Don't settle for bland, mushy food. These expert Crockpot tips and tricks will ensure your dinner turns out tasty and tender every single time.
On busy days, it’s so tempting to hit up a drive-thru so you can skip cooking and cleanup time. But you can also skip that stuff with a slow cooker. With these tips on how to use a slow cooker, dinner will be way more satisfying, too.
Don’t own a slow cooker? Our Test Kitchen tested several brands to find the best slow cooker for your needs.
Tip 1: Buy the Right Type of Meat
It’s a common dilemma: you didn’t have the cut of meat the recipe called for, so you swapped in something else. And as a result, your pork roast turned out tough and dry, yet also greasy. Before you make a substitution, consider that when slow-cooking for an extended time, it’s best to use well-marbled cuts. It’s a great opportunity to use less expensive meats, such as beef chuck roast, pork shoulder and chicken thighs. To minimize fat drippings, trim meats before cooking or plan to skim off some fat before serving.
Tip 2: Sear the Meat Before You Start
Before you put a raw pot roast into the slow cooker, there’s something you should know. Browning the meat ahead of time will help you lock in extra flavor, plus it’ll seal in the meat’s delicious juices. If you want to be really turn up the flavor, add a little rub or spice mix to the meat, too. This step takes just a few minutes but makes a world of difference.
Tip 3: Avoid Overfilling the Crock
Halfway through cooking, your slow cooker starts rattling. Turns out the lid is clanking against the crock because the contents are bubbling over. Or, when you open the lid to dish up dinner, you discover your meal is a hard mass stuck to the bottom of the slow cooker. Eek! Since slow cookers operate best when filled halfway to three-quarters full, make sure your recipe meets that criteria. If you’re cooking with more or less food, cooking times may need adjustment.
Tip 4: Chop Veggies to a Uniform Size
That Slow-Cooker Beef Stew has smelled so good all day. But when you dig in, some of the veggies are crunchy—hardly even crisp-tender—and others have completely disappeared! This unfortunate situation is why it’s so important to cut your vegetables to the right size. They should all be about the same size so they cook evenly.
Don’t let your long-awaited lasagna recipe come out of the cooker scorched in some places. When cooking “solid” foods, such as lasagna, meat loaves, bread pudding and breakfast bakes, it’s OK to check the sides for over-browning. In most slow cookers, the side opposite the control panel is where foods cook fastest, so it’s the best place to check first. Just be sure to look quickly and only near the end of the cook time.
Tip 7: Thicken the Sauce
If tonight’s slow-cooked chicken recipe is swimming in broth, don’t just dump it out! Juices don’t evaporate in a slow cooker because the lid is closed. As a result, they may be thinner or more plentiful than you wish. Transfer them to a saucepan and thicken into a gravy with flour or cornstarch.
Tip 8: Always Add Cheese at the End
We’ve all been there; at least, I have. You’ve made a delicious recipe in your slow cooker, topped it with cheese and left it for just a little too long. There’s nothing worse than a gooey, somewhat rubbery mess. To avoid this issue, you don’t have to avoid cheese altogether. Instead, simply make sure that you add it right at the end, around 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Tip 9: Stop Overcooking
If your family consistently gives your slow-cooked dishes low marks because of the mushy veggies, chalky meat and/or muddy, one-note flavors, you may be overcooking your recipes. Instead, take advantage of the slow cooker’s “Keep Warm” setting if you need to leave something on longer than the recipe requires. Or, choose one of these slow-cooker recipes that take a full workday to cook, so it’s ready when you get home.
Tip 10: Skip Washing Up
The least fun part of using a slow cooker is definitely the cleanup. No one likes it, and yet we all have to do it, right? Not quite. Using a slow cooker liner means that you can avoid most of the cleaning and get on with eating your deliciously tender home-cooked meal.
Tip 11: Think Outside the Box
If you thought that slow cookers were just for stews, I’ve got news for you. You can cook anything from rice pudding to mulled wine, and even cheesecake. If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out all the foods you didn’t know could be made in a slow cooker.
