Why do my slow cooker recipes always taste bad?
Hey folks. I bought a slow cooker a while back because I have a job where I work an afternoon/evening shift, and I thought it would be convenient to start something cooking when I go to bed (midnight-ish) and have a pot of food ready when I wake up in the morning. However, the damn thing has ruined some of my favorite recipes, and I'm not sure why.
I absolutely love stuffed cabbage in a sweet tomato sauce, but the one time I made it in the slow cooker, it came out bland and dry, with an unpleasant and unfamiliar texture. I've tried making short ribs twice, with onions, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and celery, using slightly different recipes each time. Once I used a beef broth base, and the second time I used more barbecue sauce for a smoky, tangy flavor. Even though I browned the short ribs in a pan first both times, the dishes came out disappointing, with a tinny, metallic taste. The second time, I literally threw up after eating it... a major embarrassment, although luckily I was the only one who had sampled it.
This past weekend, I attempted slow cooker chili, whereas I usually just simmer it on the stovetop for an hour or two. This was another all-night affair, on low heat for eight hours. I used lean ground beef (which I browned in a pan first), canned diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste, onions, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, paprika, diced jalapenos, diced chipotles from a can with adobo sauce (which I also added), and some shaved semisweet baker's chocolate and a bit of sugar to cut all the acid. It came out a lot darker red than I am used to, and it also had some of that metallic taste to it. I feel obliged to eat it, rather than waste all those ingredients, but it's the worst chili I've ever made.
So what am I doing wrong? Is it the long cooking times? I figure that with enough liquid, things should be able to simmer overnight and not be harmed, but I may be wrong. Is it just the slow cooker itself? I recently made my first pot of real gumbo, with a roux and everything, and it was a successful experiment because I used the stove -- I didn't dare ruin it in the slow cooker. I may just quit using it completely. Thoughts?
I dislike the tastelessness of the food cooked in my slow cooker. I even cooked water for 4 hrs to check the temperature. There is a site on how to build a reostat for a slow cooker to control temperature. I would probabely like to see slow cookers that had lids like dutch ovens where the lids facilitate the moisture falling directly on the food. For that reason I put alot of my meals in the dutch oven and then put that in my Nesco. I have learned to brine all my meats and I cook low and slow in the oven.
I have learned with the help of Cooking Slow by Andrew Schloss and their is one I'm anxiously waiting for and that is Low and Slow from Briggs the low and slow instructor at the Culinary Institute. That comes out April 1, 2014. My oven only drops to 170 so if I need to cook at a low temp for beef I put it in my slow cooker crock and place that in my Nesco Cooker which can be set at a lower temperature. Adele Davis wrote a book in the 60's that was titled Lets cook it right and she cooked meat at the safe internal temp. Today I am putting a brined beef roast in my Pit barrel cooker and I will slice it thin for putting on my homemade Whole wheat cheese, bacon, onion rolls and will serve with roasted root vegetables and a salad. Im always learning. I just started grilling on a Habatchi grill in my fireplace. The draft is so strong I don't have to worry about Carbon Monoxide or grilling odors. The first night I did Ribeye steaks on it and it was great and it was below zero outside.. By the way my Eastman slow cooker had a 180 degree temp after four hours. All selections setting are set for a result of 180. If I had to I would plug my Nesco in a timer circuit switch and use my crockpot vessel inside the Nesco. I even tried end seasoning only but that did not make a bad cooked food great. If you love food cooked with love forget the slow cooker. Root vegetables slow and low cooked don't always soften so I roast them in the oven with all different flavored olive oils.
You can roast them first and then add them to the meat when you begin cooking it. I even add millet,Quinoa,Barley or nutrition yeast to kick up nutrition
I feel badly for you, Lou...I have a very very OLD crockpot (get it? crockpot=old school) and it has a ceramic liner....the brand is Rival and we ♥ it. Anyway, what brand of slow cooker do you own? The newer models of slow cookers have different heat settings from the old-school ones...that's about all I can offer you. You might go on Amazon to look for user product reviews of whatever brand you bought...this might help, I don't know. I just love my old school crockpot, though; and I want you to love yours, too!
