats, it's important that if you don't have a slow cooker with that function, you start the cooking process for the animal product in a skillet to account for the initial sauté steps. Then, transfer the ingredients into your slow cooker," she says.