Your slow cooker can give you a fall-apart tender roast or a tough, dry and inedible meal. It’s important to know the answers to these questions. Are you using the right type of meat? What about the right temperature? Do you have enough liquid in the crock? Lots of factors affect the quality of your dish.
Here’s what you need to make tender meat in a slow cooker—and how to fix things when the recipe goes awry.
How to Avoid Dry or Tough Meat
Choose the Right Cuts
The best cuts of meat for a slow cooker are well-marbled and fatty. This can include meat on the bone, too. In other words, you want to skip the boneless, skinless chicken breasts!
Here’s what we recommend:
- Beef: Look for cuts like chuck roast, stew beef and brisket.
- Pork: Choose shoulder or pork ribs.
- Chicken: The best choice for the slow cooker is chicken thighs.
It helps that tougher cuts are often less expensive, so they’re perfect for dinners on a budget.
Add Just Enough Liquid
Your slow cooker needs liquid to create a moist environment, and that can include meat or vegetable stock, wine or water. This doesn’t mean the meat should be submerged; a cup or two of liquid will be enough, since the cooker is covered and liquids stay trapped inside.
If you want the dish to be saucy, or you’re making a stew, add enough liquid to come about 1/3 of the way up on the meats in the slow cooker. This allows your meat to braise, not boil. Boiling creates tough meat!
Check the dish halfway through. But don’t lift the lid. Doing so lets heat and moisture escape, putting the texture of your meat at risk.
Cook Low and Slow
Place your meat on the bottom of the slow cooker, so it’s closest to the heat source. Add your other ingredients and liquids, then set your cooker to “low.” Plan for 6-9 hours of cooking time. This long, slow braise breaks down the connective tissue and fat, creating deliciously soft and juicy meat.
Why is meat still tough in the slow cooker? It’s because you haven’t let the collagen break down. Extend the cook time, make sure there’s enough liquid and keep an eye on the dish.
Does meat get more tender the longer you cook it in a slow cooker? Not if you’re using a leaner cut in the slow cooker, like chicken breast or pork chops. To help keep these cuts moist, decrease the cook time to 2-4 hours.
How to Fix Dry or Tough Meat
You may be able to salvage a roast that’s dry by adding more liquid. However, for meat that’s tough, we like to repurpose it instead. Let the meat cool, then use forks or your fingers to pull the overcooked meat into shreds. Then, use the meat to create new dishes. Add it to a sauce and gently simmer for recipes like pulled pork or a zesty, spicy chicken chili.