New York Times best-selling author, slow cooking expert, mom of three
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A Year of Slow Cooking

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Slow Cooker Troubleshooting





We have two new family members! Meet Sugar and Oliver (Ollie)--- who were in the house all of 45 minutes before I decided to throw them in a crockpot. [PETA disclosure; it wasn't plugged in, they weren't drugged---all just fun and games!]

While cooking in the slow cooker is pretty easy, sometimes things don't go exactly quite as planned. Since I've used the crockpot eight million and fifty-six times I have a few tricks up my robe sleeve that might be of some help to you.

Part 3 of Frequently Asked Questions. 1 and 2 are here.

Cleaning Baked on Gunk.
If you make a casserole in the slow cooker, like a lasagna, sometimes the baked on gunk is hard to get off. Don't use a brillo pad, or harsh abrasive scrubber to scrape it off. Instead, fill the crock with hot water and drop in a fabric softener (dryer) sheet, and let it sit over night. In the morning, rinse out the crock and wash it normally (either by hand or in the dishwasher).

Do You Use the Slow Cooker Liners?
I don't. But that's because I use my pots so much (I have 7 plugged in today!) it wouldn't be cost-effective for me to do so. If I think what I'm making will be difficult to clean, I'll spray a bit of cooking oil on the crock before loading it up. Otherwise, I just clean promptly, or use the above fabric softener sheet trick.

Also, I just moved to the Ninja Cooking System pretty much full-time, and it has a nonstick coating that is super easy to clean --- cleaning just hasn't been an issue at all with this pot.

Hard Water Stains or Bean Residue.
The white, filmy stuff left behind on a black stoneware is lime scale, and comes from hard water, soap scum, or bean goop. Once you wash your pot with hot, soapy water, it's fine to use, even with this white discoloration. If it really bothers you, you can use a mixture of water and vinegar to wash away the stains, or make a big pot of tomato-based something or other (chili, stew, marinara sauce) to get rid of the stains.
I live in an area with hard water, and have these stains pretty often. I simply ignore them and keep cooking.

There is Water Trapped in The Handle of the Glass Lid of My CrockPot.
Ew. This happens if you don't have a tight seal on the handle of the glass lid and you run it through the dishwasher. The best thing to do is to unscrew the lid, wipe out the water, and then hand-wash the lid from now on. I'm sure you could hunt down a rubber gasket from a hardware store to make the seal tighter, but usually the glass lids don't get so dirty you can't just hand wash them.

The Handle Fell off the Glass Lid and it's Broken and I Need a New One.
You can order new glass lid handles from the Crock-Pot main website.  You'll need to get the model number from the bottom of the heating element before seeing what type of knobs are available.
Or, you can go to a hardware store and get a single screw drawer-pull and use that instead for a new handle.

The Glass Lid is Broken.
You can order replacement glass lids from the Crock-Pot website (again, have your model number ready), or you can use a few layers of foil as a lid. Crimp the edges tightly, and cook your food the same way. Be super careful when removing the foil, the steam will be quite hot!

Which Slow Cooker do you Recommend?
I have all my recommended slow cookers and accessories listed on the Store page of the website, and I must admit, I really really like the Ninja.

What Do I Do With the Temperature Probe My Slow Cooker Came With?
Throw it in a junk drawer. I don't use the temperature probe, and none of my recipes call for using one, because I try to keep them pretty simple. If you are cooking a whole chicken or a fancyish piece of meat and would like the meat to turn off when it reaches a desired internal temp, use the probe. The probe is  not to be used as an instant-read meat thermometer, but as a tool to turn the pot to a "warm" setting once the desired temp is reached.


I Only Have a 6-quart. How Do I Make Recipes that Call for a 4-quart or 2-quart?
Slow Cookers work the best when they are pretty full---about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full. You can still use them if they aren't to this capacity, but your food will cook faster.

If you are making a smaller recipe in a 6-quart, you can  load the ingredients in and shorten the cooking time, or you can insert an oven-safe dish and then load the food into that. I recommend a Pyrex or Corningware-type dish, although a metal loaf pan or baking dish would work fine also. It's okay if the food mounds over the top, or overflows.

This is also what I use to make creme brulee or cheesecake.


I hope this helps! I have other answers listed in this Frequently Asked Year of Slow Cooking questions post and this one, too.
If you have any other questions, please let me know and I'll try my hardest to answer them the best I can. I hope you're enjoying your Crocktober!
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33 comments:

AP said...

That was amazingly helpful. Thanks for sharing, especially the trick with the dryer sheet.

JeniB said...

Cute new kitties!

Diane-The WHOLE Gang said...

So glad my hubby didn't see this. I just got the new Calphalon 4 qt programable cooker because I said that sometimes the 6 qt is too big. Thanks for all the other tips!

Those kittens are adorable. I liked your note to peta.

Heather said...

Awesome tips!!

I almost always use the cooking spray before I put anything in...I haven't so many times and learned my lesson! But now I'll have to remember the dryer sheet :)

gfmommy said...

I'm wondering what you could POSSIBLY be cooking with SEVEN crockpots today!

3LittleMonkeys said...

ROFL! This is too funny. Cute kitties! Our youngest (Gizmo) turns one this month. Our old cat (Beethoven) is 16 years old.

Debby@Just Breathe said...

Great post. Thank you!

Little Ol' Liz said...

