Avoiding Dried Out Slow Cooker Meals

by Reader Contributors

Avoiding Dried Out Slow Cooker meals photo

A slow cooker can help you get a hot meal on the table on busy days instead of spending money on delivery, but you want those meals to be tasty! Our frugal readers share their tips and tricks for preventing a slow cooker from drying out your efforts.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
My slow cooker meals always come out so dry. What can I do to keep it moist (and I don’t mean just wet)?

I would love to use my cooker more often, but I can’t figure out how to make things right. Please help!

How Do You Avoid Dried Out Slow Cooker Meals?

We turned to our frugal readers for advice. They are pros at slow cooker cooking since they know it can help them keep food costs in check by allowing them to cook from scratch even on busy days. Read on for the advice and tips they shared.

Know the Size of Your Slow Cooker

You must pay attention to the size of the slow cooker versus the size suggested in the recipe! If you put a small amount in a very large slow cooker, it cooks much faster. Hence, you’ll have dried out food. I have found that pot roast will turn dry as dust even if it is swimming in gravy if it is overcooked.

Cooking on high all day is not the way to go. Check your manual for your slow cooker to see how full it should be. Follow recipes exactly as to the length of time and what setting. Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the food. If it is not hot enough at the end of the cooking time, turn on high and cook for 30 minutes and check again. It will probably be done just right.

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Don’t Lift the Slow Cooker Lid

Things that could make slow cooker meals too dry:

  1. Are you repeatedly opening the lid during cooking? The whole slow cooker process depends on a convection of moist heat that requires the lid staying on. Opening it once or twice to stir shouldn’t be a big problem, but make sure it put the lid securely back on.
  2. If the lid doesn’t fit correctly, it will allow steam to escape. Again, you need to keep moisture in the pot while it cooks.
  3. Are you following a tried-and-true recipe? Go back and make sure you are using a good recipe to start with.
  4. Are you cooking for the length of time and heat that is specified in the recipe?

If you’re doing all these things, maybe there’s something wrong with your slow cooker, maybe it’s cooking too hot. If it’s new, take it back and exchange it for another.

Brown Meat Before Putting It in the Slow Cooker

The number one thing that I found that helps my meals stay moist is to brown the meat before placing it in the slow cooker. This helps seal in the juices.

Don’t lift the lid during cooking unless absolutely necessary. It increases the cooking time and lets precious moisture escape. Also, make sure you are putting enough liquid in the cooker to keep things moist. It doesn’t need to be a lot, but a little will help your meal steam a bit, which prevents moisture loss.

Also, make sure your recipes require enough cooking that they won’t be completely over done when you get home. For example, a recipe that calls for eight hours cooking is probably fine on low for up to ten hours, but a recipe that only called for five to six hours of cooking could be overdone if you don’t get home until ten hours later.

Try Cheaper Cuts of Meat in Your Slow Cooker

Using a slow cooker in the hot summer months saves energy and doesn’t heat up your house, making your air conditioner work harder. When you are cooking with a slow cooker, remember that cheaper cuts of meat do much better (such as chuck roasts or chuck steaks). Very lean cuts of beef come out very dry. Chicken legs or thighs generally will give a more moist end result than chicken breast. If you do use chicken breast, use the whole breasts, not the boneless skinless breasts, since whole breasts will remain moister. Remove the bones and skin after cooking.

Also, remember to use enough liquid to cook over a long period of time. Liquids like chicken or beef broth or cream soups diluted with water make very good gravies in the slow cooker.

Are You Converting Slow Cooker Recipes?

Dryness can be a problem when you are trying to convert regular recipes. By carefully reading the amounts of ingredients and the amounts of liquid that are in the recipes, you may be able to successfully adjust your own recipes in you accurately keep the same ratios. There are many online sites for slow cooker recipes. Check there to see what they are giving as “liquid” amounts in their recipes.

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No More Dried Out Slow Cooker Meat!

I was given a few tips that seem to help with dry meat:

  • First of all, choose meats with more fat.
  • If you are avoiding fat, marinate the meat overnight with vinegar, citrus fruits, and spices. Acids like vinegar and lemon juice tenderize meat so you don’t have to cook the meat to death in order to get a good flavor.
  • Another option is to seal the meat with a hot skillet. Heat a cast iron skillet (make sure it is well seasoned). Place your meat in the skillet and sear the meat’s surface. Turn and position the meat until the hot skillet has seared all surfaces. This will help to keep a lot of the juices in the meat.
  • Someone once told me that when liquid is called for in a recipe to position as little of the meat in the liquid as possible. The liquid can draw a lot of the flavor and fats out of the meat as it soaks, and even though you have a tasty broth, your meat will be as dry as cardboard. I’ve even been told to try cooking on foil balls to raise the meat above its juices.

I’ve tried all of these suggestions and they each work well depending on the recipe. And my slow cooker meals are getting better each time.
Valeria in Athens, GA

Reviewed March 2023

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