I have an "old school" ceramic crockpot. I am guessing it is at least 20 years old. I am a decent cook but I can honestly say things like short ribs and pot roast are much better in an oven roaster and chili better on the stove. I was able to make some really good braised texas cut bbq pork ribs in the CP though. I have/had (?) an old cook book I got at a used book store that came with a very old CP (not mine). I think I gave it away, but the gist is you are not supposed to combine salt, beans and tomatoes too early on or things don't some out right. Beans get tough in tomato or salt aparently.
Also if you are cooking it overnight, you may be cooking it too long. 7-8 hours on low seems to the max for things I have made. otherwise things can get mushy can cause the gag reaction. Not sure,how much you sleep, but chances are after you turn the thing on you don't go right to sleep. Chicken breasts are a huge no no in my book, as they dry out. Forwhat it is worth beef generally does not work for me, but pork does. Althouh Cornbeef seems to work fine. I have never found the crockpot to be better than traditional methods, but in some cases it works acceptably under the condtions you mention (ie need to leave something unattended for hours).
I think you're definitely cooking them too long. Low for eight hours is a lot, since low is basically keeping it right below a simmer.
I would, if you could, not go over six hours on low and four hours on high for any slow cooker dish.
I know it sucks, especially if you want a dish to be nice and hot and done when you wake up/come home from work. If your slow cooker has a timer of any kind, definitely put it to use. If not, then I would set a clock for you to wake up around 5.5 to 6 hours after you turn on the slow cooker just to get up and turn it off, then go back to sleep...
Your recipes seem fine, sounds like it could be your slow cooker...I've had my "crockpot" for about 20 years, maybe more and I LOVE IT..but then, I don't taste any metallic flavor. One way to tell if it's the slow cooker is to either buy another one to use or borrow one from a friend or relative & use, preferably one of a different brand. If there's no metallic taste in your food, you have your answer.
Your post could just as easily be entitled, 'reasons Samuelinthekitchen despises slow cookers.' I have no advice except to say that your experiences echo mine perfectly. I remember a particularly harrowing pea and ham soup that came out saltier than could be imagined. In terms of other dishes I just found they constantly came out consistently bland and somehow overdone.
Honestly I can't think of any dish that I can't get better outcomes from stovetop or in the oven.
The one exception as I've mentioned previously is confit. As slow cookers keep food at a consistent and low temperature they are great for confit. Slow cooker confit garlic is a fabulous thing to have around.
+1 There are so very few things which I find taste worthy of the ingredients I'm putting in the crock pot, that I generally don't use it
my ONE exception is my Italian Roast pork, it's a shoulder which is fatty and has enough connective tissue that it needs to cook forever, I just season really well with garlic, parsley, rosemary, olive oil, a little salt and pepper and let it go
if it's a boneless shoulder I'll start it at 8:00am for a 3:00 game
otherwise, I'll turn the crock on before I go to bed and turn it off when I wake up
(it's strange and wonderful to take up to the smell of roast pork Italiano)
Wow - I really think this is either the slow cooker itself, the long cooking times, or a combination of the two.
I own a rival slow cooker that is relatively new - w/in the past 5-7 yrs - and have made a number of dishes that turned out well. For instance, Chili. I used my normal recipe (CI "chili with supermarket ingredients") and simmered it in the slow cooker instead of on the stove (since my stove just doesn't get low enough; did all prior steps on the stovetop). However, I probably simmered on low for 2-4 hours, not 8+.
I own the book, Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, and I think there are only a handful of recipes that call for more than 8 hours of cooking on low. That is why I can't use my slow cooker to make dinner while I am at work - I am just away for too long.
Hope this helps! A slow cooker can be very useful, so I hope you figure it out.
I'm thinking it's either the crockpot itself or you're cooking stuff that doesn't need as long a time as you may think it needs. Or maybe a combination of both.