My husband and I like chuck roast recipes, so this slow-cooked recipe is terrific. You'll also love how flavorful and tender this comforting beef chuck roast turns out. —Bette McCumber, Schenectady, New York
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Still hungry? Check out more of our best recipes of 2022!
I don't know one family that doesn't have some crazy, hectic weeknights. This slow-cooker baked ziti recipe was a delicious, easy fix for a busy weeknight dinner for our family. —Christina Addison, Blanchester, Ohio
It's easy to please friends and family with these fast-to-fix San Francisco Pork Chops. Simmered in a tangy sauce all day, they're so moist and delicious by dinnertime that they practically melt in your mouth. —Tara Bonesteel, Dayton, New Jersey
These slow-cooker short ribs are an easy alternative to traditionally braised short ribs—you don't need to pay any attention to them once you get them in the slow cooker. (That makes it my favorite beef short ribs recipe!) —Rebekah Beyer, Sabetha, Kansas
My sister shared this white bean chicken chili recipe with me. I usually double it and add one extra can of beans, then serve with cheddar biscuits or warmed tortillas. The jalapeno adds just enough heat to notice but not too much for my children. —Kristine Bowles, Albuquerque, New Mexico
My mom found this recipe in a farm journal soon after she and my dad got married. The tender beef has been a family favorite for years, and my dad often requests it. —Danielle Brandt, Ruthton, Minnesota
This is a fabulous slow-cooker ranch chicken recipe that we have passed around to all our friends, especially those who have young children. It's wonderful for a cold winter night or a hot summer day when you don't want to turn on the oven. Serve it as a weeknight family dinner or for a large group. —Sonya Stark, West Jordan, Utah
This cowboy beans recipe is tradition when my girlfriends and I go up north for a girls' weekend. The husbands and kids are left at home, but the slow cooker comes with us! —Julie Butsch, Hartland, Wisconsin
I use my slow cooker to prepare these well-seasoned chicken breasts that cook up moist and tender. My daughter, who has two young sons to keep up with, shared this great recipe with me several years ago. I now rely on cooking chicken in a Crock Pot many days a week.—Sundra Hauck, Bogalusa, Louisiana
Everyone will enjoy these fork-tender, slow-cooker pork chops with a creamy, light gravy. Serve with a green vegetable, mashed potatoes and coleslaw or a salad. These are the best slow cooker pork chops. —Sue Bingham, Madisonville, Tennessee
When my husband and I were first married, he refused to eat meat loaf because he said it was bland and dry. Then I prepared this version, and it became his favorite meal. —Suzanne Codner, Starbuck, Minnesota
As a four-generation Idaho family, we love our potatoes and cook with them in every way possible. I have served these cheesy potatoes for weddings, family dinners and special occasions. They've become a favorite of many. —Karla Kimball, Emmett, Idaho
My husband and I love to entertain, and we make this hearty seven-ingredient Mexican dip often. Using our slow cooker leaves us free to share quality time with our guests. After all, isn't that the purpose of a party? —Heather Courtney, Ames, Iowa
I am a stay-at-home mom who relies on my slow cooker for fast, nutritious meals with minimal cleanup and prep time. I knew this recipe was a hit when I didn't have any leftovers and my husband asked me to make it again. —Nancy Clow, Mallorytown, Ontario
Chuck roast makes delicious slow-cooker barbecue beef sandwiches after simmering in a rich, homemade sauce all day. The meat is tender and juicy and takes minutes to prepare for a weeknight dinner or potluck. —Tatina Smith, San Angelo, Texas
Slow-simmered and seasoned with rosemary, mustard and thyme, this tender and tasty crock pot roast and potatoes recipe is so easy to make and always a hit. Substitute burgundy or brandy plus a half-cup of water for the broth…the aroma of this English roast recipe is wonderful! —Jeannie Klugh, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
