Photo: Skinny Ms.
Why does my meat always turn out dry or tough? Here is a check list for cooking meats:
- Did you lift the lid during cooking?
Lifting the lid can drop the temperature considerably. Avoid the urge!
- Did you have enough liquid in the pot?
This seems simple, but it’s as easy mistake. Be sure you have enough liquid for the specified cooking time.
- Did your recipe contain enough acid (such as, the acid in tomato sauce) to tenderize the meat?
Acid based foods help to tenderize meats. Without them, meat can get dry or tough.
- Did you cook the meat too long?
It’s easy to do in a slow cooker. We expect to be able to walk away for hours, but some dishes do not need to cook for an entire day.
- Did you cut your meat into pieces that were too small to withstand a long cooking time?
Meats that are cut into tiny pieces will dry out during cooking much faster than larger pieces.
- Was your cut of meat too tender?
Less tender cuts of meat are best for this type of cooking.
- Does the lid on your slow cooker fit properly?
If your lid does not fit properly, moisture is escaping. This watery steam is essential for keeping foods moist.
- Are you using the right size slow cooker?
Putting small amounts of food in a large slow cooker can dry out the food because it cooks much faster.
Tips for tender meats:
- Brown your meat.
Browning helps the meat retain its moisture during cooking in a slow cooker.
- Leaner cuts of meat will become a bit dryer in a slow cooker than fatty cuts.
Sometimes, you have to work to find that balance of “not-too-dry” and “still healthy”.
- Marinate your meat overnight before cooking.
Choose acidic marinades such as orange juice, lemon juice, vinegar or tomato juice.
Test your skill with these hearty slow cooker sandwich recipes.
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Even on busy days, I can start this chicken in a slow cooker and still get to work on time. When I come home, I add spinach salad and crescent rolls. —Heidi Rudolph, Oregon, IllinoisUp next: Check out the 80 best slow cooker recipes from Mom's recipe collection.
I wanted to find a creative way to use my leftover cranberries from Thanksgiving dinner. This sounds like an unlikely combination, but the results are incredible! —Lisa Workman, Boones Mill, Virginia
My husband loves his meat and I love my veggies, so we're both happy with this spiced twist on the beefy pot roast. With chickpeas, eggplant, honey and mint, it's like something you'd eat at a Marrakech bazaar. —Catherine Dempsey, Clifton Park, New York
I went through several variations before creating the pork chops my family considers perfect! I wanted something rich, delicious and tasty that was still relatively healthy. This is a delicious Sunday dinner because you can pop it in the slow cooker in the morning and let it cook while you are at church! I suggest serving it with salad or grilled asparagus. —Kristin Stone, Little Elm, Texas
I've made quite a few tacos in my day, but you can't beat the tender filling made in a slow cooker. These are by far the best pork tacos we've had—and we've tried plenty. Make the mango salsa from scratch if you have time! Yum. —Amber Massey, Argyle, Texas
I came up with this saucy chicken during a particularly busy holiday season. As new parents, my husband and I both appreciate having a go-to dinner that's easy, homemade and delicious. —Anne Colvin, Chicago, Illinois
I make chana masala, the classic Indian dish, in my slow cooker. Browning the onion, ginger and garlic first really makes the sauce amazing. —Anjana Devasahayam, San Antonio, Texas
One day my husband commented that he loves plums and meat. The next time I put a roast in the slow cooker, I added some plums. He was onto something! —Jackie Cole, Dunnellon, Florida
Make your next office party a taco bar or burrito bar! Set out the beef in the slow cooker on warm, along with tortillas, bowls of shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream, and chopped lettuce, jalapenos, onions and tomatoes. For a variation, I make Beef & Bean burritos by mixing a can of refried beans into 3 or 4 cups of cooked beef filling. —Hope Wasylenki, Gahanna, Ohio
To jazz up leftover ham, I slow-cooked it with a beer sauce. Buns loaded with ham, pickles and mustard are irresistible. —Ann Sheehy, Lawrence, Massachusetts