My 4-quart crock -- it's ceramic -- is about the same age as yours. It doesn't have a timer. It's settings are either Low or High. I've discovered, through trial and error, that I have to shorten the cooking time on most recipes because my crock's "Low" is not as low as I think it is.
I've only noticed a faint metallic taste if I leave something tomato-based in there for too long.
If you have a newer crockpot, bought within the last three years or so, they run much hotter than older ones. I have a Rival pot which will simmer on low so I really have to be careful with what I cook in it. As far as metallic tastes go are there slow cookers out there with metallic bowls? All the ones I've seen (and owned) have been stoneware.
I've had the same problem. I think, as others here have said, that the newer Crock-Pots cook much hotter than old ones, so if you leave it cooking all day while you're at work the food gets overcooked. One thing I've tried lately is to cook while I'm asleep instead. I'll put the food in the fridge when I wake up and reheat it later for dinner.
In contrast to 'Samuelinthekitchen', I've had excellent success with my crockpots. The key is that the crockpot is not simply an even substitution for a stove-top or oven preparation, simply with a longer cook time. The lower temperature affects different dishes in different ways, and for some, you can't replicate it all in a crockpot.
Take chili - when I make it, I brown the onion and peppers to caramelize them, then add the dry spices to "toast" them a bit. You can't really do that in a crock pot, so those vegetables and spices would come out more one-dimensional. Many crock-pot recipes actually call for searing, browning, or caramelizing on a stove top first, then putting all ingredients into the crockpot. That way, you get the best of both worlds, even though it's not as convenient as all in a crockpot.
The 2 recipes I've had the best luck with tend to be the simplest. One is a chicken thigh stew - thighs, carrots, garlic cloves, white wine, and thyme. Lot's of all of them. 8 hours on low, and there's plenty of flavor to go around. Better if it's all braised? Sure. But I'm willing to sacrifice a little flavor for the extra convenience. The other is a beef stew. Here, I dredge and brown the beef first, then layer it in the crock with all other ingredients. Works well every time.
The key to successful crock-cooking is simply knowing how temperature affects your ingredients, and when you can substitute a total low-slow cook for a quick sear, followed by low-slow.
Big Bad Voodoo Lou, I just came across this discussion, and I am curious whether you found solutions for the problems you were experiencing.
I am not sure what was going wrong for you, although as others have pointed out not all dishes work well in a crock pot.
I wonder if it has something to do with the sugars perhaps getting burnt/scorched from the excessive cooking times. I never cook anything for 8 hours - Usually 5 hours, 6 max. My friend made a pork roast in her low cooker with ginger ale once, and she left it on too long. It honestly looked like a beef roast it was so dark brown (not to mention it tasted awful).
Stuff like BBQ sauce I never put in the crock pot for this very reason. I add it at the end. It either burns, or gets way too diluted from all the other liquids given off by the other ingredients that it tastes bland and runny.
I generally avoid cooking tomato products in my slow cooker as well, because they seem to lose flavor and lose their tangy-ness. Instead I will braise the meat in it for several hours (with some broth and aromatics), drain off any excess liquid (or any gelatinous "gunk" that forms in the juices), then add the sauce at the very end just to heat it through.
I think one of the biggest challenges is accounting for all the excess fat, water and juices the other ingredients will give off during the cooking time. With traditional cooking you may generally drain some of that off or much of it will evaporate leaving behind a concentrated flavorful fond. But with a slow cooker you don't get that, it all stays in the pot.
Also, be very careful of where you are getting your slow cooker recipes from. I swear, some of these recipes I've seen it was as if the author never even actually tested them out, and instead just made them up out of nowhere.
I am having the same problem. I am trying to like my slow cooker. It seems like the majority of recipes I come across start with cream of whatever soup. I did find a recipe by ATK for Chicken Stew that turned out good. Other than that...my slow cooker experience has been so so.
re: C. Hamster
I've had dishes in slow cookers come out excellent, some not. I think if you took all the same ingredients, put them into a Le Creuset, and popped it into the oven at 200 for 12 hours, you'd get largely the same results as with a slow cooker.
