Welcome to Slow Cooker Week! We’re sharing all our favorite Crock Pot recipes, tips, tricks, and advice this week—and including the Instant Pot, of course, since it slow cooks too. Here, find out which things you should never cook in your Crock Pot and why.
Related Reading: Enter to Win a Wolf Gourmet Slow Cooker Through March 9!
Anyone who’s ever made a slow-cooker “flop” (for example, dried out chicken breasts with the texture of shoelaces) knows how easily things can go sideways when you add the wrong ingredients to your Crock Pot. The long, low-heat cooking process that works wonders for some foods can be disastrous for others, leading to unappealing tastes, textures, or even smells.
To find out exactly what we should and shouldn’t put in our slow cooker, we spoke to a handful of experts. Here’s what they had to say about 12 things you should never make in a Crock Pot:
1. Frozen Meat
Put down that frozen pork roast and step away from the counter. Attempting to cook frozen meat in a slow cooker isn’t just a texture killer, it’s also dangerous from a food safety standpoint.
“Only meat that is fully thawed should go into a slow cooker. The slow cooker won’t cook frozen meat fast enough to avoid a significant amount of time in the unsafe temperature zone of 40 to 140F,” says Yankel Polak, head chef at ButcherBox.
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The original slow cooker.
You could even try one of these Whole30 Instant Pot recipes (yes, there’s a drool worthy whole roast).
2. Lean Meats
Lean meats are considered healthy and a slow cooker is a powerhouse when it comes to making nutritious meals. The two should be a match made in heaven, right? Well, not exactly. Jeremy Hood is a home chef and co-author of Ktchndad.com and as he explains, cooking lean cuts in a slow cooker will probably do more harm than good.
“Lean meats like pork [tenderloin] and beef tenderloin or chicken breasts should never be cooked in a slow cooker. Lean meats are not meant to be cooked low and slow and should only be cooked to their recommended internal temperature for optimal tenderness. Once you go past that you are only drying out the meat and decreasing the tenderness,” says Hood.
Instead, Hood suggests searing lean proteins in a super hot pan before finishing them off in the oven (or pan if they are small enough).
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Sear on the stovetop and finish in the oven.
If you’re keen to use your slow cooker, stick to cheap cuts like the pork shoulder or pork butt used in this easy slow cooker pulled pork recipe. As Heather Ramsdell, a food expert and editorial director of The Spruce Eats, explains, “Budget-friendly cuts of meat are often high in fat and/or connective tissue, both of which break down during long, moist heat cooking methods and will contribute to a juicy and flavorful finished product.”
3. Dried Beans
Dried beans should not be cooked in a slow cooker—ever. That’s because raw or dried beans contain a natural toxin called Phytohaemagglutinin, which naturally occurs in several kinds of raw beans, including broad beans, white kidney beans, and red kidney beans. The good news is that the toxin can be deactivated by simply boiling the raw beans for ten minutes. The temperature is enough to degrade the toxin without cooking the beans. (Alternatively, you can soak the beans for five hours which is long enough to remove any residual toxins. Just don’t forget to toss the water after.)
The problem with cooking raw or dried beans in a slow cooker is that they may never reach a boiling point, therefore leaving your beans full of Phytohaemagglutinin which can cause an unpleasant case of gastroenteritis.
That isn’t to say beans can’t be used in a slow cooker (hello, slow cooker chipotle chili), “just make sure to soak them in water overnight and then boil them for 10 minutes before adding to your slow cooker meal,” says Heather Seeley, author of Food Loving Family. When in doubt, use canned beans—they’ve already undergone the necessary detox process and are ready to be enjoyed.
“I love grey, limp bacon,” said no one ever. The purpose of slow cookers is to hold on to moisture, which is kryptonite to crispy foods like bacon. As Niki Cutchall, a food photographer at Clean Plate Clb explains, “Adding uncooked bacon to a slow cooker will give you a dull grey color and a gummy texture” (and likely leave the bottom of your slow cooker encased in a thick layer of semi-solid grease).
Instead, Cutchall suggests keeping it simple: “Cook your bacon on the stovetop or a sheet pan in the oven (400˚ for 12-15 mins) for the crispiest texture; then add to the slow cooker dish when serving.” If you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at this oven smoked bacon recipe.
Related Reading: The Best Way to Cook Crisp Bacon Is Also the Easiest
5. Cruciferous Vegetables
Unless you’re purposely trying to make a veggie mash, avoid putting cauliflower, cabbage, garden cress, bok choy, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts in your slow cooker. “Cruciferous vegetables are best when they have a crunch to them. Cooking them in a slow cooker will cause them to become overly soft and eventually fall apart. These veggies do not need long to cook, so a slow cooker is their enemy,” says Aleka Shunk, author of Bite Sized Kitchen.
If you’re looking to make your cruciferous veggies as delectable as possible, Shunk says, “roast them in the oven so they brown a bit. This will give them added flavor without losing their texture. Another way is to steam your vegetables. Steaming them will keep their color bright while maintaining a crunchy texture.”
