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Just cooked some chicken breasts today. All day in the crockpot and when done the meat was horribly dry. I put chopped onions, carrots, spices, and coconut milk and 1/2 cup water and 4 chicken breasts. There was plenty of fluid there when it was done, but the cooked chicken meat was really dry.

This seems to happen with beef roast as well.

Is there some trick to getting meat to be tender when cooking in the crockpot?

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    I think there's some lack of clarity in the answers because "beef roast" is a pretty vague term. – Cascabel Feb 21 '12 at 6:05
  • ANY meat cooked for hours at low temperature will loose all it's juices to the broth around it. The "moist" meats which you have had, are a reflection on the connective tissue content of the meat being cooked. Slow cooking methods allow for it to disolve and be eddible as opposed to tough string like bands of yuk. Get a lamb shank and cook it at 250F for 4 hours and it's great. Get a tenderloin and do the same it "tastes" dry and yuk but it's as tender or more so than the shank. The shank has just so much more connective tissue and it doesn't leach out so makes it taste moister. – Chef Flambe Feb 21 '12 at 8:15
  • If you want to avoid this and cook much faster, get a pressure cooker! They are amazing and you'll never use a CrockPot again.lifehacker.com/5954077/… – Rorschach120 Mar 19 '15 at 21:28

10 Answers 10

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Cooking anything really lean for a long time can result in super dry meat. Chicken breasts have little fat and little connective issue. The same goes for a lean beef roast. You can do chicken breasts in a crock pot - just not all day, more like a few hours on low.

Try something with more fat like a thigh (or any dark meat) or a beef chuck (shoulder) roast and you should have more luck.

  • OP mention it happens with beef roast as well. Any beef roast will be tender in a slowcooker, so something else is going on – TFD Feb 20 '12 at 19:36
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    @TFD An eye of round beef roast would not come out well. – rfusca Feb 20 '12 at 19:43
  • It goes fine, plenty of liquid, on low for the day. What do you think is going to happen to it? – TFD Feb 20 '12 at 23:13
  • It's like sous-vide without the bag :-) Low is about 70°C to 80°C. A typical 2 Kg roast for 8 hours should be fully cooked, maybe an hour less – TFD Feb 20 '12 at 23:20
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    if you are around and feeling "scientific", how about pulling it out every hour and checking it (photo, internal temp, cut a thin core wedge etc.). Time required depends on initial weight of roast, and starting fluid temp – TFD Feb 21 '12 at 8:12
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I had this problem for a while as well - it turns out my slow cooker was cooking at too high of a temperature (even at low), which would create problems, not only with my chicken, but other things as well (pasta sauces would boil and burn, etc). Reviews on Amazon revealed that this is a fairly common problem with certain brands of slow cookers (especially those at lower price points).

Once I learned this, I got a nicer slow cooker with a programmable probe thermometer built in, so it will switch to "warm" mode once my food hits the optimal temperature. This has helped keep my meat moist and my sauces unburnt.

  • which brands had problems and which brand did you end up going with? – Scott Hillson Nov 20 '12 at 22:01
  • Some people solve this with a dimmer (as for lights) - it need not even be all that heavy-duty, as a typical crockpot/slow cooker is 200W or less (ones that are not JUST crockpots may be a LOT different - check before buying a dimmer, especially if it also acts as a deep fryer...) I think mine is 150/75W on high/low. An external temperature controller with probe would be an alternate approach, but usually more expensive, too. – Ecnerwal Mar 19 '15 at 3:29
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I know I'm weighing in on an old question, but in my experience there are two things meat needs to do really well in the slow cooker on a long cycle (ie all day): the right amount of fat, and plenty of collagen.

We all know about fat keeping meat moist, that's true of other cooking methods, and as others have said, chicken breast does not do well cooked like this as it is too lean.

But the collagen is a lesser known issue. In my opinion it is even more important. We hear a lot about how you can cook cheap tough cuts in the slow cooker, but what many don't realise is they are actually better than tender cuts on a long cooking cycle. The collagen breaks down to gelatin which lengthens the cooking process and gives a moister, juicier result. IMO, the reason chicken thighs do better than breasts in the slow cooker has more to do with collagen than fat - they'll still do well even with the fat trimmed off.

So you need not just meat that's a bit more fatty, but a lot tougher. Use legs instead of breasts, chuck instead of lean tender beef roast, pork or Lamb shoulder instead of leg or loin. To really see the magic, use cuts that are usually impossibly tough - beef shin or short ribs, Lamb flank, oxtail, Turkey drumsticks.

If you want to cook tender, lean meat in the slow cooker, reckon on a much shorter cooking time, like 2-4 hours. Exact time depends on the individual slow cooker so be ready to experiment.

1

It's hard to ruin anything in a crockpot (slow cooker)

Does your crockpot have a thermostat? It may be faulty

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    Late here but that's not true. Read the other answers ans see why. Lean meat WILL end up dry as any juices it has are cooked out. Chicken breast is awful from a slow cooker/dutch oven. – HörmannHH Jan 19 '18 at 13:38
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Yep I found out the hard way that slow cooking boneless chicken usually dries it out. It is not a "tough meat". Speaking of roast beef though, I got a roast from my mother-in-law and it sat in the freezer for a couple of months so I decided it needed to be cooked. I had never cooked a roast before. I found a recipe online using a slow cooking method for 4 hours (dutch oven pot @275F). Because of the type of cut the roast was (rib roast) it was so tender it melted in your mouth. I tried the recipe again about a month later but bought "outside round" roast instead of rib roast (or chuck, shank, brisket etc.) and it ended up slightly dry. Why? it doesn't contain as much collagen as the other mentioned cuts. The collagen is the key to melt in your mouth texture and robust flavor for slow roasting. For pork, try a pork shoulder or butt not a tenderloin if you are slow cooking. The results will be amazing!