In my family, we never eat chicken without cranberry sauce! This chicken is fall-off-the-bone tender; the sauce is divine with mashed potatoes. —Lorraine Caland, Shuniah, Ontario
My in-laws are from Ohio, so we have Cincinnati chili at many of our family gatherings. I spiced up this family classic with cinnamon and cocoa powder and ladled it over hot dogs. It's perfect for game day, tailgates and potlucks. —Jennifer Gilbert, Brighton, Michigan
I love the fuss-free nature of the slow cooker, but I don't want to sacrifice flavor for convenience. This cozy, spiced-up dish has both. —Susan Smith, Mead, Washington
The Asian influence here in the Hawaiian islands inspired my char siu recipe. It’s tasty as is, in a bun or over rice. We make it often so we have leftovers to add to fried rice, ramen and salads. —Karen Naihe, Kamuela, Hawaii
This easy Indian dish will be loved by all. Feel free to use more or less tikka masala sauce according to your taste. —Erica Polly, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin
This recipe is sweet, briny, savory and herbal, and it packs a big punch of garlic. The Mediterranean flavors make me think of dinner on the patio with family or friends. — Beth Jacobson, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Chicken Bog is a South Carolina tradition with lots of variations (think herbs, spices and fresh veggies), but the standard ingredients remain: sausage, chicken and rice. This slow-cooked rendition is a simple take on the classic. — Anna Hanson, Spanish Fork, Utah
My family loves the sweet and spicy combination and declared this recipe an instant favorite just for that reason. The meatballs start sweet but finish with a little heat! —Anne Ormond, Dover, New Hampshire
Here's a zesty, flavorful meat loaf you can really sink your teeth into! Great with black beans, rice, green salad with lime vinaigrette, or any of your favorite Tex-Mex sides. —Kristen Miller, Glendale, Wisconsin
My family lived in New Zealand many years ago. Every Sunday my mother made a lamb stew—it was Dad's favorite! I changed the recipe to suit my family's more modern palates, but it seems just as exotic and delicious. —Nancy Heishman, Las Vegas, Nevada
I lived in Florida for a while and loved the pork I ate there, so I went about making it for myself. The flavorful meat makes amazing Cuban sandwiches, but you can also use it in traditional pulled pork sandwiches or tacos. —Lacie Griffin, Austin, Texas
My husband doesn't think it is a meal without meat. I prefer something lighter, so this recipe satisfies us both. You can also roast this in the oven if you're short on time. —Tracy Dalin, Gooding, Idaho
When I was working two jobs, slow cooking was my way of life. Sometimes I had more than one slow cooker going at a time to help me feed my family delicious home-cooked meals. It's nice to walk in after a hard day's work and have dinner ready. I hope you agree these ribs are quick, easy and delicious. Enjoy! —Paula Marchesi, Lenhartsville, Pennsylvania
I love making this for my husband and me to have on a cold night. It warms you right up! Greek yogurt can be substituted for sour cream. —Meg Hilton, Atlanta, Georgia
My family loves lasagna and I love the slow cooker. I wanted to try something a little different from the classic lasagna we usually make. This recipe not only tastes incredible, it's hearty and convenient, too. —Kelly Silvers, Edmond, Oklahoma
What's not to love about moist and tender homemade Italian meatballs? Because they're made with lean turkey, they're lower in saturated fat, too! —Mary Berg, Lake Elmo, Minnesota
Sweet and spicy jerk seasonings give these saucy ribs an unforgettable taste! They're great in the summer because they don't heat up the kitchen. —Susan Hein, Burlington, Wisconsin
Satisfy the meat-and-potatoes eaters in your house with this satisfying dish that all cooks up in one pot! Talk about classic comfort food. —Faith Cromwell, San Francisco, California
This heartwarming dish is something I threw together years ago for my oldest daughter. When she's having a rough day, I put on the slow cooker and prepare this special recipe. —Mary Morgan, Dallas, Texas
I find that simple dinners are the best comfort foods that my family of seven really desires. Simple, good ingredients are the key to my success in the kitchen. Three ingredients poured over the pork and—voila!—the most mouthwatering pork you have ever tasted! —Grace Neltner, Lakeside Park, Kentucky