IMO, it's not the slow cooker itself that can lead to meh results, but rather the treatment of the ingredients themselves. I think some folks either forget (or don't understand) that the "traditional" recipes that add ingredients in specific orders, brown, sear, saute, caramelize, reduce, etc. at specific burner levels do so to bring out specific (or maximum) flavors of each ingredient. The all-into-the-slow-cooker-at-once approach negates that.
If care is taken with ingredients - browning meat first, adding ingredients in a specific order and for specific amounts of time - there's no reason a dish prepared in a slow cooker can't be every bit as good as one prepared on the stove-top or in the oven.
I also think that "slow cooker" has become synonymous with "dump & go" which is NEVER a good idea.
Cooks Illustrated/ATK have you do some prep prior to placing items into the slow cooker like mixing spices, tomato paste, and onions together and microwaving for 5+ minutes to soften and meld those flavors together BEFORE placing them into the cooker. It really helps develop the flavor base.
Also, overcooking is problematic with slow cookers. Chicken, even in a slow cooker shouldn't cook for 8+ hours. It just kills it.
My recipes have an off-sweet taste to them. I think it's the garlic - after cooking in there so long, it takes on an odd taste.
I made white beans in there, and nearly had to throw them out because the sweet-ish, weird flavor just ruined the beans. I'd soaked them overnight, rinsed, put in crockpot with rosemary, onion, carrot, parsley, garlic, etc. So weird.
I find my Le Creuset in the oven replaces the crockpot.
I've consistently been frustrated with the slow cooker, and rarely use it anymore. The best (and maybe only) thing I make with the slow cooker is pulled pork sandwiches, which cooks for 5 hours. None of the recipes I've tried turn out after 7 hours of cooking, even if the recipe calls for it.
Here's some questions and opinion:
I think you may be overcooking.
Slow cookers can have wildly different temperature setting. Use a thermometer to make sure the temp isn't going over 212 F. I've said it a million times but any protein strand will turn into a rubber band over 212 F. Then if you continue to heat the rubber bands for hours you will always get a weird texture.
Certain foods react very poorly with certain acids. The acid in tomatoes for instance, will impart a 'tinny' flavor to beef.
Celery will impart a bitter flavor to stocks (French Laundry).
Raw alcohol will impart a bitter flavor to some foods. JC would not cook with white wine for this reason.
You can find all this out on Goggle.
The key here is to realize that not everything can go into a crockpot, and I'd say that a recipe has to be DESIGNED for a crockpot to be successful.
I'd get a good cookbook for crockpot cooking only, and make sure to read all the reviews posted about the book on Amazon.
The best crockpot cookbook in my opinion is Best-Loved Slow Cooker Recipes by Publicans International. There is an eggplant couscous recipe in there to die for.
Sadly, I think it's out of print, but I found it on E-bay.
The slow cooker does not caramalise or develop the flavours... in my experience, it sucks the flavour right out of anything you put into it so you have to reseason at the end. The only things that I've found it to be really good for are a)making stock from chicken bones (because the longer that cooks the better...) and b)doing baked beans. But I don't put any of the fancy flavours in at the beginning - I cook the beans plain with tomato, and I add hand-cooked bacon and onion liberally at the end. Anything else, I much prefer to slow-bake in the oven.
It's also good for keeping stuff warm for a large group, which was the reason I bought it...
I doubt the OP is still wondering about crockpot recipes but I always chime in to defend the slow cooker. I know, I know, I am gourmet like the rest of you and will toil away at the stovetop for hours, but I have had success with the slow cooker too.
As someone mentioned it will yield a great chicken stock. I make chilis, Spanish rice, soups galore in it.
I will warn that a cheap one will not have good temperature control and is not worth it. After mine broke when moving a year ago, I thought I could get away with a cheap grocery store one but it's low was not low- only hi and then higher. I invested in a great Kitchen Aid one and am happy about it's consistency.
