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Slow Cooker woes

We just got a slow cooker

http://www.amazon.com/Crock-Pot-SCVT6...

and have had nothing but problems with the first 2 things we tried. The first dish was chicken thighs, and the 2nd dish was a pork roast. Both times the edges of the meat that are on top come out totally dried out, brown, and crusted over. Both times, I've left the slow cooker on low for about 9 hours, then on warm for another hour.

I've heard that you need to fill the slow cooker 1/2 to 3/4 of the way full, which I'll never get a 6.5qt crock pot that full.

Am I doing something wrong, do I have the wrong size, help please! I've been following these recipes exactly as I am totally new to a slow cooker.

Also, if any of you have recipes that I can leave on for 10+ hours (as I leave for work at 7:30 and don't want to eat dinner till at least 6:30) that would be great.

Thanks in advance for the help

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  1. 9 hours sounds way too long for chicken thighs. 6 would be more like it, and according to rick bayless (he's got 6-8 wonderful slow cooker recipes in his book "Mexican Everyday") you can safely leave it on warm for another 4 hours after that.) But, yeah, I think the tips are going to get a little dried unless you completely submerse it in liquid...

    9 s about right for a pork roast, I think. I do my pork roast so the fat layer is on top and can kind of baste the meat during cooking time.

    ~TDQ

    1. There are really not very many recipes that you can leave in the crockpot for that long and have it taste like anything. Pork shoulder roast is one - add barbecue sauce for pulled pork, or a can of green enchilada sauce, about 2 Tablespoons of chili powder, and a half teaspoon of cumin for burritos. The majority of my other recipes are for 5-6 hours.
      I have the same crock-pot you got and love it, but I also have a smaller one for times when I cannot fill the big crockpot to at least half full. The cookbook that comes with the crockpot has a very nice roast beef recipe that is my family's favorite, so long as I make sure to use a chuck roast and not some other cut.

      1. I believe the point has been made, if not specifically then conceptually, that slow cookers don't necessarily mean that they cook everything for long periods of time at low temperatures. When the contents of the slow cooker are done, they're done. A pork shoulder for pulled pork cooks in my slow cooker in 6 hours; any more and it'd begin to dry out.
        It might help you to learn your slow cooker's nuances by placing a thermometer into the food while it's cooking and monitor the internal temperature over time.

        1. Dang that cooker does look lovely. How many peeps are you cooking for? Two folks in our house, and our most used cookers are a 4-qt, 1.5 qt, and 2-c.

          Cooking times depend on size of cooker, volume of fill, coldness of fill, amount of liquid, density of food, amount of stirring, raising of lid, etc.

          Despite the rep of slow cookers as "set it and forget it" or "set it and walk away", better results come from good ingredient prep, and interaction with the cooker. I work 12-hr shifts and it's very seldom that tonight's dinner is in one of my cookers -- there might be a tomato sauce, stock, or stew in there while I'm away but generally dishes in the cooker requires a bit of stirring, later addition of ingredients and some processing beforehand. I generally prep dinner entire on a day off and then reheat as needed on worknights.

          Chicken doesn't need much more than 6 hours in a crockpot (as others have stated). Fatty pork is generally forgiving with a bit of liquid onboard but needs to be congruent with size of cooker.

          1. Echo what has been said about limited choices for optimal cooking much over 6hours. You would probably have the best luck with a variety of bean dishes. I have made different kinds of chili with longer cooking times and they were great. Another idea would be to make a nice long cooking soup stock, then finish with prepped fresh veggies, pasta, or diced meats, once you get home.

            6 Replies
            1. re: sedimental

              Most beans turn into mush if left on for 9 hours! Unless of course what you are after is bean mush.