This recipe has become a regular at our church potlucks. Let's just say I'm "in trouble" if I show up at a get-together and they don't appear! For a fun dinner spin, try these sausages and kraut over mashed potatoes. —Patsy Unruh, Perryton, Texas
No matter when I eat it, this tangy slow-cooked chicken reminds me of summer meals with friends and family. —Deborah Posey, Virginia Beach, Virginia
After my dad and I had dinner at the legendary Rendezvous Restaurant, I was inspired to create a slow-cooked version of tasty dry-rub Memphis ribs. Smoked paprika in the rub mimics the flavor the ribs would get from grilling over hot coals. —Matthew Hass, Franklin, Wisconsin
I tried this one night when I had friends coming over for dinner and was amazed at how deliciously fresh-tasting it was. Even my picky husband liked it! Serve it with crusty French bread to soak up the delicious sauce. —Shanelle Lee, Ephrata, Pennsylvania
During the hectic holiday season, I make this roast a lot. We've scarfed it down before and after shopping and while wrapping presents. Root vegetables and roast beef make everyone feel cozy and calm. —Pat Dazis, Charlotte, North Carolina
I took ordinary ground beef and turned it into a new classic with sweet and savory flavors that make this dish a new dinnertime favorite. We love them served in flour tortillas, too! —Christine Keating, Norwalk, California
My party-ready barbecue recipe works like a dream for weeknights, too. With just a few minutes of prep time, you still get that low-and-slow flavor everybody craves (thanks, slow cooker!). Throw in minced jalapenos for extra oomph. —Kimberly Young, Mesquite, Texas
People have told me this is better than the gravy their Sicilian grandmothers used to make. But don’t tell the old generation that! —Emory Doty, Jasper, Georgia
This simple riff on Chinese chicken proves you can savor the takeout taste you crave while still eating right. —Connie Krupp, Racine, Wisconsin
This slow cooker dump dinner is one of my go-to's. The lighter chicken is a nice alternative to pulled pork. —Kim Ciepluch, Kenosha, Wisconsin
I love stir-fry with black bean sauce. This recipe takes the delicious flavor of black bean sauce and joins it with fork-tender pot roast. —Judy Lawson, Chelsea, Michigan
Here's a heartwarming classic made simple in the slow cooker. Mushrooms, red wine and tender beef make an easy, elegant supper. —Deanna Zewen, Union Grove, Wisconsin
A head of cabbage seems like it never ends. Here's a delicious way to use it up. My husband is this stew's biggest fan. —Pamela Kennemer, Sand Springs, Oklahoma
This is my first original recipe, inspired by a great holiday dinner with friends. I wanted to see if I could do something similar with a less expensive cut of meat. The Faux Prime Rib Roast can also be baked in a covered Dutch oven at 350° for about 1-1/2 hours or until 165°. The beef is also delicious served with regular or horseradish mashed potatoes. —Kimberly Kuhlman, Bryan, Texas
Every time we had a gathering or company, folks would request my cincinnati chili. My husband convinced me to enter it in a local chili contest, and I won third place! It's quick and easy. If I don't have fresh garlic, I use minced garlic in the jar. —Carrie Birdsall, Dallas, Georgia
There's no need to precook the shells in this simple pasta dish. It's almost like magic when you open the lid and find the deliciousness waiting in the slow cooker. Add garlic bread, and you're golden! —Sherry Day, Pinckney, Michigan
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. Brisket was the dish we always counted on because it could be made in the oven or a slow cooker. —Yvette Marquez, Littleton, Colorado Muy Bueno Recipes + Stories
When we're missing the grill during winter, these tangy ribs give us that same smoky barbecue taste we love. They're so simple, and fall-off-the-bone delicious, too! —Sue Evans, Marquette, Michigan
I created this surprising pulled pork recipe to replicate our favorite food truck tacos at home. They're a little sweet, a little spicy and totally delicious any time of year. —Julie Orr, Fullerton, California
Here's a hearty, home-style dinner your family will love after a busy day. The slow-cooked beef is wonderful served over mashed potatoes or noodles. —Judy Long, Limestone, Tennessee
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've since made it repeatedly.