See my recipe for slow cooker chili from the October Dish of the Month thread and also a good blog of slow cooker recipes:
Yes it could be your slow cooker. Mine is a very old "crock-Pot" with an earthenware cooking insert. Personally I don't trust these new fangled 'metal' ones. In fact mine has settings of 'Auto-Low-High' Auto is 4 hours high then automatically changes to low. I don't see that anymore in these new ones.
There's some specific things you need to do to convert a recipe for a slow cooker. (search for converting a recipe for Slow cooker) I have a slow cooker cookbook (quiet a few ha ha) that has a chili recipe I love and it always comes out super. Also my Oxtail stew in the 'crock-pot' is also delicious.
Hey, folks. I just randomly discovered my old thread from over three years ago is still simmering.
(See what I just did?)
I actually got rid of that slow cooker a few years ago -- traded it to a colleague in exchange for borrowing her DVD set of The Wire, which ended up becoming my all-time favorite TV show. Apparently she loved it, so we both came out ahead.
If by braising you mean the simple act of cooking something at low to mid heat in a moist environment, then that's not much different than a crockpot.
Where people fail with a crockpot is the pre-work - browning the meat, browning the vegetables; any post-work - reducing the sauce; and timing.
Take ingredients, drop them into a Creuset pot, add liquid, and stick in the oven at 300 for 8 hours, and the end result will be the same as a crockpot.
The crockpot itself - the vessel - isn't to blame. It's the execution, and thus the individual that doesn't understand how to cook that's to blame for poor crockpot meals.
I don't do everything in mine, far from it. It is used most often for stock, or for cooking dry beans, but often just to have those ready to use (frozen); I do bean cuisine on the stovetop.
I also use it for very tough but tasty, long-to-cook meats, for example, making curry goat or beek shank. Those would take forever any other way, and a lot of energy and expense.
I only have a countertop convection oven, so I can't really oven braise. It also sounds expensive in terms of energy, no?
lagatta, re energy use, it depends:
I think there are more important factors to consider than energy use, for example: can you find a slow cooker at an affordable prices that truly slow cooks (that is: where 'LOW' isn't actually High)? if you already have a dutch oven, can you justify spending on what is essentially a duplicate device? can you afford the space to store it (my kitchen cupboards are maxed out)?
"can you find a slow cooker at an affordable prices that truly slow cooks (that is: where 'LOW' isn't actually High)?"
Yes, today's slow cookers cook at a higher temperature, but that doesn't mean it can't be used to cook high quality meals.
"if you already have a dutch oven, can you justify spending on what is essentially a duplicate device?"
Slow cookers can be used while no one is at home. I'd never leave the oven (or stove!!) going for hours while I'm not around. That's the huge advantage of a slow cooker. Want to make beef stew on a Saturday, but need to run errands or have plans during the day? Your dutch oven can't do that. Notch one for the slow cooker. Ditto with making stock.
Also, I've used my (two) slow cooker(s) during parties to keep stuff warm, things that don't risk overcooking, like baked beans, chili, etc.
"can you afford the space to store it (my kitchen cupboards are maxed out)?"
Yes, space is always a consideration.
Many people see slow cookers as a thing of convenience that allows one to throw ingredients into a pot, wait a few hours, and voila, a meal. I see it as a matter of convenience only from the perspective that it can cook while I'm not at home. I'm not willing to do that with a gas oven. I still do all the same prep that I'd do if I was making the same recipe in a dutch oven - brown the meat, if it's a huge chunk o meat, I'll broil it at the end to crisp it, reduce the sauce (if appropriate). Convenience, but of a different kind.
Exactly. I'm a slow cooker newbie, and while I'm not a fanatic about it, I really like the "hands off" aspect of it. My cooker has an insert that can go on the stove, so that makes it easy to do the pre-browning etc. But the reason I got it is so I can cook food and do other things. I used it on New Years Day to make a bolognese sauce... I put it together in the morning, went to a friend's house to watch hockey and then went furniture shopping, then came home and all I needed to do was make the pasta and dinner was ready.
