Okay, I'm about to go all Office Space on my crock pot.
For years I've attempted to enjoy my crock pot. I didn't pay a lot for it, so I don't mind if in the end I just chuck it, but everything I made turns out dry, bland and just blah. I've done everything people tell me to do - don't lift the lid, don't add liquid, add a ton of liquid, overseason, underseason, pierce the meat, sear the meat, don't pierce the meat, don't sear the meat, freeze the meat....you get the idea.
Is it just possible that this is how everything tastes when cooked in a crock pot? Bland, dry and a bit like glue? Or have I just not found the holy grail of crock pot recipes and I need to keep going at it? I love the concept - cook a lot of food at your convenience and keep it warm, etc, but I'm not going to keep wasting $ on meat that just tastes awful once it comes out of there.
Has anyone experienced something similar and figured out the secret? Or is anyone a crock pot expert who can help?
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Crock pot lessons:
-Just because it's done doesn't mean it's seasoned. People who serve bland, tasteless crockpot meals tend to have just scooped it straight from the pot to the plate, and in the long cooking process anything potent or strong tasting has had the living hell cooked out of it. You season, and re season, and for the love of god add a freaking acid component. Stews and soups, and anything of the like need a splash of vinegar or citrus as the last step. I used to work in a kitchen, and I forgot to add an acid component to one of the beef stews, and I thought my boss was going to kick me to the curb he hated it so much. It cuts a rich dish and makes everything pop. Some spices/aromatics that are good for a long cook: 1 whole head of garlic, the flesh of a lemon (NOT the rind or the pith, pith will make it bitter and rind will taste nasty especially for limes unless they are added immediately before serving), a whack of lemon grass, a big chunk of fresh ginger, cinnamon sticks, star anise, roasted cumin seeds (all roasted WHOLE spices will cook out wonderfully, then add more ground components when done), dried mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, dried teas, dried flowers,etc.
-It is a means to an end, but not the very end. The crockpot is a lifesaver if you know how to use it properly, but it is not the final dish. At least in my opinion. I personally never ever put any vegetable other than onions/carrots/celery for french stews, but then I strain those veggies out and throw them out because they are bland and useless after cooking for so long. Stew your meat- get it fabulously tender sitting in loads of it's own fat. Now use it for something. Make some pulled pork. Shred up that chicken and throw it in coconut milk and have yourself a curry. Put that beef in a demi-glaze from the juices, then die and go to heaven. Add some fresh, crunchy veg and turn the heat up to steam it for 15 minutes, then serve right away. Pour whatever meaty stew-ish concoction you have over raw julienned vegetable. Don't skip the browning step. If you are too lazy to break out your cast iron, roast your bones and meat and bits in a very hot oven until seared.
-Use fat. Lots of it. It should be a fatty cut, or your should be breaking out your needles and sewing in some fat. For best texture, your crockpot concoction should take place over 2 days. One day, cooking the whole day, then chill it over night. Skim off the excessive fat and scum. The next day, throw it through a strainer, heat it up in a pot to reduce, then put the meat back in and stir to heat and coat.
Crock pots can produce fabulous meals if you just take a "this isn't done" approach. That makes it sound like maybe crock pots aren't that useful if they are still work- but at the end of the day, it's very little effort. Plus, the best meals I have ever had, at the hands of line cooks from my high end restaurant, have been slow cooked, crock pot, fabulous meals. Short ribs to die for, beef cheek that makes you cry, and some wonderful roasts shredded and filled with succulent reduced broth and seasoning.
I've had good success with meats that traditionally require long cooking. We did corned beef and cabbage yesterday, and regularly do chili, bone broth, chicken stock, and curries in the crock-pot with excellent results.
Might I suggest that you start with stewing meats or ground-meat-based dishes while you figure out your crock-pot? Starting out with soups, stews, chilis and curries maximize success, while still making the most of the convenience of a slow-cooker.