When I have leftover ham in the fridge, I like to make this slow-cooker split pea soup. Just throw the ingredients in the slow cooker, turn it on and dinner is done. —Pamela Chambers, West Columbia, South Carolina
My trick to making a tasty roast that’s pull-apart tender is marinating a boneless cut of pork in a tangy sauce overnight before cooking it slowly the next day. It’s unbeatable. —Sue Brown, San Miguel, California
These slow cooker lamb chops are, without a doubt, the lamb dish we like best. I usually simmer them on low for hours. The aroma is irresistible, and they come out so tender, they practically melt in your mouth! —Sandy McKenzie, Braham, Minnesota
My father is very opinionated, especially about food. This recipe received his almost unreachable stamp of approval. I have yet to hear a disagreement from anyone who has tried it! —Melissa Taylor, Higley, Arizona
I've been relying on this braised short ribs recipe ever since I bought my first slow cooker some 19 years ago. The fall-off-the-bone-tender entree is much appreciated on busy days. —Peggy Edwards, Heber City, Utah
As a busy mom, I love my slow-cooker meals! Beef tips remind me of a childhood favorite. I make this slow-cooker beef tips recipe with mushrooms and red wine, then serve over brown rice, noodles or mashed potatoes. —Amy Lents, Grand Forks, North Dakota
When there's a chill in the air, nothing beats this beef stew. Seasoned with thyme and dry mustard, the hearty slow-cooker beef stew is chock-full of tender carrots, potatoes and meat. —Earnestine Wilson, Waco, Texas
My family of five likes to eat beef, so this recipe is a favorite. I usually serve slow-cooker sirloin with homemade bread or rolls to soak up the tasty gravy. —Vicki Tormaschy, Dickinson, North Dakota
Talk about your heirloom recipes! My grandmother made this Hungarian goulash recipe for my mother when she was a child, and then Mom made it for us to enjoy. Paprika and caraway add wonderful flavor, and sour cream gives it a creamy richness. It’s simply scrumptious! —Marcia Doyle, Pompano, Florida
I enjoy a good pot roast, but was tired of the same old thing. So, I began experimenting. Cooking the beef in horseradish sauce gives it a tangy flavor. Even my young children love this slow-cooker pot roast with its tender veggies and gravy. —Mimi Walker, Palmyra, Pennsylvania
Garlic, oregano and lemon juice give spark to this memorable main dish. It's easy to fix—just brown the chicken in a skillet, then let the slow cooker do the work. I like to serve this dish to company. —Walter Powell, Wilmington, Delaware
One of the ladies in our church quilting group brought this savory potato soup to a meeting, and everyone loved how the cream cheese and bacon made it so rich. It's easy to assemble in the morning so it can simmer on its own all day. —Anna Mayer, Fort Branch, Indiana
When we have overnight guests, I like to prepare things ahead of time so we can enjoy the company. It often gets crazy when everyone first wakes up, and I like to have food available whenever people are ready to eat. I devised this slow-cooker breakfast recipe when I was feeding 22 people at a destination wedding. —Donna Gribbins, Shelbyville, Kentucky
I love making this satisfying dish—it’s easy and elegant, and the slow cooker minimizes my time in the kitchen. I make this during football season too. For game days, I skip the pasta and serve the chicken on submarine rolls with a bit of the sauce and some chopped lettuce. It’s also good cut in half and served on smaller buns as sliders. —Bonnie Hawkins, Elkhorn, Wisconsin
I love this super easy chicken slow-cooker recipe because it tastes like Thanksgiving, but without all the hassle. It's such a hearty and delicious meal for the fall or winter season. —Nancy Barker, Peoria, Arizona
After a long day at work, a slow-cooked meal is a great help. One of my family's favorites is this moist slow-simmered chicken. For an appealing look, choose a darker brown barbecue sauce. —Jacqueline Blanton, Gaffney, South Carolina
I've made these tender ribs for a lot of my buddies—including my preacher. Some have even suggested that I try bottling my sauce and selling it to the public! —Allan Stackhouse Jr., Jennings, Louisiana
