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Improve Slow Cooker Meals with These Easy Tips

A slow cooker with vegetables and broth inside
New Africa/Shutterstock.com

Slow cookers can be a lifesaver for busy home cooks, allowing you to prepare meals in advance and have them ready to go when you get home from work or school. But if you’re not careful, slow cooker meals can turn out bland, overcooked, or just plain unappealing. These tips will help you improve your slow cooker meals and make the most of this convenient cooking tool.

Choose the Right Ingredients

Ingredients for a stew
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Not all ingredients are suitable for slow cooking. For best results, stick to tougher cuts of meat, such as chuck roast or pork shoulder, which will break down and become tender as they cook. Similarly, root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and turnips are good choices because they can withstand a long cooking time.

PAUDIN Chef Knife

Cut through tough meats with ease.

Avoid lean meats in slow cookers, which basically turn to leather after being stewed for hours. Delicate vegetables, like zucchini and peas, will also become mushy if cooked for too long.

Don’t Overfill the Slow Cooker

A crockpot full of stew
Ronald Sumners/Shutterstock.com

It’s important to leave enough room in the slow cooker for the ingredients to circulate and cook evenly. A slow cooker that is too full will take longer to heat up and may result in uneven cooking. As a general rule, fill the slow cooker no more than two-thirds full.

Slow cookers come in many different sizes, so you can always get a larger one if you feel like you have to overfill yours in order to make enough food to feed your family.

Crockpot 8 Quart Slow Cooker

A great slow cooker for large families.

Brown Meat First

Browning meat in a pan
Ari N/Shutterstock.com

While it’s not strictly necessary, browning meat before adding it to the slow cooker can add extra flavor and depth to your dishes. All you need to do is sear the meat in a hot pan on the stove until it develops a nice crust, then transfer it to the slow cooker.

Be careful not to cook your meat for too long before adding it to the slow cooker, as this can inhibit the cooking process required for the recipe.

Use a Slow Cooker Liner

Slow cooker with liners inside
Reynolds

Slow cooker liners are a convenient way to make clean-up a breeze. Simply place the liner in the slow cooker before adding your ingredients, and when the meal is finished, just lift out the liner and discard it.

Reynolds Kitchens Slow Cooker Liners

Clean up messes quicker than ever.

If you don’t have slow cooker liners, be sure to soak your slow cooker as soon as possible after your food finishes cooking to avoid crusted-on food. You can also add a mixture of dish soap and water to your cooker and turn it on low for an hour to loosen food residue.

Add Liquid Wisely

Someone adds wine to a slow cooker
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Slow cookers rely on liquid to create steam and cook the food. However, if you add too much liquid, the food can become watery and overcooked. As a general rule, use about one cup of liquid per five hours of cooking time.

OXO Good Grips 2-Cup Angled Measuring Cup

Perfect for measuring liquids for recipes.

Don’t Open the Lid Too Often

A slow cooker with potatoes inside
Martin Sahlqvist/Shutterstock.com

Every time you open the slow cooker, heat escapes and it takes longer for the food to cook. Try to resist the urge to lift the lid and check on the food, and only do so if absolutely necessary.

If you can’t stop yourself from checking, get a large slow cooker with a clear lid. While it will still fill up with steam, this setup will give you some visibility so you can check on your food while it’s cooking.

Crock-Pot 2-QT Round Manual Slow Cooker

The ideal cooker for one or two people.

Add Fresh Herbs at the End

Herbs in a slow cooker with meatballs
Robyn Mackenzie/Shutterstock.com

Fresh herbs and spices can lose their flavor if they’re cooked for too long. To preserve their flavor, add them towards the end of the cooking time, about 30 minutes to an hour before the meal is finished.

You can also add a sprinkle of fresh herbs to your dish after it is plated. Not only does this add flavor, but it also adds a pop of color to your plate.

Herb Scissors

Shears for cutting herbs with ease.

Experiment With Different Cooking Times

Someone programs a crockpot
New Africa/Shutterstock.com

Different slow cooker recipes call for different cooking times, ranging from 4-12 hours. Experiment with different cooking times to see what works best for your recipe and your schedule.

A good rule of thumb is to check your meal at the shortest recommended cooking time. If you’re happy with how it tastes, stop the cooking process there. Let it cook for another hour or so if you think it needs more time.

Crock-Pot SCCPVL610-S-A 6-Quart Cook

This slow cooker has tons of settings to work with.

Use the “Keep Warm” Setting Wisely

A slow cooker sits on a wooden countertop with a wooden spoon next to it.
Lighttraveler/Shutterstock.com

Most slow cookers have a “keep warm” setting that will maintain a low temperature once the food is finished cooking. This can be convenient if you’re not ready to serve the meal right away, but be aware that the food will continue to cook and may become overcooked if left on the “keep warm” setting for too long.

Try to time your cooking process so you’re ready to eat around the time your food should be fully cooked. If you have to wait a few more hours to eat, let your food cool and reheat it when everyone’s ready for dinner.

Crock-Pot Slow Cooker Works with Alexa

Start and stop your slow cooker on your phone.


Slow cookers aren’t just convenient—they can make some pretty incredible meals. Make the most of your appliance with these easy tips and tricks.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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