Opening the lid of the slow cooker to find your meal swimming in liquid is very frustrating. No one wants to pour any of that liquid away and throw away flavor.
When I first got my crockpot, I remember this was one of the main problems I had. Over time I have learned to improve my cooking and avoid watery meals. In this article, I’ll share with you my tips.
Why Does My Slow Cooker Make Everything Watery?
Slow cookers make food watery because they cook with a tight lid. Any liquid added will not evaporate whilst cooking and can be made worse by more liquid being released from the ingredients. Your meal ends up with too much liquid in the slow cooker.
When a slow cooker operates, the liquid inside heats up and evaporates as steam. But this only goes as far as the lid, on which it condenses and drips back down into the pot.
This is a key difference between cooking food in a normal saucepan or frying pan. When the lid of these is removed, the liquid evaporates and the dish gets reduced. In the crockpot slow cooker, the liquid remains so it never reduces.
Secondly, a lot of food will release liquid when cooked. Think of the bottom of the roasting dish when roasting a chicken – it ends up filled with the juices and fats of the chicken. Or when you saute mushrooms – once they hit the hot pan they release a lot of liquid which takes a while to cook off.
This is happening in the slow cooker but because the lid is tightly fitted, there is nowhere for this extra liquid to go. So the combination of any stock added initially, and any liquid released, makes a double hit to the wateriness in the final meal.
Does Liquid Evaporate In a Slow Cooker?
As the slow cooker has a lid, very little liquid will evaporate while cooking unless the lid is removed. Removing the lid will slow down the cooking process.
The thing is, a slow cooker is designed to work with the lid on. It’s a low-power appliance that efficiently cooks with the lid. So by removing it, you are going to slow down the cooking process. The general guidance is to remove the lid as least as possible because it takes a while for the crockpot to come back to the ideal cooking temperature.
Can You Leave The Lid Off Slow Cooker To Thicken?
If the food is cooked, you can remove the lid to allow some liquid to evaporate. Try removing the lid for the last 30 minutes of cooking and setting the cooker on the high setting.
How Do I Stop My Slow Cooker From Going Watery?
Avoid watery slow-cooked meals by using 50% or less liquid in the slow cooker than the traditional recipe. Thickening the sauce by dredging the meat in flour at the start, or adding a cornstarch mixture at the end will help it to be less watery.
Recipes need to be optimized for the slow cooker and this usually means less water. Around 50% less water is a rule of thumb, but you can even go lower. For a chicken roast or pulled pork, you don’t need to add any liquid.
The meat has enough fat and liquid released that the bottom should not burn. If you are ever worried it might – just add enough water to cover the bottom. See my post on pot roasting in a slow cooker.
Remember that alcohol doesn’t “burn off” either. So any wine added will be stronger towards the end of the meal – so lower this quantity to taste too.
Once you’ve solved the problem of having excess liquid in your meals, you can work on making the sauce thicker so it’s more pleasant to eat. When you’ve got too much liquid, this thins the sauce too so you end up with lots of watery sauce!
How To Thicken Slow Cooker Meals
The main ways you can thicken the sauce is with flour, cornstarch, or with pureed vegetables.
The absolute easiest way is to add a cornstarch mix at the end of cooking. Mix equal parts cornstarch and water in a bowl until combined (a tablespoon for each cup of liquid in the cooker as a rough guide). Then mix this into the slow cooker and cook on high for 10 minutes until it thickens. Cornstarch makes a clear, glossy sauce.
Alternatively, flour can thicken a sauce, but it’s harder to add it later without it forming lumps. You need to dredge the meat in flour before adding it to the pot. You can also make a paste of flour and butter and mix this in late into the cooking, which avoids lumps. It does add calories from the excess butter though! Flour makes the sauce go cloudy rather than clear.
Remember that flour or cornstarch will cause lumps if added straight into the hot liquid before making a paste. This is because it will cook before it can dissolve into the liquid, and so the lump is there for good.
To thicken with vegetables, take some or all of the cooked vegetables from your slow cooker and blend until smooth. Add this back into the sauce to thicken it a bit like a soup is thickened. Obviously, this is the method that takes the most effort.
Lastly, you can thicken the meal by removing the lid for the last 30 minutes and cooking on high. This will let some liquid evaporate off. In my experience though, you’ve got to reduce the liquid by quite a lot before you get a properly thick sauce.
When To Add Cornstarch To Slow Cooker?
Cornstarch should be added towards the end of cooking in the slow cooker. The starch needs enough time to thicken by cooking it, so at least 10 minutes of cooking on high is needed. It’s best to add at the end as vegetables can release liquid while cooking.
Watery meals with too much liquid are one of the main problems cooking in a slow cooker. Hopefully, you now have some tips to help you limit this liquid and thicken the sauce. By going for these two approaches, I find that stews and casseroles come out very nicely.
In summary, try to limit the amount of initial liquid added, whether it is wine, stock, or water. Going for around half the amount of a traditional recipe is recommended, and lowering even further if you know the ingredients will leach liquid.
Thickening the final sauce with cornstarch is a simple go-to solution. I’ve always got a bag of it nearby and it only takes a minute or so to dissolve some in water and add to the dish. If you are browning the meat first then another good option is using flour to dredge and thicken the sauce later on.