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I would cook it in a cream of vegetable or chicken soup if you want the easy short answer. Even chicken breasts turn out tender and moist for me this way.

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Bottom line. No chicken breast in crockpot. The meat must be fatty, tough, to do better in a crockpot. I will never cook a breast again in a crockpot. Once I thought cornish hens would do well..no, it was horrible.

I just purchased a pressure cooker!

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I crock a lot. Even with juice any meat you over cook will dry out.

I have switched to thighs and I remove the skin and fat. Cheaper and it crocks a lot better for me. You do end up with the bone to remove.

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I have cooked a whole chicken cut in to pieces in the crockpot for 20 hours straight and some recipes it turns out well and others not. Indian curry, Enchilada chicken and Chicken soup recipes I have turn out very well and the chicken is fine even after 20 hours. I also have an Italian meatball recipe which works wonderfully too. Recipes with large amounts of sugar though generally have the sugar burned even on low and effect the flavor (after 20 hours). I am not sure what it is about the successful recipes that have the chicken turn out alright though.

Ben

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In my opinion, the trick is to not use a slow cooker for chicken at all. The dish you are describing (kind of simple tom ka gai, it seems like) would normally be built quickly in a wok. Here is how I would make a dish like that on a busy day:

Steam your carrots (or celery or broccoli or cauliflower if you want it) for about two minutes and then dump the hot water out and run cold water over them to stop the cooking. They will be just a little soft on the outside. You can do this the same day you buy them. The same day you buy your chicken, reserve the portion for the soup, chop it into half or three quarter inch cubes, salt and pepper it, and put it in a baggie in the fridge. Chop your onions, grate your ginger, etc. The day you want soup, if all of this is done, you will be able to prepare an amazing soup in less than 15 minutes. The key is do all the preparation beforehand.

To make the soup, lay everything out. This includes the utensils and even the serving dishes. When you are ready, heat your wok and add oil. Let the oil get hot and add garlic. About 20 seconds later, add the chicken. Let the chicken get nice and brown and toss in the onions and carrots. Let them get a little brown (keep everything moving by the way) and add any strong flavors like vinegar, mirin, fish sauce, etc. Let the meat and veggies pan braise in the liquid. At this point, I just reach in and grab the biggest piece of chicken I see and slice it in half to gauge the cooking. You want it to be just barely undercooked - this means no raw color, but a little less cooked than you want to eat. Add the coconut milk and the lime juice at that point. Taste the broth as it cooks and add salt, fish sauce, or lime juice until it tastes perfect. When the coconut milk is hot enough to serve, you are ready to eat. Add your cilantro at that point and maybe a sliced chili pepper if you want a little spice.

Again, just do the prep work the night before and it will only take a few minutes. As you make the recipe more, look for efficiencies. You can season your coconut milk and put it into a cleaned mayonnaise jar so you just shake it and dump it and don't have to fumble with the can opener-- that kind of thing.

This answer is turning into a novel, but I want to answer the question about beef as well. Beef is good for the slow cooker, but you want to get tough cuts of beef with big chunks. Think butt roast, shoulder roast, etc. The names in grocery stores can be really different, so the best strategy is to ask the butcher for a good cut for slow cooking. I like to cut the beef into two to three inch cubes-- really big pieces. There is not consensus among chefs as to the best way to keep the meat tender. Some recommend cooking the outside to create a seal. Whether it makes a seal or not is up for debate. I personally do it this way. I either dredge it in flour and brown it in oil, or salt it heavily and pan sear it. Other sources recommend putting the raw meat into the cooking liquid at various times, either into cold or hot liquid. You will just have to experiment and find what you like. Six to eight hours cooking in liquid is a really long time, so you want to do what you can to not overcook it.

When done right, braising, or any other low temperature cooking is fantastic, but when any meat (or poultry) is overcooked in liquid, the tasty fats seep out and plain water seeps in. Once that has happened, it is the same thing as soaking an overcooked steak in broth; it is wet; not moist, tender and flavorful.

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    -1 - Not to be harsh, but...I don't see how describing a wok process answers "Is there some trick to getting meat to be tender when cooking in the crockpot?" There's some bad science in there too with with the 'seal in the moisture' bit and the last sentence (some of the most tasty dishes I've ever had were long, slow braises). – rfusca Feb 20 '12 at 15:19
  • @rfusca: I answered the question the way I would have if a friend asked it. My opinion is the the OP wanted a better quality way to make the chicken dish. I agree that my opinion about how to prepare meat for a slow cooker is not peer reviewed science, but browning meat before slow cooking in liquid is an established practice. A few notable chefs also suggest beginning the process with raw meat, or even bringing the meat up to temperature with the liquid, so I can change the answer to reflect the variety of opinion. – Gabe Feb 20 '12 at 21:19
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    @Gabe - Browning is about the flavor from the maillard reaction, not sealing in the moisture. Its not really a debate among chefs anymore. There are pretty established ways, that work, of doing a long slow braise. – rfusca Feb 20 '12 at 21:58
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    @gabe I recognize that you meant well with your answer, but here on StackExchange, we like to stay ontopic and answer the questions the OP asks, not the ones we think they might have wanted to ask. If they recognize the answer is not what they needed, they are encouraged to clarify, or ask a completely new question. This makes sure that the information on the site is structured in a nice, reusable way, and is easy to find - nobody expects to find your favorite chicken soup recipe in a question about slow cookers. – rumtscho Feb 20 '12 at 23:33
  • @rumtscho: So what is the best thing to do? Should I edit the answer to remove the wok recipe? I see the logic of staying strictly topical. – Gabe Feb 21 '12 at 3:21

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