Related Reading: How Long Can You Leave Food in the Slow Cooker?
The beauty of shrimp is that you can easily toss them in a skillet or on the barbecue and have a delicious protein in minutes. This is exactly why it doesn’t belong in a slow cooker, according to Shunk. “Shrimp takes no more than 10-12 minutes to cook. Overcooking shrimp will cause it to become rubbery and dry. If you spend the money on seafood, you want to cook it properly,” she says.
Instead, Shunk says, “Shrimp are best when they are sauteed or roasted. Both methods will help to brown your shrimp, which adds a ton of flavor, without overcooking them.”
(FYI, this sheet pan recipe for oven roasted shrimp with polenta is one of our favorites. And full disclosure: We do sneak shrimp into the slow cooker for the very last part of cooking this slow cooker shrimp gumbo recipe!)
According to experts, whole shellfish like clams and mussels are also on the no-fly list. Dan Zuccarello, Executive Food Editor at America’s Test Kitchen says, “We know from experience (Slow-Cooker Mussels Marinara seemed like such a good idea…) that the slow cooker simply takes too long to heat up and cook the shellfish within a safe time range. Plus you need a relatively quick rise in temperature to cause the mussels to pop open—something the slow cooker is not cut out for.”
Looking for a reliable way to cook your mussels? Zuccarello suggests trying the oven. “Mussels come in a range of sizes, making it a real challenge to cook them evenly, so rather than piling them into a Dutch oven (where the mussels closest to the stove’s burner will inevitably overcook), we roast them in a covered roasting pan in a 500-degree oven. The even heat of the oven cooks the shellfish through, so the majority of the mussels, both big and small, open in about 15 minutes,” he says.
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Not fond of the oven? Use your pressure cooker for a delicious Instant Pot shrimp boil.
8. Roast Beef
“Beef roasts, like a standing rib roast or roast beef. Cuts of meat like these are best cooked medium rare, therefore they are cooked best with hot dry heat, not the humid low heat environment of a slow cooker,” says Polak.
Attempting to make these cuts of beef in a slow cooker will result in tough and chewy meat, which no one likes. Once again, you’ll want to stick to the cheaper cuts of meat, like this easy slow cooker BBQ beef brisket.
Related Reading: The Best Meat Delivery Services to Try in 2020
9. Whole Turkey or Chicken
While you technically can cook turkey in a slow cooker (this slow cooker turkey breast recipe is a winner), experts urge home chefs to steer clear of slow cooking whole birds. Even if you’re able to find a Crock-Pot that’s large enough to fit an entire chicken or turkey, slow cooking meat with the skin attached doesn’t create the most attractive results.
Also, when it comes to making whole poultry in a slow cooker, Jason Goldstein, food blogger and recipe developer at ChopHappy.com, says, “These birds don’t cook evenly. The thick parts stay more juicy and the thinner parts dry out. The skin also gets rubbery because the chicken steams when it’s enclosed, this means no fabulous, crispy, brown chicken skin.”
Goldstein’s suggestion? “Spatchcock the chicken so it will lay flat on a sheet pan to ensure an even cooking. Season the chicken or turkey overnight in the fridge, this will let the seasoning soak into the bird. Smear the outside and inside with garlic rosemary butter and cook in the oven on a sheet pan.”
You can—and should—put the chicken carcass in your slow cooker, though, for easy Crock-Pot chicken stock.
10. Hard Boiled Eggs
I can’t think of anything less appetizing than greenish brown hard boiled eggs, but that’s exactly what they’ll look like if you try and make them in a slow cooker, says Stephanie O’Dea, author of A Year of Slow Cooking. According to O’Dea, making them in the slow cooker will also fill your home with the scent of hard boiled eggs. Not exactly ideal.
Instead, your best bet for perfectly hard boiled eggs is your Instant Pot.
Pasta is another dish that you could make in a slow cooker, but why would you? “Slow cooking pasta turns it into a gummy paste,” says Karen Tedesco of Family Style Food. The easiest way to make perfect al dente pasta is the old fashioned way—with boiling water on the stove.
Related Reading: 9 Slow Cooker Pasta Recipes to Last All Week
However, if you are making a dish in your slow cooker that involves pasta (think: minestrone soup), Tedesco says, “It’s better to cook and add in the pasta for a slow-cooked dish right before serving, which takes about 10 minutes.”
12. Any Recipe That Requires Very High Heat
Lastly, avoid slow cooking dishes that require a really high temperature. “Anything that needs to be seared, will not work well in the crock pot as the temperature will not get high enough to actually close off the meat and seal in the juices,” explains, Jason Ast, a trained chef and founder of Qurate, a food tech company.
The appeal of a slow cooker is that you can “set it and forget it.” The less manual intervention a dish requires, the better.
Visit our Slow Cooker Week headquarters for everything else you need to know (and cook).
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