The slow cooker makes meal prep a cinch, but be sure to avoid these common mistakes: Ways You’ve Been Using Your Slow Cooker Wrong And How to Fix Them!
You overcrowd your slow cooker
This is especially important if you’re cooking meat. Meat needs room to cook, so be sure once you fill up your slow cooker that the lid still fits snugly on top. A good rule of thumb is to fill your slow cooker up halfway to two-thirds of the way, according to the National Pork Board.
You lift the lid to stir too often
It’s tempting, I know, but it’s best to just let the Crock-Pot do its job and cook your food. According to Christopher M. Wilmoth, corporate chef at Lee Kum Kee, lifting the lid too often to stir will let out heat and prolong the cooking process. Your slow cooker is called that for a reason, so resist the urge to peek under the lid and just let your slow cooker slow cook.
You don’t trim the excess fat from your meat before you cook it
The fat will rise to the top, Wilmoth says, so if you don’t trim it off before cooking, you’ll end up with a greasy, oily pool of liquid or sauce at the end. That said, there is a balance: Fattier cuts of meat—such as short ribs or pork shoulders— actually do better in a slow cooker than leaner cuts, which dry out when cooked for longer periods of time, so while trimming the excess fat is important for maintaining a silky, rich flavor in your broth, you probably want to reach for fattier, inexpensive cuts of meat when you’re planning on using your Crock-Pot. If you do opt for a leaner cut of meat, make sure it stays submerged in whatever liquid (broth, water, wine) you cook it in. This will ensure it doesn’t dry out and stays juicy and tender.
You throw your chicken in the slow cooker with the skin on
With almost any other method, cooking the chicken with the skin on yields a delicious, crispy crust, but in a slow cooker, the skin just turns into a gross, rubbery, unappetizing mess.
You use the wrong setting
It’s true that most slow cookers have only two settings (low and high), but you want to be sure you’re using the best setting for whatever it is you’re cooking. Cook lean cuts of meat on high so they don’t dry out as quickly; fattier cuts will do better on low (you’ll get a great, tender finished product). But remember: Cooking anything on low will generally double the cooking time, so plan accordingly.
You don’t brown the meat first.
Browning meats in a skillet (or in the slow cooker’s insert, if it’s stovetop safe) before programming the cook time will give your braise or stew heartier flavor.
You open the lid while your dish is still cooking.
When slow cookers lose heat, it takes them a long time to gain it back. Don’t remove the lid until you have to. You don’t need to check — we promise the food is cooking.
You always use the same temperature and time settings.
Your kitchen might not be a chemistry lab, but a little experimentation may be necessary to get the best results. Try out a few combinations of temperature settings and cooking times to a get a recipe just right.
You don’t submerge the meat.
Cooking times for meat and poultry that are under liquid will be shorter than for pieces that aren’t. Make sure that everything’s submerged so that the entire dish cooks evenly.
You don’t consider your machine’s quirks.
If your meat is consistently overcooked, chances are that your slow cooker is operating at a high temperature while on the warm setting. To remedy the problem, reduce the time your recipe cooks before going into keep warm mode.
You throw out the excess liquid
Instead of tossing it, Wilmoth recommends simply mixing it with a bit of flour, cornstarch, or a cooked roux. The result? You’ve got instant gravy.
You’re not using a slow cooker liner
These are GAME-CHANGING and make cleanup a breeze. Seriously, if there’s one tip from this list you should take to heart, make it this one. A pack of six liners costs just $3.50 and will save you from endless hours of scrubbing.
You season your food too soon
If your recipe calls for fresh herbs or salt, add them right at the end, Wilmoth advises. Too soon, and the herbs will lose their flavor and your food will be too salty.
You cook pasta in your Crock-Pot
Cooking pasta in your slow cooker has become A Thing on the Internet, but the editors over at Bon Appétit strongly recommend against it, mostly because pasta needs to hold its shape, and unfortunately, your slow cooker is not a miracle worker. Once the pasta’s been cooking and loses its shape, it simply turns into a “mushy mess. Just don’t do it.”
You add dairy too early
Cream and cheese can transform a dish into the perfect comfort food, but adding them toward the beginning of the cooking process will ruin your meal. The dairy products could curdle, leaving you with an unappetizing mess. Add it at the very end, when it will become creamy, not clumpy