Favorite Slow-Cooker Curry
- 2 lbs stew meat or ground meat (can be beef, pork, chicken, fish)
- 1 cup stock
- 1/2 teaspoon "Real" salt, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons curry powder
- 4-6 cups vegetables (we like cauliflower, onion, and sweet potatoes)
- 1 can whole-fat coconut milk
Simmer your meat, stock, and curry powder for 2-3 hrs on low (3 hrs if using stew beef or pork; 2 if using ground meat, chicken or fish). Taste, to see if the seasoning level is high enough for you. If needed, add additional curry powder or individual curry-powder ingredients (we often add extra cumin and hot pepper)
Add vegetables. Simmer for another 30-60 minutes (depending on how large your pieces of vegetable are).
Stir in coconut milk, and allow to warm fully.
This makes about 6-8 servings of curry -- plenty to eat for a meal, with leftovers for lunch for the rest of the week. As it sits in the fridge, it actually gets MORE tasty, so the leftovers later in the week really sparkle.
2-Fer Crock-Pot Chili
- 2 lbs ground meat (we use 80/20 grass-fed beef most ofen--if you're using a leaner meat... say 90% lean)
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 2 cups chopped green chilis
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
- 2 jars tomato paste (Bionature and Muir Glen have these in stores if you don't make your own)
- 2 cups stock
- 2 teaspoons "Real" Salt
- 2 tablespoons each red and green chili powder
Crumble meat. Add all ingredients to your crock pot. Simmer for 4-6 hrs on low.
Makes 8-10 servings. Can be stored in fridge or freezer.
It may turn out that you just don't like slow-cooked meat. :O
Here's my favored routine:
- start with a meaty bone (knuckle/foot) plus a marrow bone (visible marrow inside) with water to barely cover; slow cook 8-24 hours until bones will come out clean. Remove bones.
- Add additional muscle meat if desired (heart, stew beef, shank, etc.)
- IMPORTANT: add flavoring vegetables like celery, fennel, carrot, etc. Simmer a few hours.
- Add any other desired vegetables (rutabaga, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.) and simmer until tubers are tender.
Everyone in my eating circle loves the above recipe. For even more flavor, take a cup or two of finished broth from the stew and use it to cook shrimp/mussels/clams-in-shell and then pour the broth and (de-shelled) shellfish back into the stew.
I hate crockpots. Nothing that comes out of them ever tastes good. Some people say that new crockpots get too hot. Others say that old crockpots get too hot. I've tried multiple versions of both, and have just decided that crockpots just stink period. The only reason I keep mine is for making hot process soap.
Just to add another couple of data points, I've cooked entire chickens in my crockpot, and they usually come out dry and stringy. Sure they're in a lot of juice, but the white meat especially - unless made into a soup - is just dry (seems contradictory, I know).
Same thing with beef rump roasts.
On the other hand, I've made pork shoulder with a dry rub and it comes out GREAT.
I guess my takeaway is: chicken; not fatty enough. The particular rump roast I had; maybe not fatty enough, maybe need to find a different recipe. Pork shoulder; fatty enough and delicious.
Hmm, what cuts of meat are you using in it? I find that tough, fatty cuts that require slow, low-heat cooking are best. My favorite super easy crockpot meal is making pulled pork with a pork shoulder, a can of green chilis, and trader joes tomatillo salsa. I think I got it from Everyday Paleo, she has some pretty good crockpot recipes
Weird, I've had the exact opposite experience with my crockpot. Seems like I can't manage to make anything not taste great. Sometimes it gets a bit dry, particularly chicken if cooked too long. But it's still delicious, I just dip it in the broth before putting in mouth.
Anyone have any tips on cleaning these things though?!?!? Food likes to stick to the walls lots of scrubbing.
How old is the crock pot, and how do the settings work? Some older models heat up too hot, to keep undesirable things from growing in the food. However, that's no reason to throw it out just yet - next time, follow the recipe as written, but reduce the cooking time by an hour or two. If that doesn't help, then you might consider splurging on a more modern (and yes, more expensive) model.
I have a really cheap crock pot and honestly, mine runs kind of hot. When doing a grass-fed beef chuck roast or a pork shoulder roast, I cook it overnight on low and then leave it on 'keep warm' for another 10 hours or so. Always comes out perfect, but I've had to do some experimenting and hacking of my own. I have put roasts in there that were awful and dry when I initially tried it, and so I left it on keep warm for another 12 hours and it was always perfect afterward. Try that perhaps?