              1. re: lilham

                That is not my experience at all ...or of other people. Almost all slow cooker bean recipes will tell you to cook dried beans for at least 8 hours (on low)...most suggest 8 to 9 hours, or 4 to 6 on high. It's standard practice. I am not suggesting using canned beans.
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/584095

                1. re: sedimental

                  That's my experience with soaked dried beans. Chickpeas and red kidney beans keep their shapes. But others like borlotti and pinto invariably go mushy. It's ok for mushy dishes like refried beans. But sometimes I want them firmer, for example in salads.

                  I also leave them in the slow cooker for about as long as the OP, from 7 to 6/7.

                  1. re: lilham

                    Probably depends upon the slow cooker, but I often cook beans for up to 10 hours (pinto, black, navy, etc) and they do not turn to mush. In fact, I think the big advantage of cooking beans in a slow cooker is that they hold their shape. I cook on low, and have an older slow cooker that doesn't cook too hot, so it's not actually boiling. I would think that if your beans are losing their shape, the are being agitated by boiling water, indicating that your slow cooker is cooking hot.

                    1. re: MelMM

                      You are right about the temperature, MelMM. I just made chili with beans today. 10 hours on low, beef and pinto beans. Not mushy in the least. I have an older model (several older models in different sizes actually) and they DO cook at a lower temp. I bought a new one a few years ago and hated it. It overcooked everything.

                      1. re: sedimental

                        I've been hesitating to buy a newer slow cooker for just this reason. I'd like some of the new features, like being able to program it to switch to a "keep warm" setting after a certain number of hours, but I've had such good luck with what I have, and I'm afraid of throwing that out the window for some features that may not be worth it, and may, in fact, be unnecessary with an older cooker that cooks at a lower temp. I'm pretty sure I could leave my beans on forever without them turning to mush.

            2. Here's a slow cooker recipe with a longer cooking time that I like:

              Char Siu Pork (8 hours on low): http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/slow-...

              A few from the same Cooking Light list with longer cooking times (I haven't tried these but they are highly rated by CL users):
              Mediterranean Turkey (low 7 hours) http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/medit...
              Slow Simmered Meat Sauce (low 8 1/2 hours) http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/slow-...
              Brazilian Feijoada (low 8 hrs) http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/brazi...
              Hmmm: here's a chicken one for 8 hrs: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/prove...

              from food network site on my "to try" list:
              ropa vieja (8 hours) http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/fo...

              ~TDQ

              2 Replies
              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                Ok tried the Ropa Vieja today after reading this thread this am and as written this is a very good recipe. I haven't used my slow cooker in a couple years but had some free time this am and dragged it out. Family loved it and I have 2 rather young picky eaters and always make them at least taste what I have made even though I know it is way beyond their comfort level. They are coming along though..

                1. re: King of Northern Blvd

                  Oh, awesome, thanks for reporting back! I'm glad it worked out.

                  ~TDQ

              2. I have the same problem as you as I am out of the house for 10 hours on work days. This chart might help you

                http://homecooking.about.com/library/...

                Basically you need something that normally cooks for over 1 hours on the stove. But tbh, I've found everything tastes very overdone after 10 hours. Slow cooker, to me, seems better for someone who stays at home (eg work from home mum). You need to be able to take the thing out after 6-8 hours usually.

                1. Thanks for all the replies.

                  So basically you have to cook most things 6-8 hours, so instead of cooking all day while I'm gone, I can set it the night before and turn it off when I wake up.

                  Now... am I using the wrong size cooker? Depending on the night there's between 2-4 of us, but even when I put my 2lb pork roast in there it didn't even cover the bottom! Should I get a smaller one?

                  11 Replies
                  1. re: beej210

                    What my wife and I have done when we were both working days was to plug in a christmas light timer, and then plug in the slowcooker into that in the morning before we left the house. Then, using some simple math, we would figure out at what time should the pot turn on in order to cook for only 6/8 hours. Voila, no more dry, 10 hour cooked dinners! :)

                    1. re: Midknight

                      Yikes. I wouldn't leave my raw chicken sitting there in a crock pot waiting for the timer to kick in. I'd rather have overcooked chicken...

