3 Mistakes to Avoid When Making Slow Cooker Dump Dinners

updated May 28, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

For the uninitiated, dump dinners are a mealtime game-changer. They’re just what they sound like — impossibly easy dinners that require zero upfront prep (save for chopping a veggie or two), where the ingredients are dumped into the slow cooker and left to cook uninterrupted. To make sure they’re as easy as promised, you’ll want to avoid these dump dinner mistakes.

1. Starting with frozen meat.

Despite the long cook time with some slow cooker dump dinners, starting with uncooked frozen meat is always off-limits, says the USDA. Putting frozen meat in a slow cooker without thawing it first runs the risk of harmful bacteria multiplying in the meat while it’s in the “danger zone” — the temperature range between 40 and 140°F.

Follow this tip: If meat is frozen, always give it a chance to thaw completely before starting a dump dinner. If meat is still frozen, there are always plenty of vegetarian dump dinner options (and unlike the meat, the veggies can go in frozen!).

2. Picking the wrong recipe for your schedule.

Don’t confuse dump dinners for all-day slow cooker recipes. Just like any other slow cooker recipe, the time required for dump dinners can vary greatly. While there are plenty of dump dinners that can cook all day while you’re at work or school, there are others that come together in a couple of hours.

Follow this tip: Remember that not all dump dinners take the same amount of time to cook, so pick recipes based on your schedule. Some only need two to three hours, while some cook all day for upwards of eight to 10 hours.

3. Forgetting about ingredient swaps.

Drop dinners are the easiest type of slow cooker recipes you can make, which also means these meals come with a high degree of versatility and flexibility. If you don’t have everything on a recipe’s ingredient list, there’s no need to make a special trip to the store. There’s a way to make drop dinners work with what you have on hand if you’re smart about swaps.

Follow this tip: Ingredients can often be varied, so shop your pantry, fridge, or freezer for ingredient substitutes rather than spending extra money on missing ingredients. For example, if you’re making a recipe that calls for sweet potatoes, you can always swap in another root vegetable, like carrots, white potatoes, or turnips, or use hearty kabocha squash or pumpkin in place of butternut. Try white beans instead of chickpeas, or kidney beans in place of black beans. The same goes for pasta — other tube shapes, like penne or rigatoni, make a fine swap for ziti. Boneless chicken thighs and boneless breasts can also be used interchangeably.

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