First a disclaimer: You can cook the foods below in the slow cooker. You’ll even find slow-cooker recipes for some of these foods on our site. BUT, and this is a big but, these food will simply not be as good as they could be if you cooked them another way. Sometimes, cooking in the slow cooker rather than in a skillet, Dutch oven or conventional oven is like swatting a fly with a hammer, when a rolled-up newspaper would do just fine. You don’t need the power of the slow cooker to make these foods delicious. Further, when compared to the “Bests” above, recipes for these foods are landmines and are ripe for error and subpar results, which is why we consider them the “Worst” foods for slow cooking.
These meats just don’t have enough fat to withstand a long slow cook. They also cook quickly. If it’s convenience you’re after—and we 100 percent get that—you might be better served with the cooking methods recommended below.
- Steak needs a nice sear to taste its best, so stick with your skillet or grill.
- Tenderloin can easily dry out in the oven, so there’s absolutely no reason to subject it to slow cooking.
- Pork chops cook up beautifully and with very little effort in a skillet.
- Chicken breast can dry out and turn rubbery, so cook them simply on the stovetop or in the oven.
The browning that makes baked goods so delicious, simply won’t happen in the slow cooker because it’s a moist, sealed environment. It’s also likely that baking in your slow cooker will take longer than using your oven.
- Cake can be made in the slow cooker, but we’d argue it really only makes sense in specific circumstances—when you don’t have air conditioning and need to bake a birthday cake in 110°F weather, or when you’re camped out in an RV or when the power goes out and you’re using a generator. The rest of the time, your oven does a great job.
- Pizza doesn’t take long to cook, unless you put it in the slow cooker. If that helps you out of a weeknight dinner jam, that’s great. But you’ll never go wrong baking (or even grilling) your pizza.
Pasta and Grains
Texture is really important when you’re cooking pasta or Arborio rice. Both taste best when they’re soft, but not gummy, and pleasantly chewy—what the Italians call “al dente.” It’s easier to achieve this perfect state when you can watch the food closely, stir, adjust the heat and generally be more involved in the cooking.
- Risotto is a labor of love. Constant stovetop stirring isn’t for everyone, but it might result in a better dish. When making risotto in the slow cooker, you won’t have to stir. You will have to follow directions closely to avoid making a gummy mess and/or burning the bottom.
- Pasta can be done well—i.e. use the slow cooker to make your sauce, then either stir in the pasta at the very end or cook it on the stovetop, so you’re really using the slow cooker to stew up a flavorful sauce. The other way, the way we wouldn’t recommend, involves dumping all the ingredients into the slow cooker, and letting it all cook for hours on end. In our opinion, this is just no way to treat a box of pasta. So, make sure your recipe follows the first method, and remember there’s nothing wrong with boiling pasta on the stovetop.
When in Doubt, Ask Yourself the Following:
- Is the slow cooker improving the flavor of the dish? For example, slow cooking helps break down the tough muscle proteins and render the fat in a long-cooking cut of meat, so it turns out meltingly tender and flavorful. On the other hand, if it’s going to stop your cake from browning—skip the slow cooker.
- Are the ingredients well suited to the slow cooker? Some ingredients get weird in the slow cooker—chicken breasts dry out and dairy can curdle. Ingredients that need to breathe and burn off through evaporation just don’t have the chance. The steamy, sealed environment of the slow cooker prevents browning and it can concentrate strong flavors, such as ginger, garlic and herbs, to the point where they overpower the whole dish. These ingredients will fare better if sautéed before slow cooking.
- Am I just trying use the slow cooker, because I need the convenience? We know exactly where you’re coming from, and we’ve got the recipes that make life easier and still turn out delicious. Get started with our all-day slow-cooker recipes and don’t forget about slow-cooker soups, stews and chilis. Pulled pork, beef chuck roast and the rest of the long-cooking cuts of meat will turn out beautifully too.
So now that you know what to avoid and what to lean into—you’re on your way to the best-ever slow-cooker meals! Want to know even more on this subject? Check out Betty’s 5 Slow-Cooker Commandments.