Do Slow Cookers Require Water To Cook?

I love my slow cooker. It’s a fantastic solution to a homecooked meal when I have a busy day ahead. However, much like any new kitchen gadget, it takes some getting used to. I’ve found that finding the amount of liquid to add and the right duration/temperature for each recipe is often the thing people struggle with most.

Slow cookers require some liquid to operate however in some cases that liquid may come from the food itself. In other cases, this may mean adding water. Items such as vegetables or frozen meats already have high water content and therefore need little or no additional liquid.

In this post, we’ll be looking at when you should add liquid to your slow-cooked meals, how much liquid to add to get the best results, and how to remove excess water when things go wrong.

Do Slow Cookers Require Liquid To Cook Food

A slow cooker works by as a result of a heating element (usually situated on the bottom of the unit) heating the ceramic insert (which can be transferred to the oven), which in turn heats the food inside.

Slow cookers use this heating element to heat liquids, which in turn, cook the food as a result of the heat which is convicted around by the liquid and contained by the slow cooker lid.

Therefore some liquid is required for foods to cook in the slow cooker without burning and sticking to the bottom. However as the liquid and therefore the moisture inside the slow cooker doesn’t escape (provided you don’t take the lid off) the amount of required is relatively minimal.

This means in many cases you can dry cook in a slow cooker provided that there is some liquid content inside the food you’re cooking either from the food itself or a sauce (such as BBQ sauce on a rack of ribs).

How Much Liquid Should You Add To A Slow Cooker

As you therefore might have guessed the amount of liquid you should add to your slow cooker depends on the food you’re cooking and the estimated water content.

For example, frozen chicken is often injected with water to help it freeze better. Therefore when cooking frozen chicken in a slow cooker little to no additional liquid is required. The same goes for vegetables such as mushrooms which have up to 90% water content.

You can opt to either braise your meat in a slow cooker with minimal additional liquid or submerge your meat in liquid (simmering) as both techniques work just as well.

The right technique is likely to depend more on the meat you’re cooking rather than the slow cooker itself. For example, when cooking pork belly, braised is preferred over searing.

If you’re cooking from a recipe either be sure to use one which is specifically designed for slow cookers as the water content is going to be different to that of the traditional oven or pan cooking.

If you’re cooking an oven or pan recipe in the slow cooker then I’d suggest cutting the amount of liquid required in half. I’d use that as a guide and then adjust further if necessary during future meals based on the first end result.

Should Food Be Covered With Liquid In A Slow Cooker?

As stated above not all foods require liquid to cook, some even produce their own but there are foods that may need a little help and need to be covered to enable them to cook.

Foods such as beans, pulses and rice require liquid to cook as they absorb the moisture and expand. This also applies to pasta, orzo and some other styles of pasta.

There may be other meals such as stews, casseroles and pie fillings that require liquid to stop the ingredients from drying out and sticking to the base. Things like potatoes can often stick to the base and so either a little water or oil will prevent that.

If you are following a slow cooker recipe the amount of liquid to be added will be on the recipe. If you are adapting your own recipe look at what ingredients you are using, if you think anything will get stuck you can add a little water to the base to allow the food to cook.

Remember that the liquid added doesn’t always have to be water, it can be chopped tomatoes, a sauce or gravy for a stew.

Does Meat Need To Be Submerged In A Slow Cooker?

Meat does not require to be submerged in liquid in a slow cooker, this only applies if you are wanting to boil your meat.

Fully submerging your meat in a slow cooker can be useful for a number of reasons, it stops the meat drying out, burning or even sticking to the base. The liquid can also be a way to soak flavour into the meat but can often have the opposite affect once the liquid is drained.

You can also use this technique if you are making something like a casserole or stew where the ingredients are likely to be within the liquid form for serving.

If you want to simply cook your meat as you would if you were using a pan or in the oven you wouldn’t need excess liquid. You can simply use a little oil to keep the meat from sticking to the base and cook that way.

How To Remove Excess Water From Slow Cooker

If you find that your slow-cooked meal has excess water then you may want to remove it using one of a variety of techniques. These include;

Draining – Depending on the food you’ve cooked in your slow cooker you may opt to simply drain the excess liquid from the ceramic insert using a colander. This is a quick and relatively mess-free solution, however, it’s not suitable for all meals.

Reduction – You can opt to reduce the amount of liquid in your slow cooker through boiling or simmering until the desired concentration has been reached as a result of evaporation. This can be achieved in a slow cooker by cooking without the lid.

Thicken – You can use either flour or cornstarch to thicken the liquid into more of gravy or broth. This solution is great if you have a naturally watery dish but the consistency of the liquid isn’t right, meals such as; stews, soups and sauces. I’ve found a ratio of 1:2 works best, 1 part cornstarch, flour or gravy granules per 2 parts water.

Be sure to note down on your recipe that you struggled with excess water so you can reduce the quantity added the next time you make the dish.