Start this warming one-pot meal before you head out for the day. By the time you get home, the well-seasoned meat will be tender and mouthwatering. —Stephanie Rabbitt-Schappacher, Cincinnati, Ohio
After a long day working in our greenhouse raising bedding plants, I enjoy coming in to this hearty beef dish for supper. It's one of my favorite meals. — Sue Gronholz, Beaver Dam, Wisconsin
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
You won't miss the meat in this savory delight. The layered main course is as tasty as it is impressive. Serve warm wedges alongside tortilla chips or a green salad.—Connie L McDowell, Greenwood, Delaware
Malaysian food has influences from the Malays, Chinese, Indians, Thai, Portuguese and British. In this dish, Asian ingredients combine for maximum flavor, and the sweet potatoes help to thicken the sauce as the dish slowly cooks. —Suzanne Banfield, Basking Ridge, New Jersey
This vegetarian stew is perfect when you want to take a break from meat. Adding the cream at the end gives it a smoother texture.—Michelle Collins, Suffolk Virginia
It's hard to find a dinner that both my husband and kids will enjoy—and even harder to find one that's fast and easy. This is it! No matter how much I make of this dish, it's gone to the last bite. —Esther Erani, Brooklyn, New York
My father and I created this pot roast with a hint of Japanese flair. It will make your taste buds dance! try this for family or company. —Mary Flurkey, Golden, Colorado
This recipe skips the traditional hard-to-find spices and still delivers the true seafood flavor beloved in the Louisiana bayou and beyond.—Wolfgang Hanau, West Palm Beach, Florida
Wow. Meaty slow cooker mac and cheese is easy to make, very tasty and kids love it! —Nancy Heishman, Las Vegas, Nevada
I wanted to try a different take on taco night and decided on barbecue for the theme. Even my father enjoyed this taco, and he doesn't care for tacos. —LaDale Hymer, Cleveland, Oklahoma
A Canadian comfort-food classic is even better when served southwestern-style, as either an appetizer or an entree. Although it’s done here without fuss in a slow cooker, you can also bake it at 325°, covered with foil, about 45 minutes. Then uncover and bake for another 20 minutes. — Johnna Johnson, Scottsdale, Arizona
If you’re in for a busy evening, here’s a great way to ensure you can still have a healthful supper. It’s tasty and traditional, and easy, too!
I created this recipe years ago, and it has become such a favorite that the wonderful aroma of it cooking makes my family instantly happy. It is hearty and flavorful, easy to prepare and uses the long slow cook that truly defines comfort food. —Sally Pahler, Palisade, Colorado
This hearty combination of tender pork chops and two kinds of beans makes a satisfying supper from the slow cooker in summer or winter," assures Dorothy Pritchett of Wills Point, Texas.
An irresistible sauce gives this beef another dimension of flavor. Nearly any starchy side, such as potatoes or polenta, will work in place of the pasta. Short ribs are my crowd-pleaser weekend meal for all occasions. —Missy Raho, Morristown, New Jersey
During high school, I spent a year in Brazil and fell in love with the culture and food. One of my favorite dishes was feijoada, a chili-like stew served over white rice. I introduced this version to my family, and it has become one of our favorite comfort foods. —andrea romanczyk, Magna, Utah
My version of beef stew is comfort food with a healthy twist. I use lentils and red quinoa rather than potatoes. If leftover stew seems too thick, add more beef stock when reheating. —Margaret Roscoe, Keystone Heights, Florida
This dish is perfect on cold winter days, especially after we have been out cutting wood or white-tail hunting. If you are lucky enough to have venison, try it here for melt-in-your-mouth goodness. —Brenda Ryan, Marshall, Missouri
I also like to add Italian Castelvetrano olives to the meat loaf mixture. They're bright green, very mild and fruity, and are available in the deli section of the grocery store. —Ann Sheehy, Lawrence, Massachusetts
Chopped onion and garlic plus spicy seasonings add outstanding flavor to this slow-cooked meat loaf.—Charlotte Rogers, Virginia Beach, Virginia
I first had this as a teenage babysitter, when the children’s mom prepared it for us to eat while she was out. The kids loved it, and so did I! Now I make it for my own kids.
Sauerbraten and soup are both family favorites. This combines the two, without the long marinating time the traditional beef dish requires. You can substitute spaetzle or gnocchi for the egg noodles. —Jennifer Yerkes, Franklin Square, New York