5 Tips for Thickening Slow Cooker Soups, Stews, and Sauces

updated Feb 28, 2024
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Beef stew in a slow cooker with a ladle.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

Cooler weather means soup season is officially here. And while we love slow cooker soups, stews, and saucy braises of all kinds, the slow cooker brings its own set of challenges when it comes to getting that creamy, comforting soup texture just right.

Slow cookers that heat as low and slow, as their name implies, rely on heat that’s captured by their lid being in place. That means there is no evaporation happening, like with stovetop soups. But we have a few smart tricks for thickening even the most finicky slow cooker soups.

1. Prop the lid up for evaporation.

This tip actually comes from our slow cooker fruit butter, but it also works really well for stews and braises — like chili and chicken tinga. While your dinner cooks, prop the lid open a bit so that moisture can escape and thicken the stew naturally without extending the cooking time too much. Skewers or chopsticks between the lid and the crock of the slow cooker work well for this.

2. Purée your soup or stew a little.

Have a vegetable soup that turned a little watery while cooking? All you need is a blender and a minute to purée. If you’ve got an immersion blender, you can stick it directly into the soup to purée. Otherwise, remove a cup or two of the soup, pour it in your blender, and carefully blend until smooth. Return the blended soup to the slow cooker and give it all a stir — and you’ll have thicker soup.

3. Add a slurry at the end.

A slurry is a mixture of flour and water, whisked together until smooth and added towards the end of cooking; it’s a super-simple way to thicken any soup. For slow cooker soups, add your slurry with at least 30 minutes of cook time left so that the raw flour can cook and thicken the soup. Need a gluten-free option? You can make a slurry from puréed white beans, too.

4. Enrich with canned milk.

Cream is one of the most delicious ways to thicken a soup — all that rich milk fat helps to emulsify the soup and make it even creamier. Cream can curdle with the long cook time of the slow cooker, so I prefer canned milks like evaporated milk or coconut milk for thickening instead.

5. Add a little starch.

Cornstarch, potato starch, and chickpea flour are a couple of pantry-friendly ways to thicken soups, stews, and sauces in the slow cooker. Just a tablespoon or two of any — added towards the end of cooking — will thicken sauces especially well. Just be sure to mix them with a little water before adding to the slow cooker to prevent clumping.

Do you have a favorite way to thicken slow cooker stews or sauces?