OK, I must be the dimmest bulb to ask, but:
How can I tell the size of my Crock Pot? I have 7 (yes, that many) but don't know specifically their size. And if I use a 6 qt but only fill it 2/3's full, isn't that really just 4 quarts of product in the end?

What's the largest Pot with the largest end result?????

Carol said...

great tips and I am also wondering what in the world you have in 7 crockpots. you must be a very organized and plan-ahead person...or you are having a large group to feed! would you mind sharing your tips in cooking in 7 crockpots at one time?

Jen said...

I've found that baking soda works great when I need a little something extra to clean my crockpots. I'm one of those people who's paranoid about chemicals so I like that something safe to eat works!

I would also love to know what's in your 7 crockpots today!

Glenna said...

I got all excited when I saw you mention your cookbook. But, I checked mine and I am sure I have it. Is this your second one or third? I have two. Thanks. (Use them both all the time).

Shannon @ Some Fine Taters said...

Bon Ami works great for cooked on crud and bean stains!

Lynne said...

I did try using liners but found it more hassle than it was worth.
When I'm done I tip what's left into a colander and drain it down the sink, then the rest goes in the trash.
I don't spray the crockpot before use as I try whenever possible to avoid adding extra fat, and I find whatever sticks comes away easily if I just soak it in water with a bit of dishwashing liquid first.
Love my crockpot !!!

Mrsblocko said...

I'm glad to know that it's ok that I've been ignoring the white limescale on the inside of my crockpot. Whew!

PS love the kittens in the crockpot. When my cats were little I used to say that I was going to put them in the stew pot they were so cute, but the crockpot...even better!

Sarah said...

Thank you! The handle to my glass lid just broke today, and I was wondering what to do. I love the tip to use a single screw drawer pull. I think I'm going to try that!

Momof1 said...

Cute kittens! Thanks for the tips!

Janice said...

I'm also curious about the 7 pots and used that comment to show my husband why we need more than one crockpot! : ) LOVED the little kitties in the pot. It is obvious that they really like the crockpot, too, just like I do!

Also, on cleaning out the fine residue that is impossible to get out after cleaning the crockpot, use a Mr. Clean Erasure. It works wonders. Just rinse out well when done.

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

An alternative to ordering a new glass lid is to pop over to your local thrift store. I'm always amazed at the variety of lids in the lid-tub.

Karen said...

Bless you for adopting a black cat! I can't have a pet right now but I had a black cat growing up and it breaks my heart to read that black cats are less likely to be adopted (and we know what that means).

A Gluten Free Mommy said...

They are adorable!! I want a kitten now!

janna said...

Good advice and ADORABLE kitties!

Roxanne @TheHolisticMama said...

Great tip about inserting a pyrex for smaller recipes! I only have a huge crock pot and I never know what to do when I want to make a desert recipe that is supposed to be made in a smaller pot. Thanks!

Miranda said...

I use the smaller Pyrex without a lid when I'm trying to shrink my crockpot down for a recipe?

Frugal in Florida said...

The handle issue seems to be a common problem. Hubby modified mine (wasn't even 6 months old yet) by drilling and putting a screw with a nut on the back side. The plastic handle did crack a bit but it's much sturdier than when we purchased it.

ramses said...

Thank you for the great tips. Do you always cover the smaller pot inside the crockpot- even the cheesecake? I want to make the cheesecake so would appreciate a reply.

Stephanie O'Dea said...

Hi Ramses, I do not put the cover on the inserted dish (corningware, pyrex)---I just use the regular slow cooker lid.

good luck with the cheesecake!-steph

Tracy said...

Hi Stephanie! So if I have a lasagna recipe but I only have half of the ingredients (I just don't have enough cheese), would I just shorten the cooking time? (by about half?)
Thank you!

LuceyBee said...

The trick to clearing out the water which collects in the handle of the glass lid is to press the handle down firmly. The water will drain right out!

Thanks for the other tips and for your great site!

Heather said...

Thanks so much for posting about the replacement parts!! I could really use a new lid for my big crock pot.....didn't realize that someone stashed it in the oven when they emptied the dishwasher until the smoke detector went off while I was using the broiler.....now the handle is.....much flatter than it used to be - lol :^)

Rae of Sunshine said...

I had a problem a while back in that I couldn't get the smell of chill out of my crock pot. Baking soda and vinegar got rid of that smell.

Seriously, in all cleaning aspects of life, when in doubt, try baking soda and vinegar.

gforce said...

I came here looking for ways to remove chicken fat residue from the aluminum base. That is, the materials that bubble over the crock and bake onto the heated surface. Soap and water doesn't work, neither does Bon Ami cleanser. I'm thinking of using barbecue grill cleaner but afraid it will etch the soft aluminum...

Stephanie ODea said...

Hi gforce, I haven't had a huge bubble over, and can usually just wipe out the cooking element with a clorox wipe. Is it a discoloration, or can you feel the substance cooked on. If it's just a discoloration, I'd ignore it. If it's bumpy and you can feel there's actually stuff on there, then I'd probably try to use a spatula or an abrasive sponge with very little water to pick it off, then wipe out.

I hope this helps a bit! I do have discoloration on my heating element from a bit of grease, etc., but it doesn't seem to affect anything.

DevilsHeaven said...

My husband and I, in order to actually eat real meals, made 18 freezer meals to be put in the slower cooker. We haven't been all that wowed with the results (none were your recipes!) and have found our major and main complaint is that the chicken dishes are ALWAYS dry. I am using my 4 qt cooker for all the recipes. Do you have any suggestions?

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