Can you overcook in a slow cooker? (+5 mistakes to avoid)

In this article, we will look into the question “Can you overcook in a slow cooker?”, and how to prevent overcooked slow cooker recipes?

Can you overcook in a slow cooker?

Yes, you can overcook in a slow cooker. If you leave your food in the wrong setting for extended periods of time, you will end up with dry or rubbery meat, mushy vegetables, or a bland soup. 

To avoid that, you need to strictly follow the cooking time and temperature guidelines called for in the recipe.

Generally, 8-12 hours are needed to cook your food in a low setting. Similarly, 4-6 hours will be needed in a high setting. Some foods may take up to 24 hours to cook thoroughly. 

What happens to overcooked foods in the slow cooker?

Overcooking foods in the slow cooker implies many changes. The food may turn tough and dry due to excessive moisture loss. The texture of vegetables may become mushy, and they may lose their shape. Grains may become soft or mushy.

 Excessive nutrient loss can also take place, as many vitamins are heat-sensitive, and prolonged exposure to heat will boost their degradation. Unpleasant flavors may also result from overcooking.

How to prevent overcooked slow cooker recipes?

  • To prevent overcooked recipes, you should always stick to the recipe guidelines. A correct recipe will provide you with the exact time and temperature guidelines to cook your food.
  • Another important thing to prevent overcooking is to use the right amount of food.  

Generally, a slow cooker must not be filled with less than 1/2 and more than 3/4 of its capacity [1]. If your slow cooker is underfilled, your food will get cooked faster. If It is overfilled, the liquid will spill out. 

  • Consider the difference between food and meat cuts. For example, large cuts of meat and poultry will cook differently from small sizes in the slow cooker. 

In this case, consult the instruction booklet for suggested sizes of meat and poultry to cook in your slow cooker.

The best cuts of meat for a slow cooker are well-marbled and fatty.  Avoid leaner meats if possible, or give them a shorter cooking time. The more marbled the meat, the better it should cook [2,3].

  • Add your ingredients in a sophisticated order in the slow cooker, respecting the time they take to cook. 

Vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry in a slow cooker so if using them, put the vegetables in first, then add the meat and the amount of liquid suggested in the recipe [4]. 

Among vegetables, there is also an order to be respected, according to their sturdiness. If you want an ingredient to fall apart—like tomatoes for instance—place it closer to the bottom. 

Place starchy potatoes under more delicate carrots, and cut more fragile ingredients into larger pieces of potatoes [5].

  • Attention to the slow cooker settings. Most cookers have two (low or high) settings. Foods take different times to cook depending upon the setting used. Certainly, foods will cook faster on high than on low. 

Moreover, certain foods work better in a determined setting. For instance, fattier cuts of meat such as stewing beef and pork work better for slow cooking. 

The United State Department of Agriculture (USD) [2] suggests, if possible, turning the cooker on to the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe.

  • If you decide to speed things up, take care of time adjustments [1]: 
  • If your recipe takes 1-2 hours on High it will take 4-6 hours on Low
  • 2-3 hours on High compares to 5-7 hours on Low
  • If 3-4 hours on High, then it will be 6-8 hours on Low
  • Dishes as long as 4-6 hours on High take 8-12 hours on Low

Can I fix overcooked food in a slow cooker?

If you accidentally overcook your food in the slow cooker, we got some tips to help you save it:

  • If your recipe is dry or tough, add moisture in the form of water, broth, or sauce. This will help food rehydrate. Start with small amounts of liquid and then adjust as needed. 
  • Give the food another destination. For example, overcooked meat may be removed from the slow cooker, cooled, pulled into shreds, and used to create new dishes.  
  • Adjust seasoning. Overcooked food may lose flavor, so you can make adjustments to enhance the taste. You can add additional herbs, salt, or other seasonings you have available at home, until you get the wanted taste.
  • Add fresh ingredients: for instance, to revive overcooked vegetables,  you can add some fresh vegetables in the last 30 minutes to an hour of cooking to add some texture and crunch. 
  • Serve with sauce: If the overcooked food is still dry or tough, you can serve it with a sauce to add moisture and flavor. This can help to mask the dryness and give the dish juiciness.
  • Use a food processor or blender: this can work for soups, stews, or dishes where texture is less important. You can use a blender or processor to puree the overcooked food to smooth its consistency.

The 5 slow cooker mistakes that might be sabotaging your meals 

Do not cook chicken with the skin on 

Slow cooking will stew your meat. Therefore, any skin on the surface will become rubbery instead of crispy. That is why It is always smart to cook chicken without the skin in the slow cooker.

Do not waste your money on fancy cuts of meat 

The expensive cuts of meat are already tender. They do not require long hours of sow heating to cook properly. The slow cooker is meant to tenderize cheaper cuts only that have more collagen.

Searing is important 

Except for chicken, you should sear all types of meat. It is because browning helps lock the moisture inside and ensures safety by exposing the meat to high temperatures not achievable in a slow cooker. Moreover, browned meat looks and tastes better.

Don’t forget to cover the meat 

The meat should be completely submerged in the liquid or broth to ensure even and proper cooking.

Don’t add too much alcohol 

When you add alcohol to a slow cooker, It won’t be able to evaporate as it does during searing. Therefore, do not go overboard with alcohol to avoid ending up with a boozy-tasting meal.


In this article, we answered the question “Can you overcook in a slow cooker?”, and how to prevent overcooked slow cooker recipes?