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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?

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  1. I have never used a slow cooker myself so i cant really give u any advice how to improve ur recipes but if it has a metelic taste to it maybe it something wrong with it and the taste comes from the slow cooker?

    1 Reply
    1. re: L987

      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
      Good Luck.

    2. 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!

      1 Reply
      1. re: Val

        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).

      2. 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...

        1. 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.

          1. 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.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Samuelinthekitchen

              +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)

              1. re: Samuelinthekitchen

                I think you are right as far as you go. Yes, I have a terrific recipe for Baby Backs and I can do it in the oven or the grill on the weekend. BUT if I want to enjoy them during the week, the slow cooker is almost as good. I can make soups, stews, roasts, brisket, carnitas, chili verde, all kinds of things in the slow cooker and it is 98% percent done when I get home from a LONG day at work. I don't think anyone brags that it is the best meal they ever had, but given a choice between a nice, fork- tender brisket with potatoes, carrots, in a nice onion broth and a Swanson's Hungry Man dinner or opening a can of soup, it ain't much of a choice. Slow cookers are convenient and they let me save $$$ on tougher cuts of meat. There's two good reasons for using them.