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5 Common Slow Cooker Mistakes You Need to Avoid

Make sure you're getting the most out of your slow cooker meals by preventing these errors.

slow cooker on kitchen counter
Using a slow cooker is easy, but you can still make mistakes that ruin your meal.
George Peters/Getty Images

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

There's nothing better on a cold winter evening than a nice warm crockpot meal -- especially one that's easy to throw together during the day and gives you a delicious homemade meal by night. Your slow cooker is also great during gatherings for easy appetizers or shareables for a group, like a dip or a chili.

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While using a slow cooker is an almost foolproof way to cook, there are a few common mistakes you can make that might mess up your meal. Luckily, they're easy to avoid, so the only thing you need to worry about is if there are enough for second helpings.

Here are five slow cooker mistakes you might be making, and how to fix them. You can also find out why using a slow cooker could save you money compared to using the oven, and our picks for the best air fryers of 2023

1. Using too much liquid

When you're cooking meat or poultry in your slow cooker, you want there to be some liquid to cover the ingredients. But you don't want to fill it all the way up with broth, stock or water. There's no reason to add more liquid than the recipe calls for (or more than enough to cover the ingredients if you're someone who does these things by feel), unless your slow cooker owner's manual says otherwise. 

If you add too much liquid to your slow cooker, it will heat up and evaporate as steam -- but then will get trapped by the lid and drip back down into your food, making it too watery. Yuck. 

Avoid the messy crockpot cleanup by grabbing these slow cooker liners. Throw one in your cooker before you put food in it, and then simply remove it after you're done with the meal -- no scrubbing necessary. These are heat-resistant and BPA free, and come in different size options depending on your crockpot.

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2. Adding dairy products too early

Many slow cooker recipes call for cheese, milk, sour cream or other dairy products. But you don't want to add them until the last few minutes of cooking -- otherwise, they may curdle and ruin your dish. 

3. Opening the lid for a peek

The same way you don't want to open the oven door too often when you're baking, you don't want to lift the lid on your slow cooker as it's cooking. Doing so lets heat escape and can dramatically lower the temperature inside the pot, which means it'll take longer to cook your food properly. 

Read more: Best Instant Pot Accessories for 2023

4. Filling the slow cooker all the way up to the top

You shouldn't be filling your slow cooker to the brim with ingredients. It needs space between the food and the lid to prevent it from boiling over. The heat inside also needs room to circulate and cook the food the right way. Generally, you shouldn't fill your slow cooker more than three-quarters full. 

5. Adding herbs at the start

Any dried or fresh herbs you're using should be added toward the end of your cooking time. If you add them at the start, they'll lose their potency by the time everything else cooks, and you'll be left with less flavorful food. 

For more tips, check out whether it's cheaper to buy groceries online versus in the store, and the trick to reheating your leftovers so they taste great

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