(at least once)
How many times have you stood in the kitchen at 5:30 pm wishing dinner was already done? Unfortunately, when this happens to me and we still have a busy evening ahead of us, I tend to throw everyone in the car and run to the closest fast food. This option isn’t good for our waistline or our budget.
The best solution for me? Using my slow cooker. And, if you want an easy and inexpensive way to get dinner on the table then you should make more use of yours! Unfortunately, many people find that dinner doesn’t always turn out the way they wanted it to after using their crockpot. If that’s you then you need to check out my top seven slow cooker mistakes I see most often (and have made myself a few times!).
Overcook the food
A few of the best parts of using a crockpot for dinner is that you can use a cheap cut of meat since you’re cooking it for so long. And, second, you can set it and forget it. However, despite the fact that these are my two favorite reasons for loving my slow cooker so very much, I have found that I can still accidentally overcook the food.
When it comes to your meat, you still want to make sure it’s adequately covered in some sort of sauce so it doesn’t dry out. And for your vegetables, if you can, consider waiting to throw those in until later in the day. Many times I try to schedule crockpot dinners on days when I see that our schedule is crazy busy. But this makes it hard to remember when to put in certain vegetables.
So, even though slow cooker meals are the ultimate dump-and-go dinners, you still need to watch them so you don’t accidentally overcook them.
Over pay for the meat
As mentioned in the previous tip, one of my favorite reasons for loving my crockpot is that I can get a cheap cut of meat (think pork shoulder roast). When you’re using a slow cooker you want your meat to cook on low over a long period of time. Ironically, some of the healthier meats that are more expensive don’t do well when cooked low and slow.
So, save your chicken breasts for Chicken Marigold on the stovetop in twenty minutes. And instead, think about grabbing those chicken leg quarters that are a dollar pound and throwing those into the crockpot. Bone-in, skin-on chicken such as thighs, leg quarters, or the whole chicken are my favorites in the crockpot.
Not browning the meat
The age-old debate of whether or not you need to brown the meat before you throw it in. Chicken? No way, throw it in. Stew meat? More than likely especially if I’m not time-crunched that day. Pork chops? Also more than likely. Once I read that a quick 2-3 minute browning on each side helps keep the juices in the meat instead of running all over the crockpot and veggies, I was sold.
We aren’t exactly “foodies” here in our household. But from what I’ve read online, many people swear by this step while others roll their eyes and throw it in. For me, why risk it? If it’s better for the meat, take a few minutes to go ahead and brown it before throwing it in.
Get your layers right
This is something I have learned over the years of stalking hundreds of food blogs on Pinterest. I had no idea that you should layer your foods. Root vegetables are great to put at the beginning of the day as they won’t overcook like mentioned in the first tip.
Lastly, adding some sort of acidic layer on top helps the meat to break down so it’s not so chewy. A great marinade will also have the same effect on your meat. I always thought marinade was solely to add flavor. But apparently, it has a second purpose to help soften the meat. You can put an undrained can of pineapple on top of a ham or a can of diced tomatoes on top of stew meat and let those acidic juices do the work for you.
Be careful with your liquids
Your liquids are truly a Goldilocks situation. You really do have to get it just right. If you put in too much you’ll end up with soup instead of a stew. Or if you don’t put enough in you’ll find yourself with dinner that’s dry as a bone.
The beauty of a crockpot is that less is more when it comes to adding liquid. You need to use as much as you would in the oven. And of course, you never have to worry about basting throughout the day.
I tend to err on the side of not adding as much liquid and then possibly adding more later. Remember, everything you cook will lose a bit of moisture. But when you cook in a Crockpot all that liquid stays right there in the cooker with everything else. So you will see the liquid rise as you’re cooking. And as you’ll see in the next mistake, you don’t want it to rise too much.
Overfill your slow cooker
Your slow cooker works by circulating heat around in the small confined space. This is also why you actually don’t want to stir it too many times as you let the heat escape and it takes a while to heat back up.
So, when you’re throwing in your dinner, be sure not to get it more than three-fourths of the way full. And really, closer to half is more ideal. I do like to push it past the halfway mark when making a soup or stew as I just love leftovers so much! But many families find that they don’t like leftovers as much and so if this is you, then be sure not to fill up your crockpot past halfway.
Skip the sauce
Confession: I love adding sauces to my crockpot dinners! But the truth is that you don’t need all that extra fat and calories cooking with your dinner. Instead, let the meat cook in its natural juices, and then at the end scoop a little bit out and make a gravy.
I used to be afraid of making my own gravy. But I’ve found it’s easier than I thought it was. About 15 minutes before your dinner is ready in the crockpot, warm up a skillet on the stove. Then melt half a stick of butter over medium heat and add 4 tablespoons of flour with a bit of salt and pepper.
Finally, scoop about a cup of the juices from the meat and slowly stir it into the butter and flour. Turn the heat down to low and stir it frequently while your dinner finishes up in your slow cooker.
Your family is sure to be impressed with dinner and gravy while you get to relax and not spend the entire day in the kitchen. This is why I love my Crockpot so much.
As you can see I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my crockpot dinners! I obsess over my crockpot. So much so that we have two. This way, in the winters I can leave one soaking in the sink overnight without worrying about making another slow cooker meal the next day!