                      ~TDQ

                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        I let my chicken sit out before the timer kicks in. I figure that the food is just losing it's refrigerator chill during that time. It's never caused a problem for me.

                      2. re: Midknight

                        I do exactly the same thing as my crocks are both older, w/o timers. I was afraid to mention it for fear of germ concerns but it has worked for me. Another trick is to use frozen or a least chilled ingredients. I make a chicken dish with frozen chicken breasts and salsa. Extra time needed to get things hot stretches the whole process out to cover the 9 or 10 hours I'm gone.

                        1. re: tcamp

                          I'm glad this works for you--I'm too chicken to try it, especially with chicken! I suppose it might be worth a try if you aren't cooking for children, the elderly or anyone with a compromised immune system.

                          I read somewhere that the reason crock pot manufacturers are now manufacturing their crock pots "hotter" than in the old days is because they caught wind that people were putting half-frozen food in their crock pots and they were trying to compensate for that.

                          ~TDQ

                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            I've heard the same thing about food safety. Some older slow cooker never reach the hot enough to kill bacterial/virus point. I do think it's more of a problem for children and elderly.

                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              I've heard that and believed it when I had a crockpot that burned everything. But, my latest has been fine. I think there's inconsistency out there in slow cookers.

                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                I've heard that too. The first few times I did it, I sampled temperature and meat was always fine (above minimum requirement) so I've proceeded w/o worry. I subscribe to the "a few germs are better than none at all" school of parenting and everyone has survived so far but definitely no compromised immune systems!

                              2. re: tcamp

                                I'm with Midknight and tcamp. I have 4 1/2 qt and 1 1/2 models. The 1.5 qt cooks very quickly. I like to prep a large batch (for example brown the chicken, onions etc) and freeze in portions for the 1.5 qt. In the morning add vegetables and liquid and set the timer.

                                If you are concerned about food safety you can check the temperature with an instant read meat thermometer.

                                USDA Recommended Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures

                                Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.
                                Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
                                Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.

                            2. re: beej210

                              I have two slow cookers - a big 6qt and a smaller 4 qt. There are two of us, and I find I use the smaller cooker a lot more. even a batch of turkey chili works out better in the smaller cooker. I use the big one for parties.

                              It's also about learning how your cooker cooks - our larger one cooks fast so I have to adjust cooking times accordingly.

                              1. re: beej210

                                My most-used cookers are 1.5-qt, 2-cup, and 4-qt; I cook for two. I do envy your big one but I'd only use that for the holidays.

                                Your 2# roast would have done better in a smaller cooker. You really do need the 1/2- to 3/4-full volume. Slow cookers don't mind crowding. I had plenty of less-than-stellar results before I realized that I needed smaller devices. You might consider a smaller crock (somewhere in the 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4-qt range) before giving up on slow cooking; save the big guy for tomato sauce, big stews, beanpots, huge roasts, mass chicken cooking. :)

                              2. As others have said, the slow cooker requires a bit of a learning curve to get the best out of it. I'm gone all day, and want to have dinner ready when I get home. So I'll prep my dinner the night before, and keep the insert in the fridge. Then in the morning, I put it out, and use my handy dandy light timer to turn it on so that it cooks for the four or five hours, and it won't be overdone by the time I get home.

                                I also love this cookbook: Slow Cooker Revolution by the folks at Cooks Illustrated. It'll change the way you think about slow cookers. Keep working at it, and your meals will get better!

                                1. This is why I love my slow cooker. It has an automatic timer that when time is up, it switches to warm.

                                  So if I'm gone 10+ at work? No worries! My corned beef is cooked on low for 6 hours and then switches to warm until I get home.

                                  If the meat doens't get flipped, the meat sticking out does become a little more cooked than the rest, but it's still able to be sliced or shredded.

