Take your favorite slow cooker suppers from good to great with these simple tips.

By Alyssa Sybertz
Allrecipes Magazine

The slow cooker is one of the easiest-to-use appliances in your kitchen. Simply toss in some ingredients in the morning, and by evening, you have a delicious slow cooker dinner to enjoy. But as simple as that is, it is possible to add even more texture, variation, and mouthwatering flavor to your slow cooker recipes with just a few tweaks. The best part? These steps require very little additional effort on your part. Read on for the strategies that will guarantee your best slow cooker supper ever.

Get the Recipe: Slow Cooker Au Jus Pot Roast

1. Fill the Pot This Much

Filling your slow cooker all the way to the top, or to where there's barely any room between the food and the lid, can change the cooking method from a gentle simmer to a steam, which will make your food soggier and more watery than it should be.

The easy fix: Never fill your slow cooker more than two-thirds of the way full. If you're typically serving a crowd or making recipes with four or more servings, like Slow Cooker Beef Pot Roast, a six- to eight-quart slow cooker will be large enough that you won't need to worry about overcrowding.

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Get the Recipe: Kalua Pig in a Slow Cooker

2. For Meat, Choose Cheap and Skinless

The slow cooker's long, gentle cooking method can turn even the toughest cuts of meat into tender, juicy bites. For this reason, there's no need to spend money on lean, pricey cuts like sirloin when your dish will be just as delicious with chuck roast, stew meat, or pork shoulder. Just be sure to trim some of the fat before adding the meat to the pot, or remember to skim it off the top before stirring or serving.

And as far as trimming goes, cut off chicken skin or choose skinless breasts and thighs as well. Skin-on chicken wings and thighs are for grilling and searing, when you can transform the skin into a tasty, crispy crust. In the slow cooker, the skin will just become rubbery and add fat to the dish. You want your chicken to be juicy and tender, like in Jennie's Heavenly Slow Cooker Chicken.

Read More: Why It Isn't Safe to Cook Frozen Meat in the Slow Cooker

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3. Leave the Lid On

The cooking temperature of a slow cooker is much lower than that of the oven or a pot on the stove. So while opening a 400°F oven a crack to take a peek at your roasting vegetables won't throw off the cooking time too much, removing the lid of your slow cooker can do more damage.

In fact, every time you take off the lid the temperature inside drops 10° to 15°F, extending the cooking time by 20 to 30 minutes, so it's crucial to leave the lid on. The exception to this rule is if you're within the cooking time that the recipe suggests. So if you check your Slow Cooker French Onion Soup, which cooks for 4 to 6 hours, after just 4 hours, there's no need to push back supper time.

4. Add Herbs, Veggies and Dairy at the End

Cooking for hours in the slow cooker is ideal for breaking down thick cuts of meat, softening potatoes and root vegetables, and evenly cooking dense dishes like Melt-In-Your-Mouth Meatloaf and Slow Cooker Stuffed Peppers. But there are some ingredients that are best added towards the end of cooking to achieve the optimal texture.

Fresh herbs, delicate vegetables like mushrooms or asparagus, and dairy products like milk, cream or sour cream should be added during the last half hour of cooking (when lifting the lid will no longer throw off your cooking time). Tossing these ingredients into the slow cooker at the start of cooking will yield a flavorless, mushy, and curdled dish that likely isn't what you want to eat. But adding them at the end will make for a creamy, fresh, and delicious meal you'll want to make again and again.

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