You may not think of using your slow cooker during the summer, but you should! After all, who wants to turn on the oven when it's 85 degrees (or hotter)? Personally, I love my trusty slow cooker, but I know not everyone is a fan. If you've been disappointed with the results of slow cooker recipes in the past, here are answers to 10 of the biggest slow cooker questions—these just might help!
Why is my chicken always dry?
Using boneless skinless cuts of chicken—especially chicken breasts—is the first mistake. Those tend to cook faster (and dry out faster!) in the slow cooker. Next time, try cooking drumsticks or thighs (with the skin on) on LOW. You can also add some liquid (like broth, water, or a sauce) to keep it moist.
Why is my pasta always mushy?
Don't make the mistake of cooking pasta in the slow cooker all day. It's something that's typically added near the end. You can either add uncooked pasta during the last 30-45 minutes—or pre-cook your pasta on the stove and stir it in at the very end.
Why are my veggies always soggy?
Some veggies—like potatoes and carrots—are fine in the slow cooker for many hours. But if there are veggies you'd rather stay crisp-tender, add those at the very end.
Why does everything I make in the slow cooker turn out soupy?
Keep in mind that slow cooking is a moist cooking method. While sauces cook down and thicken during stovetop cooking, the same doesn't happen in the slow cooker. Stick to recipes developed specifically for slow cookers or reduce the liquid in traditional recipes by about half.
Can I lift the lid during cooking?
Try to avoid it, since you'll lengthen the cooking time a bit (just like you do when you open the oven door to peek in).
Should I cook on HIGH or LOW?
Both settings eventually reach the same temperature—they just take different amounts of time getting there. The HIGH setting is best if you're time-crunched or want to cook something quickly like pasta. The LOW setting is usually best for meats, because they'll be more tender.
My recipe says to brown the meat before putting it in the slow cooker. Do I really need to do that?
It seems like an unnecessary step (and an unnecessary dirty pan to wash!) when slow cooking is supposed to simplify things. So if you really don't have time, you can skip it. But pre-browning does give meat a caramelized look and rich flavor you won't get through slow cooking alone.
Can I start with frozen meat and poultry?
I know a lot of people do this (I'm guilty too!), but technically it's just not safe and could lead to foodborne illness, which is especially risky for pregnant women, babies, and young children. So fully defrost your meat and poultry first.
My recipe only takes six hours but I'm at work for nine hours. What should I do?
If your slow cooker has a "warm" function, it can be held at that until you're home and ready to eat. But keep in mind that some "warm" settings may be hotter than others, so you'll need to experiment to see if your recipes turn out just fine on the "warm" function—or overcooked.
What can I make in my slow cooker besides soups and stews?
A lot more—like a whole chicken, a batch of applesauce, and even baked potatoes! Check out 6 Surprising Things You Can Make In The Slow Cooker for ideas.
My slow cooker insert is such a pain to clean! Is there any way to prevent food from sticking to it?
Yes. A layer of cooking spray (or butter or oil) can help. You can also line the insert with aluminum foil before placing food inside—or use a special product designed for the slow cooker (such as Reynold's Slow Cooker Liners), which is thrown away after cooking and makes clean-up a lot quicker.
Do you have any tips you'd add to the list? I'd love to hear them!
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook Twitter Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.