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I have a Butterball turkey breast roast that I'd like to cook tomorrow, and I'm planning to do it in my slow cooker.

The recipe as provided online is the same one that is on the turkey packaging:

Slow-Cooker Instructions: Place THAWED roast, skin side up, flat in 8” diameter slow-cooker. Add 1/2 cup water. Cover, cook on low 7-1/2 hours to internal temperature of 170 degrees as measured with a meat thermometer. After 4 hours, check temperature at center, ends and near top for food safety. Turkey must reach 140 degrees within 4 hours.

Now, I haven't done a lot of slow cooking before, but when I have, I've always added enough liquid to fill the slow cooker up to about 3/4 full. Half a cup of water will barely cover the bottom of my slow cooker.

I did some research, but found nothing conclusive. Some people say that slow cookers should always be more than half full, while others seem to indicate that it's fine to run them almost empty.

Is there a minimum level of liquid necessary when cooking in a slow cooker?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

It's really no different from cooking something on a stove: if you have no liquid at all, things are probably going to start getting too hot, sticking on the bottom, and maybe burning. As long as there's some liquid, you'll be fine. The important thing is to add enough; if you keep having to open it to add more, it won't stay hot. This is basically the minimum level: enough that it won't boil dry in an hour or so. If you're cooking something really simple like a piece of meat, using too much water just provides more water for the flavor to get diluted into.

This is precisely what the first page you linked to says: if it's not full enough, it might all boil off. The writer is just way off about quantities. I suspect his cooker's lid doesn't fit well, or he's unnecessarily cooking on high. I don't think my slow cooker would boil dry from half full in 8 hours on low, and there's no reason to put it on high if I'm cooking that long.

The recipe at the second link isn't exactly empty - a can of cranberry sauce will provide a good amount of liquid. It also might not be a great recipe. On that note, I might suggest you look for more authoritative recipes. Perhaps check out a slow cooker cookbook from your library (these tend to be pretty common) to get an idea of the kinds of things you can do. (Of course, if all you want is a plain piece of meat, I guess you don't need much.)

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I agree, I've never added that much liquid to my slow cooker. At most I've probably filled the slow cooker with 1/2" of water, usually a lot less. The meat naturally releases fats and water while cooking, so I've never had my slow cooker boil dry. – rob Apr 21 '12 at 23:38
Also, as a food safety issue, the liquid in the pot helps conduct the heat more effectively into the rest of the food, ensuring it comes up to safe temperatures in a reasonable time. You want at least enough to facilitate this effect. – SAJ14SAJ Mar 16 '13 at 16:18
Note temperature of slow cooker is regulated by a thermostat, not by water evaporation. Things won't burn really, just dry up into a hard shell and remain uncooked on top, as it's the water and steam that is responsible for distributing heat through the volume. – SF. Mar 18 '14 at 8:16
sorry @SF. I have taken apart a number of crock pots and never seen a thermostat, so evaporation is a regulator of temperature, as the temperature is determined by the heat entering the system (namely heating coils) and the heat leaving the system (evaporation, radiation, and circulation). You got the first sentence wong but the rest right. – hildred Apr 15 '15 at 3:32
@hildred: I wouldn't be so sure. My slow cooker goes "ping" and the red light goes out for a while. Then it goes "ping" again, several minutes later, and the light is lit. I'm fairly sure it's a bimetallic thermostat that does this. – SF. Apr 15 '15 at 15:51

America's Test Kitchen and other sources say the opposite of what's being offered as advice here. They recommend using very little liquid in the slow cooker, and that, paradoxically, more water actually dries out meats. Liquid in the slow cooker does not boil off. No moisture escapes. Yesterday I made the best corned beef I've had in a long time. Along with the 3.5 lb piece of meat, I added several potatoes, cabbage, carrots, celery, and onions, and only a half cup of liquid. Not only was the corned beef cooked perfectly after 8 hours on low,but the crockpot was nearly full of liquid.

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Sure, meat releases liquid, and so do some of those vegetables. But it takes time, so if you don't add any, some things may burn onto the slow cooker before enough liquid is there to prevent that. – Jefromi Feb 8 at 19:28

One of my favourite ways to cook a roast leg of lamb, if I am at work in the daytime, is to spray cooking oil on the leg, and place it with a whole garlic, straight into my porcelain crockpot(slow cooker). I never add liquid of any sort, as the meat will release its own steam. When I get home from work I put lamb leg into very hot oven, with a little oil and "roast" for 15 - 20 minutes. The meat falls off the bone, every time, and doesnt taste of anything other then roasted lamb.

I have told many people about this trick, and they all use it all the time now. At the moment today, I am doing the same method for a leg of Mutton, the house smells delicious !!

Also, you can also add potatoes or carrots etc, during the slow cooking time, and roast them with the lamb.

Easiest way I know for a weekday or anyday roast.

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I noticed that when I don't add too much liquid, while the bottom is still liquidy from the natural juices, but the top of the meat (the exposed part) becomes hard and dry. – highBandWidth Mar 5 '14 at 20:22

When there's less liquid, it's more of a braise. If you google 'braising in a slow cooker', you'll discover the people who use slow cookers with a lot less liquid.

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I always brown my roasts under a broiler before adding to crockpot.....I never add any liquid and when it's'll always have a lot of liquid in your crockpot.

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