5 Mistakes to Avoid When Adapting a Dutch Oven Recipe to a Slow Cooker

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

Slow cookers and Dutch ovens are the masters of low-and-slow cooking. These vessels are ideal for everything from soups to stews to braises, so it’s no surprise that recipes written for a Dutch oven can easily be made in a slow cooker, and vice versa. With the help of a few small tweaks, you can ensure Dutch-oven-to-slow-cooker success every time.

1. Cutting the ingredients too small.

While smaller cut ingredients may work well in a Dutch oven recipe, the lengthier cook time of the slow cooker will leave those pieces of meat and vegetables overcooked and even mushy.

Follow this tip: Prevent mushy, overcooked food by adjusting the size of ingredients when using a slow cooker for Dutch oven recipes. Because of the longer cook time, cut meat and vegetables larger than what the recipe calls for.

2. Not browning meat in a separate pan first.

Dutch ovens are a one-stop deal for searing and sautéing before braising. When using them, there’s no need to use any additional pans. But slow cookers don’t operate the same way.

Follow this tip: If your slow cooker doesn’t have a sear function, don’t worry — there’s a quick fix. Sear or sauté any ingredients as directed, then deglaze the pan with a tiny bit of water or stock before adding the cooked ingredients to the slow cooker. This extra step (and dish) is worth it for the flavor alone.

3. Adding too much wine or liquor to the slow cooker.

Wine or liquor is often added to Dutch oven recipes to deglaze the pan and for additional flavor, and is eventually reduced down significantly. The same isn’t true for the slow cooker. Wine and liquor don’t boil down and reduce the same way, so when too much is added, you’re likely to be left with the harsh bite of “raw” alcohol.

Follow this tip: Use wine or liquor to deglaze the pan after browning the meat, then add it to the slow cooker. The high heat will cook off the alcohol. You can also skip the liquor all together when using the slow cooker. If the wine is playing the role of an acid, be sure to substitute in a splash of cider vinegar or red wine vinegar.

4. Using too much cooking liquid in the slow cooker.

Liquids don’t evaporate and reduce in a slow cooker the same way they do in a Dutch oven. When too much liquid is used in a recipe, it results in thin sauces and stews or meat dishes that boil instead of braise.

Follow this tip: It’s okay not to follow the Dutch oven recipe exactly when it comes to measuring out the liquid. Since liquids won’t reduce as much in the slow cooker, start with 1/2 to 1 cup less liquid (like water or stock) than indicated in the original recipe. And keep in mind you can also add more liquid later in cooking, if it’s needed.

5. Using the wrong temperature setting.

While Dutch oven recipes specify a numerical temperature for cooking, slow cookers have just two settings: high and low. Instead of making it a guessing game, risking overcooking or undercooking your food, know how to choose the appropriate temperature setting on the slow cooker.

Follow this tip: Use the temperature in the original Dutch oven recipe to determine the temperature setting on the slow cooker. For recipes that get simmered on the stovetop or cooked at 300°F or higher, set the slow cooker to HIGH. And for recipes that cook at an oven temperature lower than 300°F, set the slow cooker to LOW.

What are your best tips for adapting Dutch oven recipes to a slow cooker?