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15 Ways You’ve Been Using Your Slow Cooker Wrong (And How to Fix Them!)

It’s not quite as simple as “set it and forget it.”

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iStock/Brian Steele

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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iStock/Debbi Smirnoff

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.

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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 six liners costs just $3.50 and will save you from endless hours of scrubbing. Here are more secrets of working parents who cook dinner every night.

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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.

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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 Appétit 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.” Learn the other biggest mistake you can make when cooking pasta.

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Rustic Natural Dairy Products on wooden table

You add dairy too early

Cream and cheese can transform a dish into the perfect comfort food, but adding them toward the beginning of the cooking process will ruin your meal. The dairy products could curdle, leaving you with an unappetizing mess. Add it at the very end, when it will become creamy, not clumpy.

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preparing ahead of time makes hearty slow cooker meals are a favorite for fall and winter cooking

You take “slow” too seriously

The set-it-and-forget-it method of slow cooking is a huge advantage when you want dinner ready and waiting, without much extra prep. Just remember: “Slow” doesn’t mean “forever.” If you leave your meal in the pot longer than the recipe says, you’ll end up with a burnt, dry mess on your hands, according to thekitchn.com.

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Bottle of sweet white wine on a table
Jacques PALUT/Shutterstock

You’re heavy-handed with alcohol ingredients

Wine and liquor can give a meal depth, but low temperatures mean they won’t simmer down in a slow cooker like they would on the stove. To avoid an alcoholic taste if you’re not following a strict recipe, thekitchn.com recommends cutting the harshness by deglazing a browning pan with the liquor, then using that preheated liquid in the Crock Pot.

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You let your crunchy tops get soggy

A breadcrumb topping is one of the most coveted parts of a dish, but they’re hard to achieve with slow cookers, which trap the moisture inside and let it drip back down. Sarah DiGregorio, author of Adventures in Slow Cooking, tells buzzfeed.com she uses a paper towel to soak up the condensation when making eggplant parmesan or cheesecakes. Before putting the lid on, cover the pot with a paper towel. Place the lid on top as usual so it holds the paper towel in place. Don’t miss these other 25 kitchen shortcuts you’ll wish you knew sooner.

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You only use it for dinner

There’s no need to limit the ease of a slow cooker to dinnertime. You can make anything from desserts to breakfast casseroles to party mix with the same easy cooking method you save for busy weeknights.

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Chef cutting fresh raw meat on wooden board
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

You don’t brown your meat first

Yeah, yeah, the reason you wanted to slow-cook your food was so you didn’t have to worry about browning and searing. While browning your meat before sticking it in the Crock Pot isn’t strictly necessary, it does give the meat a more complex flavor, which is well worth the extra effort. If you hate the idea of another dirty dish, look for a slow cooker model with a stovetop-safe insert, suggests Good Housekeeping. Learn how to fix these other 50 kitchen mistakes everyone makes.