Also, my SO travels for work, and so I have to take him to the airport every Sunday night at 7pm... which is right in the middle of dinner prep time. With the slow cooker, I can get something started in the afternoon, and it's ready for me to eat when I get home around 8pm. Before I got it, I'd start dinner at 8pm and wouldn't eat til 9 or 930, which is a bit late for me.
Another example, tomorrow, my puppy is having surgery (just a spay nothing major). Vet said I'll have to pick her up at 5:30, and since I'll be a nervous fur mommy, I'll want to keep a close eye on her all night. So tomorrow, I will likely use my slow cooker to make something, so I can start it before she's home and won't have to do much after she's home. Without the slow cooker, I'd likely go get fast food or order a pizza... not great options, both health-wise or money-wise.
Fortunately I have the space for it as i have a lot of cabinets and a large walk-in pantry. If i was still in a big city with a tiny apartment, I'd probably be less inclined to have one (along with a lot of my other kitchen gadgets like a food processor, waffle maker, etc.)
Interesting about the energy. As for the initial price, my slow cooker cost me ... $1, at a community bazaar. It has been going for many years, but obviously could give up the ghost any time (as could I). I don't use it often enough to keep it on the counter, but there is a spot for it in my kitchen cupboards. I've been getting rid of stuff I don't use.
Of course, being a 1970s model, I have an actual "low" that is useful for long, slow braises.
Leave for work at 7:00 AM, come home from work at 6:00PM
That’s 11 hours in the crock
Even at “Keep warm” the food is still cooking
So if something is supposed to cook for 4 hours, I program to cook on high for one, to bring the food up to temperature and then set at “keep warm” till I get home, because the food will continue to ‘cook’ on keep warm, keep warm is about 170*,
There are ‘hacks’ you can plug your cock pot into a timer to shut it off, then your food is sitting in the ‘danger zone’
food.com has SOME good recipes, but the most highly rated/reviewed recipe:
“Crock-Pot Chicken With Black Beans & Cream Cheese...yum!”
I hate to “yuk” anyone else’s “yum” but there was very little redeeming about this recipe other than the fact that it’s stupid easy
Unless I’m home, I never do anything in the slow cooker which has tomatoes or sauce in it… scorches and just tastes bad.
The other issue is, that the liquids are trapped, so they can’t reduce
Michele Scicolone wrote The Italian Slow Cooker, which is a very good cookbook, however they’re not “throw it in the crock pot and go to work” recipes
Other than very large cuts of meat which need to cook a very long time, I haven’t found any recipes which you can do that with and have them turn out well
I've cooked in crock pots over 30 years. I've had successes and failures! Mostly successes, but Lately, I've been bad, thinking it wouldn't hurt to leave it cooking for more hours on low (mostly because I oversleep), and as a result, I've been "overcooking" and meat & potato dishes with spices come out heavy and dark tasting!
It is important to "know your crockpot" - some cook slower and faster than others. In your case, I would shorten the time you cook in your crockpot by an hour or two and give it a taste!
When you do happen to overcook, I find adding water to "thin" out the dark taste helps. I thought I'd ruined this huge goat leg, when all it needed was water!! Use the extra leftover broth to cook your next pot of rice (instead of plain water) or put the meal with the extra broth over a fresh bowl of egg noodles/rice.
As for the metallic taste, that's just wrong. That to me says that there are toxins coming out of the ceramic. Chinese ceramics are known for lead problems and too many companies sell Chinese goods.
Also, when it comes to garlic. ONLY buy locally grown and hopefully organic garlic. Many countries are required to spray extremely toxic antifungal poisons on garlic that is shipped out of the country to any other country. Fungicides are loaded with heavy metals.... so there's your answer on why garlic dishes may be tasting so bad. There are so many hidden toxins in food.
I bought my first slow cooker about forty years ago and the one I am using now I bought maybe nine, ten years ago---I notice a great difference in that the newer one cooks much faster, even on Low. Typically I check the contents at what I would normally think is the halfway point and everything is always done already. But I don't know what to say about the metallic taste. Is it a mainstream brand? Although everything comes from China now anyway. I wonder if anything could be leaching from the material the crock is made from.