A slow cooker is a tremendously convenient and versatile cooking tool to use when you need to spend as little time as possible in the kitchen. All you need to do is to put the ingredients in the pot, turn the appliance on, and come back hours later to find a hot meal nearly ready to eat. As simple as slow cookers are to use, however, you can make mistakes with them. Knowing what these slow cooker mistakes are and avoiding them can greatly help you improve your slow-cooked meals.
Let’s go through the most common mistakes:
Don’t go overboard with the liquids
Unless you’re making a soup or stew, extra liquid in your recipes can water down the taste. Slow cookers use low heat and don’t evaporate much liquid. In addition to the water or other liquids that you add to your recipe, the meat and vegetables in it can release water, as well. To end up with a flavorful dish, it’s important to be careful to only add exactly as much liquid as your recipes call for.
Don’t add milk or dairy in too early
Milk and milk products tend to not stand up well to heating for very long. If you simmer the milk for hours in a recipe that includes other ingredients, they can curdle the milk and break it down. If a recipe calls for milk, it makes sense to add it in, in the last few minutes before you get ready to serve the dish.
Don’t take too many peeks at the food
Slow-cooked meals can smell delicious as they simmer, and it can be tempting to lift the lid every now and then to get a whiff. It’s important to understand, however, that unlike foods cooked at regular levels of heat, slow-cooked recipes can take a great deal of time to regain heat lost when you open the lid. It’s best to leave your slow cooker alone while it cooks.
Don’t put in raw rice or pasta
As versatile as slow cookers are, they simply don’t get hot enough for rice or pasta to cook thoroughly — these ingredients can get mushy in a slow cooker. Parboiled rice is the one exception – it can cook correctly in a slow cooker. If your recipe calls for ordinary rice or pasta, you should cook these separately, and add them in, in the last few minutes before you’re ready to serve.
Don’t add herbs in too early
Food that simmers a long time can mellow in flavor. Herbs with soft flavors like chives and parsley usually don’t survive intact in a slow cooker. It’s best to add these in at the end. Other herbs like thyme and rosemary, on the other hand, are strong enough to retain their flavor through hours of cooking.
Don’t overcook your recipes
Roasts and soups are great recipes for slow cookers because they take about eight hours to become ready. Casseroles and meatloaves, on the other hand, are recipes that don’t contain much liquid. They can burn a bit if you leave them in a slow cooker for longer than three or four hours. These recipes are best left for times when you’re able to spend time in the kitchen.
Don’t slow-cook chicken breasts
Skinless chicken breast is meat that is so lean and easy to cook that it doesn’t do well in a slow cooker. Hours in the appliance can cause the meat to dry out and change in flavor. Slow cookers are a good idea for chicken legs and thighs, but not for breasts.
Don’t overcook veggies
Vegetables can lose all flavor when they are overcooked. You can add hardy vegetables like carrots and onions at the beginning of your slow cooking time, but you should cut them up into bigger pieces than you usually would, to allow them to withstand hours of cooking. More delicate greens like spinach, on the other hand, can become completely flavorless over hours of simmering, and are best added at the end.
Don’t overstuff your slow cooker
When you know that a recipe cooks for hours, you might think that it could handle anything you put in. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that slow cookers use very little heat and may not cook a dish thoroughly if the pot is filled all the way to the top.
Leaving at least an inch unfilled at the top is a good idea. Leaving a little empty space can also help in the event that there should be bubbling. You wouldn’t want your slow cooker to begin overflowing when it bubbles.
Don’t leave foods in your slow cooker for too long
Foods, when they are left in a slow cooker at under 140° F for longer than three hours, can begin to spoil. In general, once a dish has cooked properly, you can let the slow cooker keep it warm for about three hours. Then, you should transfer the dish to the refrigerator.
Don’t slow-cook meat without a thermometer
A slow cooker can, depending on the setting and the sizes of the chunks in the recipe, fail to heat meat adequately to the core. Meat that isn’t heated to a high enough temperature can be unsafe to eat. The only way to really know that a meat-based recipe is cooked thoroughly is to use a food thermometer.
Don’t think that you can only use a slow cooker to make soups and stews
Many people believe that slow cookers are only useful if you want to make stews or soups. While slow cookers do work well for these recipes, meatloaves, casseroles, and roasts are good ideas, as well. You need to remember that a slow cooker is a versatile cooking tool, and you can use your imagination to push the envelope on what you can do with it.
Making sure that you use your slow cooker the right way can help you make the most of it.