How to Fix Tough Meat in the Slow Cooker

You expect the slow cooker to deliver a tender roast, right? But when it doesn't, this is how to fix tough meat in the slow cooker.

Your slow cooker can give you a fall-apart chuck roast or a tough, dry and inedible meal. Are you using the right type of meat? What about the right temperature? Do you have enough liquid in the crock? It’s important to know the answers to these questions because a lot of factors can affect the quality of your dish.

Here’s what you need to make one of our tender slow cooker beef recipes—and how to fix things when the recipe goes awry.

How to Avoid Dry or Tough Meat

Choose the Right Cuts

The best cuts of meat for a slow cooker are well-marbled and fatty. This can include meat on the bone, too. In other words, you want to skip the boneless, skinless chicken breasts!

Here’s what we recommend:

  • Beef: Look for cuts like chuck roast, stew beef and brisket.
  • Pork: Choose shoulder or pork ribs.
  • Chicken: The best choice for the slow cooker is chicken thighs.

It helps that tougher cuts are often less expensive, so they’re perfect for a budget-friendly slow cooker meal.

Add Just Enough Liquid

To keep a pot roast from drying out, your slow cooker needs liquid to create a moist environment, and that can include meat or vegetable stock, wine or water. This doesn’t mean the meat should be submerged; a cup or two of liquid will be enough, since the cooker is covered and liquids stay trapped inside.

If you want the dish to be saucy, or you’re making a beef stew, add enough liquid to come about 1/3 of the way up on the meats in the slow cooker. This allows your meat to braise, not boil. Boiling creates tough meat!

Be Patient

Check the dish halfway through. But don’t lift the lid. Doing so lets heat and moisture escape, putting the texture of your meat at risk. If you can’t resist the temptation to check on your dish and do find yourself lifting the lid, make sure it’s for as short amount of time as possible. Keep it under a minute, preferably 30 seconds or less, to make sure too much heat isn’t released.

Cook Low and Slow

Place your meat on the bottom of the slow cooker, so it’s closest to the heat source. Add your other ingredients and liquids, then set your cooker to “low.” Plan for 6-9 hours of cooking time for your warming slow cooker meal. This long, slow braise breaks down the connective tissue and fat, creating deliciously soft and juicy meat.

Each slow cooker meal’s cooking time differs depending on the meat and its weight. The low setting is important so you don’t overcook it, potentially leaving you with a dry or tough meal. If you’re wondering how long your meat will take to cook in a crock pot, we recommend consulting Crockpot’s cook time guide for guidance.

Does meat get more tender the longer you cook it in a slow cooker?

Not if you’re using a leaner cut in the slow cooker, like chicken breast or pork chops. To help keep these cuts moist, decrease the cook time to 2-4 hours.

How to Fix Dry or Tough Meat

You may be able to salvage a roast that’s dry by adding more liquid. However, trying to figure out how to fix tough meat in the slow cooker can be a little trickier. For this reason we like to repurpose the meat instead. Let the meat cool, then use forks or your fingers to pull the overcooked meat into shreds. Then, use the meat to create new dishes. Add it to a sauce and gently simmer for recipes like pulled pork or a spicy chicken chili.

Why is my pot roast still tough?

It’s because you haven’t let the collagen break down. Extend the cook time, make sure there’s enough liquid and keep an eye on the dish.

Our Best Slow Cooker Chuck Roast Recipes
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Nancy Mock
Discovering restaurants, tasting bakery treats, finding inspiration in new flavors and regional specialties—no wonder Nancy loves being a Taste of Home Community Cook and a food and travel writer. She and her family live in Vermont and enjoy all things food, as well as the beautiful outdoors, game nights, Avengers movies and plenty of maple syrup. Find Nancy’s writing and recipes at her website: Hungry Enough To Eat Six.