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There’s nothing quite like coming home to the smell of an already-cooked meal after a long day at the office. Then, when you schmooze over to your slow cooker and lift the lid in anticipation, you’re greeted with a watery, gray, flavorless slop. Well, there goes my appetite and mood.
- Why Do Some Slow-Cooked Meals Turn Watery?
- 11 Ways to Stop Slow Cooker Meals Going Watery
- 1. Use Less Liquid
- 2. Select Your Liquids Carefully
- 3. Adjust Cooking Time
- 4. Don’t Lift the Lid During Cooking
- 5. Stir Less
- 6. Choose Lean Meats
- 7. Prepare the Meat Accordingly
- 8. Use the Right Amount of Vegetables
- 9. Precook Ingredients if Needed
- 10. Use a Thickening Agent
- 11. Remove the Lid for the Final Hour
Why Do Some Slow-Cooked Meals Turn Watery?
Crock pots are designed to cook for extended periods while retaining moisture, as the water within the pot helps to cook the ingredients. Many slow cookers have a small vent to release a controlled amount of steam during cooking and keep the pot temperature consistent. However, if too much water is trapped inside the pot, it won’t evaporate sufficiently.
Even if you don’t add excessive liquid to a crockpot meal, some of the ingredients release moisture while cooking, adding to the total liquid content. Given the variety of slow cookers and ingredients people use, you might need to experiment to find the best option for your situation and preferences.
Next are some suggestions to help stop healthy slow cooker meals from becoming watery. See which ones work best for you!
11 Ways to Stop Slow Cooker Meals Going Watery
If your slow cooker meals tend to become watery, there are a few things you can do to avoid it or remedy the situation.
1. Use Less Liquid
Since slow cookers work by trapping steam and moisture, it makes sense to monitor how much liquid you put in at the beginning to avoid watery meals. For instance, if you’re adapting a stovetop or oven recipe for your slow cooker, reducing the amount of liquid by at least half due to minimized evaporation is recommended.
Remember, you don’t need to cover the ingredients with water or sauce when prepping the pot. Instead, put in a little liquid that covers the bottom of the container. Then, as the ingredients begin to cook, the fluid within them will escape them and add to the rest of the liquid. Using less liquid at the outset will help to stop the meal from becoming watery, and it will help to improve the flavor.
On a personal note, I have found that adding additional liquid to roast chicken or carnitas and rice dishes is unnecessary, as these already contain a fair amount of juices.
2. Select Your Liquids Carefully
It’s not only the amount of liquid you add that is important, but the type of liquid, too. For instance, if the recipe calls for wine or other alcohol, reducing the same on the stovetop might be worthwhile before adding it to the crockpot.
Additionally, be aware of adding dairy too early to the pot (depending on the recipe, of course). This is because some dairy products will curdle in the presence of acidic ingredients, producing lumpy curd and watery whey.
3. Adjust Cooking Time
Unlike stove top and oven-cooking, overcooking a meal in your slow cooker can lead to excess moisture and a watery product. Therefore, pay attention to the recommended cooking times for your recipes and avoid leaving the food in the slow cooker for longer than necessary. If necessary, adjust the cooking time according to your slow cooker’s heat settings and the recipe you’re using.
4. Don’t Lift the Lid During Cooking
When you open the lid of a crock pot while it’s cooking, you’ll notice steam escaping. It might seem like an excellent way to prevent the buildup of excess liquid during cooking, but it tends to have the opposite effect. By releasing the steam too early, you change the balance within the pot, causing the ingredients to release more moisture.
Therefore, keeping the lid on throughout the cooking time is recommended to maintain a consistent environment.
5. Stir Less
You might be tempted to lift the lid to stir the pot, but that can also lead to excessive liquid buildup. Not only will steam escape but agitating the contents can also lead to increased moisture release. So, try to resist the temptation to lift the lid and stir too often. Instead, let the slow cooker do its job.
6. Choose Lean Meats
When fat heats up, it turns into a liquid form and adds to the total liquid content in a crock pot. To decrease the amount of juices forming in the pot, opt for lean cuts of meat. If you don’t have lean meat cuts, trim off the excess fat before adding it to the pot, e.g., chicken skin or fatty rind.
7. Prepare the Meat Accordingly
Still, on the topic of meat, there are other ways you can prepare it to help reduce the liquid in your meal. Here are some suggestions:
- Pat the meat with a paper towel before adding it to the pot. This helps to draw out some excess moisture.
- Use fresh, air-chilled, or thawed meat, not frozen. Frozen meat (and vegetables) tends to contain more liquid. Then, during cooking, that water escapes the meat and goes into the pot.
- Coat your meat in flour or cornstarch before adding it to the pot. While there’s no need to brown the coated meat, some people prefer to do so for flavor. The flour works as a thickening agent for the liquid that builds up.
8. Use the Right Amount of Vegetables
Vegetables release moisture as they cook, which can contribute to excess liquid in the slow cooker. Consider reducing the amount of vegetables you add or choose veggies with a lower water content. For example, bell peppers and mushrooms have a lower water content than zucchini or tomatoes.
Also, remember that frozen vegetables, like frozen meat, will have a higher moisture content, so it’s better to use fresh vegetables in a crock pot.
9. Precook Ingredients if Needed
If your recipe calls for ingredients known for having a high water content, it may help to precook them before adding them to the crock pot. For example, consider searing meat or sautéing vegetables to help evaporate excess liquid before slow cooking. Doing this might also help improve the dish’s overall flavor.
10. Use a Thickening Agent
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your slow cooker meals might still be watery. Thankfully, you can turn that excess moisture into a thick sauce or gravy with a bit of thickener. While it’s usually recommended to add a thickener toward the end of the cooking time, you can add some thickeners at the outset.
Here are some thickening ideas:
- Consider coating your meat in flour and browning it before adding it to the crockpot. The flour will absorb moisture as it’s produced, giving it some body.
- Add tapioca or sago to the pot at the beginning of cooking time. Tapioca is a flavorless thickener that absorbs moisture. It is commonly used to thicken and extend a meal, especially casseroles. Or, you could do what my Aunt Sue does and add rice, ground beans, or potato flakes to cook with the food and absorb the flavors.
- Add flour, cornstarch, soup mix, or arrowroot powder towards the end of cooking time. Before you add either of these thickeners, you would have to make a slurry with a few tablespoons of cold water. Then, mix in the slurry in the last half hour of cooking. Doing so will help to prevent lumps from forming in the gravy.
11. Remove the Lid for the Final Hour
If you’re near the end of the cooking time and your dish still has too much liquid, you can remove the lid and continue cooking without it for the last hour. Alternatively, prop open the lid with a wooden spoon or open a vent on the cover. This allows excess moisture to evaporate, resulting in a thicker consistency.
By following these twelve tips, you can reduce the wateriness of your slow cooker meals and achieve the desired consistency. Remember, however, that it might take some trial and error while you figure out what works best for you. So, experiment and adjust the variables according to your preferences and the specific recipes you’re working with.
Richmond Howard started Meal Prepify in 2019 and has helped over a million people learn how to meal prep, get better at meal planning, and create a kitchen they love to use. He’s an avid home chef and loves to bbq, grill out, and make awesome food for family and friends. He’s been featured on MSN, Renaissance Periodization, and Good Financial Cents.