This delicious pork tacos recipe is my copycat version of the most excellent Mexican food we ever had, when we were visiting Flagstaff, Arizona. The original recipe used beef instead of pork, but this comes mighty close to the same taste. —Ariella Winn, Mesquite, Texas
I look forward to going on our beach vacation every year, but I don't always relish the time spent cooking for everybody. This slow-cooker dessert (or breakfast!) gives me more time to lie in the sun and enjoy the waves. Melty ice cream is a must. —Colleen Delawder, Herndon, Virginia
Birthday parties back home were big gatherings of cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and anyone else we considered family. As soon as guests arrived, hot pans of shredded brisket, or carne deshebrada, appeared, along with frijoles, tostadas, salsas and huge bowls of salad. We always counted brisket tacos because the brisket could be made in the oven or a slow cooker. —Yvette Marquez, Muy Bueno Recipes + Stories, Littleton, Colorado
This is a turned-up version of a cheesy potato soup. We eat this often, especially on cold winter evenings, but it'd be lovely for family get-togethers or potlucks during the holidays! Crushed red pepper flakes really turn up the heat. —Angela Sheridan, Opdyke, Illinois
Reports Margery Bryan of Royal City, Washington, "This is one of the best and easiest meals I've ever made. It has only four ingredients, and they all go into the pot at once. The meat is nicely seasoned and makes its own gravy-it tastes wonderful when you serve it over mashed potatoes."
My husband is a huge fan of pulled pork sandwiches, so my sister shared this incredibly easy recipe with me. At potlucks and family dinners, nobody can get enough of this root beer-braised version. —Carolyn Palm, Radcliff, Kentucky
I was raised as a southern girl, with the love of barbecue built into my DNA. This slow-cooker recipe allows me to enjoy the flavors I grew up eating, while still following a healthy diet. —Heidi Mulholland, Cumming, Georgia
From the youngest kids to the oldest adults, everyone in our family loves these hot dogs. Inspired by the classic Coney dog, they’re so easy to throw together in the morning or even the night before. —Michele Harris, Vicksburg, Michigan
Five ingredients are all you'll need for my popular creamed corn recipe. It's wonderful no matter what the occasion is. Try it on a barbecue buffet or holiday menu. —Barbara Brizendine, Harrisonville, Missouri
My husband adores this slow-cooker barbacoa simmered in lime juice, chipotle and cumin. He would eat it one a week if I would make it that often! We have it over rice with cilantro and a spritz of lime. —Aundrea McCormick, Denver, Colorado
If you're looking for a great seafood recipe for your slow cooker, this classic cioppino recipe is just the ticket. It's brimming with clams, crab, fish and shrimp, and is fancy enough to be an elegant meal. —Lisa Moriarty, Wilton, New Hampshire
Just thinking about this dish sparks my appetite. The ham and cheese rolled inside are a tasty surprise. Leftovers reheat well and make a perfect lunch with a green salad. —Jean Sherwood, Kenneth City, Florida
This wonderfully rich slow-cooker oxtail soup will warm your soul and your taste buds. Oxtail stew is a favorite family heirloom recipe. Don’t let the name of this dish turn you off. Oxtail describes the meaty part of the tail of an ox (now commonly cow). The meat is delicious but requires long and slow cooking. —Bobbie Keefer, Byers, Colorado
During chilly times of the year, I fix this slow-cooker jambalaya recipe at least once a month. It’s so easy—just chop the vegetables, dump everything in the slow cooker and forget it! Even my sons, who are picky about spicy things, like this easy jambalaya. —Cindi Coss, Coppell, Texas
As Editor, Caroline writes and edits all things food-related and helps produce videos for Taste of Home. When she’s not at her desk, you can probably find Caroline cooking up a feast, planning her next trip abroad or daydreaming about her golden retriever, Mac.