This story is part of, CNET’s collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.
It’s the start of football season, which means one thing: Delicious game-watching foods (and sports, I guess). And whether you’re heading out to tailgate or having people over, there’s a good chance you’ll turn to your trusty slow cooker for an easy appetizer or meal for a group, like a dip or a chili.
While using a slow cooker is an almost foolproof way to cook, there are a few common mistakes you can make that might mess up your meal. Luckily, they’re easy to avoid, so the only thing you’re left to be upset about is a game-losing fumble.
Here are five slow cooker mistakes you might be making, and how to fix them. You can also find outcompared to using the oven, and our picks for .
1. Using too much liquid
When you’re cooking meat or poultry in your slow cooker, you want there to be some liquid to cover the ingredients. But you don’t want to fill it all the way up with broth, stock or water. There’s no reason to add more liquid than the recipe calls for (or more than enough to cover the ingredients if you’re someone who does these things by feel), unless your slow cooker owner’s manual says otherwise.
If you add too much liquid to your slow cooker, it will heat up and evaporate as steam — but then will get trapped by the lid and drip back down into your food, making it too watery. Yuck.
2. Adding dairy products too early
Many slow cooker recipes call for cheese, milk, sour cream or other dairy products. But you don’t want to add them until the last few minutes of cooking — otherwise, they may curdle and ruin your dish.
3. Opening the lid for a peek
The same way you don’t want to open the oven door too often when you’re baking, you don’t want to lift the lid on your slow cooker as it’s cooking. Doing so lets heat escape and can dramatically lower the temperature inside the pot, which means it’ll take longer to cook your food properly.
4. Filling the slow cooker all the way up to the top
You shouldn’t be filling your slow cooker to the brim with ingredients. It needs space between the food and the lid to prevent it from boiling over. The heat inside also needs room to circulate and cook the food the right way. Generally, you shouldn’t fill your slow cooker more than three-quarters full.
5. Adding herbs at the start
Any dried or fresh herbs you’re using should be added toward the end of your cooking time. If you add them at the start, they’ll lose their potency by the time everything else cooks, and you’ll be left with less flavorful food.
For more tips, check out whether it’s cheaper to buy groceries online versus in the store, and .
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