Slow cookers are a dream come true when it comes to cooking hot, delicious meals for your family. Just toss in a bunch of ingredients before you head out for work in the morning, and by the time you get home, dinner is ready.
But not everything is a good fit when it comes to slow-cooking. For some foods, the heat doesn't get high enough for it to fully cook. And for others, keeping them heated for too long can lead to an overcooked mushy mess.
We love crockpot meals because they are simple to make and easy on the food budget, but there are some foods that just don't work. Here is a list of foods that should never go into your slow cooker first thing in the morning, and some that shouldn't go in at all.
Fish and other seafood are incredibly good for your health and are a part of a number of delicious dishes. But, if you put fish in a slow cooker for hours, the result will be a rubbery disaster. Seafood cooks quickly, so instead of letting it overcook in a crockpot, it's best to bake it or sear it on the stove. And, if you are making a seafood bisque in the slow cooker, just add the baked or seared fish at the very end before serving.
Let's be honest, bacon is perfect. It makes everything taste infinitely better and can be added to every meal. It's the best part of the keto diet, but just because is the greatest food on Earth, you are committing a bacon crime if you put raw bacon in a slow cooker.
Bacon will crisp up rather quickly, and when it spends too much time in the crock pot, it will dry out. So, instead of cooking bacon in your slow cooker, bake some in the oven for a few minutes until it is nice and crisp, and then add it to your dish.
And, for any recipe that is bacon-wrapped, you should just make it in the oven or on the stove.
Creamy soups and casseroles are perfect for the slow cooker. But, don't be tempted to use milk or cream when making the dish in a crock pot. Dairy will get lumpy and gross when it is exposed to heat for too long, especially if you are using low-fat dairy. So, it is better to opt for alternatives like Greek yogurt. Or, if you only have milk or cream on hand, wait until the last few minutes to mix it in.
Using wine or alcohol when cooking on the stove is no problem because the alcohol can burn off. But, when you cook wine or spirits in a sealed crock pot, the low, slow heat and the lid won't let the alcohol evaporate out, and it will leave your dish tasting boozy.
Instead, avoid the alcohol altogether, or just add a splash at the end of the cooking process to get the flavor you are looking for.
If you don't want your pasta dish to turn into a mushy mess, then you need to follow recipes that are specifically written for a slow cooker or boil your pasta on the stove and then stir it into the crock pot during the last few minutes.
If you just throw pasta into a crock pot in the morning, and the recipe isn't specifically for a slow cooker, your pasta will lose its shape and "become wallpaper paste" says Stephanie O'Dea, author of the Make It Fast, Cook It Slow cookbooks.
"My best suggestion when slow cooking is to begin with a few tried and true recipes from a trusted source. And, then after you have your own machine figured out, you can experiment," says O'Dea.
Like pasta, timing matters when it comes to cooking rice. If it cooks too long, it can get overly starchy and taste gummy. And, if you try to cook rice on low heat for an extended period of time, white rice will turn to mush, and long grain will dry out on the outside and remain undercooked on the inside. Your best option is wild rice because it holds up much better.
Or, another great choice is using instant rice because it has already been parboiled and will cook quickly. Just add it during the last twenty minutes so you get rice in your dish without it disintegrating and turning your meal into a mess.
It should go without saying that slow cooking means cooking on low heat, which means your crockpot won't get hotter than about 300 degrees. So, tossing frozen food into your slow cooker is not a good idea for a couple of reasons.
First, the pot won't get hot enough to cook the frozen food completely, and if the food isn't completely thawed, it will lower the temperature inside the pot to between 40 and 140 degrees, and this not only throws off your whole cooking time, but it is also the ideal environment for bacteria.
So, instead of using frozen veggies, use fresh or canned varieties. Or, make sure your frozen food is completely thawed before tossing it into your slow cooker.
White meat without skin or bones will dry out if you cook it for hours in a crock pot. Because it is so lean, it doesn't have the natural fat to help it cook. Instead, use darker meat like thighs and drumsticks for a juicier, tastier meal. But if you prefer breasts, stick with saucy recipes to keep it from drying out.
Most crock pot recipes will call for hearty vegetables like potatoes and carrots. This is because produce that is sturdy will hold up better in a slow cooker. Veggies that cook quickly like asparagus and peas should be added at the end of the cooking process, so they aren't overdone. And, non-starchy greens like kale, broccoli, or spinach should also go in at the last minute so they don't get mushy and you don't zap the nutrients.
Fresh herbs like basil, sage, and oregano will lose their flavor and turn brown if you cook them in a slow cooker. So, to add flavor to your crockpot dish, either use dried herbs - because they work better for long cooking times - or add your fresh herbs during the last few minutes.
Putting eggs in a slow cooker simply doesn't work. You can't hard boil eggs no matter how long they sit in the crock pot. You can make a large pot of scrambled eggs in a slow cooker with butter, heavy cream, and a little shredded cheese, but it will only take an hour or two. Trying to make some egg-based casserole dish over several hours will most likely end up in disaster.
For the same reason you shouldn't cook skinless, boneless chicken breast in a crock pot, you also want to avoid lean cuts of beef or pork. This is actually a great way to save some cash because the tougher pieces of meat are usually cheaper, and a crock pot will turn them into tender slices that will melt in your mouth.
Pork shoulders will taste better than pork tenderloin when you cook them in the slow cooker. And, since the meat is fattier, you don't have to drench it with cheese or creamy sauces. If you do opt for lean cuts of meat for your crock pot, that is when you want to add the sauce so it all balances out and cooks evenly.
Cooking a whole chicken or turkey in the slow cooker is actually a pretty good idea - as long as you remove the skin first. If you don't, the skin will turn into chewy, rubbery nastiness that no one will want to put in their mouth.
Slow cookers are there to make your life easier, knowing what you should and should not cook in them will help you turn out delicious meals every time.