You overcrowd your slow cooker
This is especially important if you’re cooking meat. Meat needs room to cook, so be sure once you fill up your slow cooker that the lid still fits snugly on top. A good rule of thumb is to fill your slow cooker up halfway to two-thirds of the way, according to the National Pork Board. Check out these slow-cooker recipes for Sunday dinners.
You lift the lid to stir too often
It’s tempting, I know, but it’s best to just let the Crock-Pot do its job and cook your food. According to Christopher M. Wilmoth, corporate chef at Lee Kum Kee, lifting the lid too often to stir will let out heat and prolong the cooking process. Your slow cooker is called that for a reason, so resist the urge to peek under the lid and just let your slow cooker slow cook.
You don’t trim the excess fat from your meat before you cook it
The fat will rise to the top, Wilmoth says, so if you don’t trim it off before cooking, you’ll end up with a greasy, oily pool of liquid or sauce at the end. That said, there is a balance: Fattier cuts of meat—such as short ribs or pork shoulders— actually do better in a slow cooker than leaner cuts, which dry out when cooked for longer periods of time, so while trimming the excess fat is important for maintaining a silky, rich flavor in your broth, you probably want to reach for fattier, inexpensive cuts of meat when you’re planning on using your Crock-Pot. If you do opt for a leaner cut of meat, make sure it stays submerged in whatever liquid (broth, water, wine) you cook it in. This will ensure it doesn’t dry out and stays juicy and tender. Check out these butchers’ secrets for picking the perfect cut of meat.
You throw your chicken in the slow cooker with the skin on
With almost any other method, cooking the chicken with the skin on yields a delicious, crispy crust, but in a slow cooker, the skin just turns into a gross, rubbery, unappetizing mess. These are some of the best chicken slow cooker recipes around.
You use the wrong setting
It’s true that most slow cookers have only two settings (low and high), but you want to be sure you’re using the best setting for whatever it is you’re cooking. Cook lean cuts of meat on high so they don’t dry out as quickly; fattier cuts will do better on low (you’ll get a great, tender finished product). But remember: Cooking anything on low will generally double the cooking time, so plan accordingly.
You throw out the excess liquid
Instead of tossing it, Wilmoth recommends simply mixing it with a bit of flour, cornstarch, or a cooked roux. The result? You’ve got instant gravy.
You’re not using a slow cooker liner
These are GAME-CHANGING and make cleanup a breeze. Seriously, if there’s one tip from this list you should take to heart, make it this one. A pack of eight liners costs $4 and will save you from endless hours of scrubbing.
You season your food too soon
If your recipe calls for fresh herbs or salt, add them right at the end, Wilmoth advises. Too soon, and the herbs will lose their flavor and your food will be too salty. Here’s what to do if you over-salt your meal.
You cook pasta in your Crock-Pot
Cooking pasta in your slow cooker has become A Thing on the Internet, but the editors over at Bon Appetite strongly recommend against it, mostly because pasta needs to hold its shape, and unfortunately, your slow cooker is not a miracle worker. Once the pasta’s been cooking and loses its shape, it simply turns into a “mushy mess. Just don’t do it.”