In this post I’m going to share with you 5 reasons your slow cooker meals are not turning out including helpful tips, techniques and things to do or not to do for a better finished result.
When it comes to cooking foods in your slow cooker, I wonder what you are thinking at the moment! You might be smiling with satisfaction knowing that you have success with slow cooker cooking and use it regularly, but chances are, since you clicked this post, you have questions as to why your foods/recipes are not meeting up to your expectations or they way the recipe says the meal in particular should be turning out.
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Getting started with slow cooker meals can be intimidating the first time or two. Give yourself plenty of grace and find some easy slow-cooker recipes or meal ideas to get started with! (See suggestions at the ned of the post).
In know time at all, it will become second nature to you to throw together a meal in the slow cooker in less then ten minutes before you are rushing out the house for an afternoon appointment.
Slow-cooker meals are my favorite go-to on busy days or when I know I have a lot of errands or appointments away from home.
So let’s move on to the 5 possible reasons your slow cookers meals are not turning out.
1. The temperature is set too low
When the slow cooker is set too low, unless it is to cook for many many hours, the time will likely not be long enough for the food to properly heat and cook through, resulting in underone, tough and partially raw food.
However an exception would be depending on the size of the slow cooker, if it is a 4 quart which is smaller, then sometimes the low setting can actually cook food thoroughly in a pretty decent time.
Slow cookers each have their own personality and quirks depending on the brand, size etc. Give some time to get to know yours. When in doubt, always use a meat thermometer to check for doneness.
2. The temperature is set too high
Too high of a temperature results in tough overcooked meat.
Other foods can turn out mushy, stringy or watery if cooked on the high setting (for too long a time).
Also, more chance of your food burning and potentially drying out as well. If there is not enough liquid, you can slowly lift the lid just long enough to add a small amount of HOT water and then stir the contents (if necessary). Return lid promptly and allow to continue on cooking.
3. The lid is being removed while cooking
Removing the lid allows heat and steam to escape out of the crockpot that is needed for keeping the food heated and sustained at a temperature for cooking. For best results, or when a recipe directs that the food be checked, then do so promptly and replace the lid as soon as possible.
If you are checking the food frequently, you should generally plan on adding an additional half hour of cooking time.
4. The food is not being prepared correctly for slow cooking.
Often people wonder why their slow cooker meal did not turn out and if something is wrong with the slow cooker itself.
If you have checked for the above things I listed concerning the correct cook time and temperature setting, then perhaps there’s a chance your food is not being prepared correctly for a slow cooker method of cooking.
Some things, depending on what you are making, can be prepared the same way it would be for a traditional oven or stove top meal, or even on the grill. But there are several difference to how some foods should be prepared for a slow cooker method of cooking.
Do not add a solid frozen large piece of meat (like a pork roast) to the slow cooker, set it to the high setting and expect it to be ready to serve in 4 hours. Frozen meats require extra time to cook. Slow-cooked meat is best cooked on a low temperature over a longer period of time, rather then a few hours.
Things like cooked rice or pasta should be added to a slow cooker the last 1/2-1 hour of cooking to warm it up. Otherwise if cooked for the full amount of time, it will disintegrate and turn to mush.
Browning (or searing) a roast adds to the flavor, juiciness and appearance of the food. I know it is an extra step and is not usually required, but the wonderful, tender and juicy result is well worth it!
Cooked vegetables should be added to a slow cooker the last 1/2 -1 hour of cook time. Just long enough to warm them up.
Things like tough cuts of meat should be properly prepared before adding: whether it is making sure they are cut small enough, searing etc.
Taking the time to plan ahead enough to thaw meat and marinade it (like for chicken thighs, breasts, a beef roast or pork tenderloin) gives better results and additional flavor.
5. Additional tips:
- If there appears to be too much liquid in the slow cooker or liquid is bubbling around the top where the lid sits, then you can place a tooth pick under the lid to create a little vent for steam to escape. A thin wadded piece of aluminum foil works for this as well.
- In most cases it is better to overcook then to undercook. Things that are totally raw like chicken, roasts, potatoes etc need plenty of time to cook otherwise they will turn out tough and not fully done.
- Fresh herbs add a variance in flavor then dried herbs do; they are typically stronger so start with a little less then the amount of dried herbs called for.
- Trim fat off of meat cuts before cooking. It is much easier to do that before cooking then afterwards.
- Grease the inside of the slow cooker with cooking spray when you are making things like casseroles.
- A slow cooker can be placed in the fridge overnight with the leftovers still in it. To reheat, cook on high about 1-2 hours or low for 3 hours.
- Most slow cookers perform best when they are over half full. The cooking time can depend on the amount of food in the slow cooker.
- A common mistake is to add too much liquid to the slow cooker. Always use a little less then you would for a regular stove top or oven recipe. You can add more towards the end if it needs it.
- Dairy products like milk and cream will typically curdle in the slow cooker from the excess time of high heat. Cream cheese cooks well in the crockpot and makes for a similar to Alfredo sauce texture.
- I have not tried this myself but have heard it suggested that when making something like a meatloaf, (without additional vegetables included), you can lay a piece of aluminum foil inside the slow cooker and then place the meatloaf on top of that to cook. The later you can lift the piece of foil out, meatloaf and all.
- Things like spinach, kale and similar can be cooked in the slow cooker but will get very soggy and stringy the longer they cook. It is a good idea to cook those on the low setting or to add sometime during the cooking process. Allow for extra cook time since you removed the lid and hence heat escaped.
- To wash a dirty slow cooker insert – it is easiest to wash them right away to get off the remaining food. Otherwise soak in milk soapy water until time to wash.
Refer to the chart below for quick reference on slow cooker uses:
How to cook with dairy products in the slow cooker?
A general rule of thumb is to add items like cream, sour cream and milk the last hour or so at the end of the cooking time. This is usually done to make a sauce and/or add creaminess.
Foods that are great cooked in the slow cooker:
- Whole chicken
- Shoulder roast
- Ham roast
- Pork tenderloin
- Beef roasts
Other things include:
- Cakes/mini cakes
- Sweet breads
- Baked Oatmeal
- and much more!
- Root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, etc
Slow cooker meals are perfect for meal planning!
Meal planning ahead of time provides the ease and relaxation of not stressing the morning of, wondering what meat you can pull out of the freezer and throw in the crockpot to be done in time for supper. Always remember that a meal plan is meant to be flexible and can be hanged at any time. Its purpose is to make things less hectic and planned out for you. See this meal planner notepad to get you started meal planning for your family and having a more organized and relaxed schedule and atmosphere at home!
Slow cooker recipe suggestions you may enjoy!
Beginner’s slow cooker recipe suggestions to get you started:
Tender venison roast in the slow cooker (very easy!)
There are many, many more recipes online designed especially for the newest of cooks!
My favorite meal planning resources for family’s and individuals:
My favorite slow cookers and crockpots plus recommendations:
Hopefully in this post on the 5 reasons your slow cooker meals are not turning out, you will have received some helpful ideas, inspiration and motivation to get you either started or problem solving with your slow cooker meals.
If there is something you have a further question on or that I did not touch on in this post, then please feel free to reach out to me in the comment section below!
Also, please let me know in the comment section below what your biggest issues were when first starting out with a slow cooker and how you found the solution to it!
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