Slow cookers are one of the most convenient kitchen tools ever made.  They are perfect for home cooks with busy schedules and hungry mouths to feed.  For the most part, you can just add your ingredients, set the timer and carry on with your day while your meal simmers away. Super simple right?  Yes, slow cooker recipes are definitely pretty easy but there are still a few common mistakes that can get in the way of a great finished product.  

Here are six major blunders you’ll want to avoid the next time you plan a slow cooker meal along with some tips on how to get it right. 

  • Starting with the wrong cut of meat: 

Though they can cook just about anything, everyone knows that slow cookers work absolute magic on meat, producing fall-apart tender chunks of your favorite proteins.  The long cooking time can be greatly beneficial but sometimes, using lean cuts of animal protein can actually result in really tough, chewy meat.  Yuck!  Instead, choose fatty, less expensive cuts of meat.  The fat will render during the long cooking time, continuously basting your meal and resulting in melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness!

  • Starting with raw meat:

Though raw meat will eventually cook in a slow cooker, the meat will lack the proper flavor and textures that can be achieved if it is slightly cooked beforehand.  For best results, always caramelize the outsides of any animal-based protein before adding it the cooker.

  • Peeking 

Just like cooking rice or baking a cake, it's exceedingly tempting to lift the lid and take a peek but doing so is a terrible setback to your meal.  Each time you remove the cooker's lid; the temperature within the chamber is drastically reduced, thereby affecting the outcome of your meal.  Try your best to be patient and have faith in your slow cooker.  

  • Using the same setting every time 

In a perfect world, we’d be able to stick things into a smart stove that automatically detects our ingredients and cooks it perfectly.  Truthfully, slow cookers are actually half way there- they will cook amazingly tasty meals but we do still need to accurately set the heating temperatures and cook times.  To avoid an over or under cooked entrée, be sure to thoroughly research the accurate cooking time and temperature needed depending on your ingredients. 

  • Adding seasoning too soon

Salt and pepper, onions and garlic, bell peppers and celery.  All of these ingredients can be added to the cooker in the very beginning stages of cooking.  Delicate herbs like parsley, dill and thyme however should all be added towards the end of the cooking process because the high temperatures in a slow cooker can actually obliterate the flavor of the herbs when cooked for too long.  Let the other, more robust seasonings work flavor into the dish from the beginning and accent the almost completed meal with a flurry of subtle goodness from the herbs of your choice.  

  • Alcohol 

Alcohol should be used sparingly. This is because the closed environment doesn’t allow the actual alcohol content to evaporate, leaving a meal that tastes overwhelmingly like wine or beer. To avoid this, replace the alcohol in your recipe with vegetable or chicken stock. If you must use alcohol, try reducing it on the stovetop before adding to the slow cooker.

 The next time you decide to make it a crock pot dinner night, be sure to use these simple tips to produce the best results possible. Use your new skills to impress your family or host a weekend get together where you can wow your guests with a delicious slow cooked meal.