                                  1. I'm going to disagree a bit. The kind of slow cooker you are using makes a huge difference. I went from a Rival to a Ham Beach and a small Cuisinart, and I have no problems now. A Rival cooks way too hot, and was actually burning stuff. Different slow cookers have different temperatures. For the Cuisinart which has 4 temps (and is programmable) High is 212, Low is 200, Simmer 185, Warm is 165. The HB has a temp probe, and is a godsend. I know when food is cooked to temp, and then it shifts to warm.

                                    I agree with the Slow Cooker Revolution recommendation, but also The Gourmet Slow Cooker, Vols. I and II.by Lynn Alley. Michele Sciiclone has two really good ones; The Italian Slow Cooker, and the French Slow Cooker. I use my s/c a lot, and turn out great meals in them, including dessert.

                                    1. so this crock pot that I have also switches to warm after the cooking time, but is it ok to cook something on low for 6 hours then have it sit on warm for another 4?

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: beej210

                                        According to Bayless (see my first post above), yes, it's safe for it to sit on warm for about 4 hours. He didn't seem to recommend beyond that.

                                        ~TDQ

                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                          P.S. this still may not solve your woes, though. For instance, I popped this in my crock pot before work earlier this week: http://www.marthastewart.com/340993/s... and the tops of my chicken thighs (that were not submersed in liquid by the time the cooking was done) and they were kind of dry and yucky by the time I got home, just as you described.

                                          ~TDQ

                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                            I've had that same experience with dried out meat that wasn't submerged. Now when I cook something with a lot of liquid I make sure it's all covered by the liquid.

                                        2. re: beej210

                                          I would play with it on weekends first but I'd try 5 hours, slightly undercooking, and letting the residual heat finish off the chicken.

                                          1. re: beej210

                                            I do that all the time. No problems for me.

                                          2. Yesterday I made a pork sirloin tip roast (partially frozen) in my small crock. Mushrooms, dijon, and an herb rub, and about 1/4 cup water. After nearly 10 hours, it was great.

                                            1. 1) Use the timer feature --low on 8 is about the max for most dishes I've found, so either delay start or have it switch to the warm setting.
                                              2) I have never had any luck with chicken in the slow cooker. Generally, fattier meats do better, or tougher meats with added liquid. Things that cook for 2+ hours (better 3 or 4) via conventional methods will have better results in the slow cooker.

                                              1. so I think I need to return this 6 qt cooker and get a smaller one based on all your advice. Last question.... which one should I get?

                                                I really like the features on the Hamilton Beach ones that have the temp probe and the side clamps to lock in the steam, but they only appear to be available on 6 qt models.

                                                Does anyone have a smaller slow cooker that at least has a timer and auto-switches to warm that they love?

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: beej210

                                                  Cuisinart has programmable 3.5-qt and a 4-qt cookers, might be worth looking into if you're returning the big guy. I don't have any of that type, mine are all pretty primitive.

                                                  http://www.cuisinart.com/products/slo...

                                                  1. re: DuchessNukem

                                                    I'm in the primitive camp too but if you are into experimenting, you might want to drop by a thrift store and look for one of these:

                                                    http://www.ebay.com/itm/VINTAGE-RIVAL...

                                                    One of mine is quite similar and is the best crock I've ever owned. Glass rather than plastic lid is important.

                                                  2. re: beej210

                                                    I don't think the 6 qts is too big for some uses. If my slow cooker ever died, I'd consider the Hamilton Beach w/ three crocks.

                                                    http://www.amazon.com/Hamilton-Beach-...

                                                  3. I'll echo what others have said about your time seeming to be too long. I'd also suggest you stir the pot every now and then. I've not done a ton of slow cooker cooking, maybe a dozen or so dishes, but I recall all of them advising that the contents be stirred every now and then.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: The Big Crunch

                                                      Uh, no. Most recipes recommend that you do not remove the lid during cooking. There are exceptions of course, but a slow cooker is designed to cook on a very low heat, and counts on retaining that heat through thick ceramic walls and a heavy lid. If you remove the lid during cooking, you have to adjust the time by quite a bit because it takes the cooker a long time to regain the lost heat.