13 foods you should never put in a slow cooker

It sounds like a miracle meal machine: You dump in your ingredients, plug the thing in, and get a hot, hearty, perfectly cooked meal ready to eat—with next-to-no prep or cleanup time. With recipes for everything from breakfast to drinks (and dessert!), it’s easy to go a little crockpot crazy. But alas, not every food is suited for slow cooking. Even Stephanie O’Dea, author of the New York Times best-selling author of the Make it Fast, Cook it Slow cookbooks, who once used her slow cooker every day for an entire year, admits to having her share of flops. Here are 13 foods to avoid when using your slow cooker.

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Foods you should never put in a slow cooker
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Foods you should never put in a slow cooker

Rice 

It seems like a no-brainer to toss rice and water in a slow cooker and let it do its thing. But the timing matters, says O’Dea. Rice can get overly starchy when it cooks too long, so it tastes gummy. One solution is to add instant rice—which has already been parboiled so it cooks quickly—to the pot when you have about 20 minutes of cooking time left. “This keeps the rice from disintegrating,” says O’Dea. Or use wild rice, which holds up nicely.

Pasta 

“If you don’t follow a recipe for pasta that is written specifically for a slow cooker and take note of the timing, it loses shape and becomes wallpaper paste,” says O’Dea. Like rice, pasta is best stirred in at the very end or baked in something like a lasagna. “My best suggestion when slow cooking is to begin with a few tried and true recipes from a trusted source,” she says, “and then after you have your own machine figured out, you can experiment.”

Bacon

Maybe it goes without saying that you can’t get crispy foods out of a slow cooker, but plenty of people make bacon in the oven. “I tried, once, miserably, to make bacon-wrapped scallops because I was having a craving,” O’Dea says. “It turned into a stinky, gray, slimy mess and needed to be double-bagged in the outdoor garbage can.” If that tale doesn’t convince you, nothing will. On the other hand, here are 16 surprising things you never knew you could make in a slow cooker.

Seafood

Even without the bacon, those scallops probably weren’t destined for greatness. Seafood is best when it’s not overcooked, and most slow cooker recipes take hours. Is it possible? Sure. But there are other, better ways to cook fish and shellfish. Use them.

Alcohol

When you cook with wine or spirits on the stove, the alcohol burns off. But low, slow heat can’t do that, especially if you’re adding the alcohol at the end of the cooking cycle, which means your dish might taste boozy. Whether that’s a fail or not is up to you.

Dairy

Milk and milk products tend to curdle at warm temps, which is a chemical reaction that causes dairy proteins to stick together, making the liquid lumpy. It isn’t always a sign that the milk’s gone bad, but it can be. In fact, says O’Dea, curdling milk is part of the recipe for making yogurt. If that’s not what you’re going for, it’s best to add dairy at the end of the cooking cycle, or use an alternative method for especially dairy-rich recipes.

Frozen food

Slow cooking means low cooking—your temperature won’t get much above 300 degrees, even on the high setting. So you don’t want to toss food that hasn’t been completely thawed in there, because it can further lower the temperature inside the pot and throw off your whole cooking time. “My rule of thumb is to not place a huge block of anything frozen in a slow cooker,” says O’Dea. Don’t miss these other kitchen mistakes everyone needs to stop making.

Beans

Since dried beans need to soak overnight before cooking anyway, a slow cooker sounds like a great solution. The only problem is that some beans, including kidney, contain a natural toxin that is normally wiped out by boiling. Slow cookers rarely reach the temperature necessarily to destroy that toxin (212 ºF). You should always soak, rinse, and boil beans for at least 10 minutes before you add them to a slow cooker.

Skinless boneless chicken breast

White meat, especially without skin or bones, will dry out when cooked as long as most crock pot recipes. That’s because it’s so lean, it lacks the natural fat that helps cook other meats. Breasts will do better in saucy recipes, says Ashley Sauvé, a certified holistic nutritionist.

Green veggies

“Non-starchy green veggies like kale, spinach, and broccoli are super nutritious additions to any meal, but if you throw them into a crockpot for too long, they’ll get mushy,” says Sauvé. Overcooking can also zap some of the nutrients found in these foods, so add them during the last few minutes of cooking. Here are 15 more ways you’re using your slow cooker wrong (and how to fix them).

Fresh herbs

“Fresh herbs should never be cooked in a slow cooker,” says Sauvé. Things like basil, sage, and oregano will lose all their flavor and turn an unappetizing brown color when cooked that long. Either add fresh herbs at the end of the cooking period or use dried herbs, which better stand up to long cooking times.

Couscous

Like rice and pasta, this grain will absorb way too much liquid and end up turning to mush if you try slow cooking it, says Sauvé. “If you want a side of grains with your meal, it’s better to cook them up separately on the stove before you sit down to eat.” Check out these genius non-food uses for your slow cooker.

Eggs

“You can’t cook eggs overnight and wake up to hardboiled eggs,” says O’Dea. She knows—she’s tried (and flopped). Next, read up on these 36 other items you’ve probably been using wrong this whole time.

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The post 13 Foods You Should Never Put in a Slow Cooker appeared first on Reader's Digest.

For more ways to cook your food safely, make sure to avoid the common mistakes below!

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Cooking mistakes that can make your food toxic
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Cooking mistakes that can make your food toxic

Cooking with the wrong fats

Cook with olive oil—but only for certain foods. Butter is back—but is butter better? And then there's coconut oil—actually, there are many reasons not to cook with coconut oil. So what are the healthiest fats for cooking? Maggie Michalczyk, registered dietitian in Chicago, recommends doing your homework before buying a jumbo jug of one particular oil and using it for everything. "These oils have different smoke points—that's the temperature at which they begin to burn—and once they start smoking, the fat breaks down and they can release harmful free radicals into the air," she says. Oils with high smoke points that are great for high-heat cooking include avocado oil (refined), almond oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, and sunflower oil. Regardless of smoke point, you'll want to limit soybean and corn oils, which studies have linked to diabetes. Also, keep portions of oils in check when cooking to prevent additional calories (most serving sizes are two tablespoons). You might find this information on cooking oils helpful.

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Overheating healthy oils

Oils with low smoke points are better for salad dressings or adding to already cooked foods—but not for high temp cooking. "Certain oils, like olive oil and coconut oil, contain nutritional compounds that can be destroyed when heating to high temperatures above their smoke points," explains Ben Roche, Michelin-star chef and director of product development at Just. For general cooking at home (sautéing, frying, roasting), he recommends using a neutral oil, like grapeseed or sunflower. For flavoring cold sauces and drizzling over prepared food, he suggests using extra virgin olive oil or flaxseed oil to preserve flavor and nutrition. Just make sure you're not buying fake olive oil.

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Frying your food

It might taste downright delicious, but consuming deep-fried food on the regular can be deadly. "The act of frying turns otherwise healthy foods, like vegetables and lean meats, into unhealthy, trans-fat-laden treats," says Jeanette Kimszal, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist. Additionally, consumption of fried foods has been linked to a myriad of health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. If you can't shake your fried-food obsession, Kimszal suggests purchasing an air fryer. This device does not require any oil to cook your food, so you can still enjoy your favorite foods without all the trans fat that will hurt your health. These foods that contain trans fats will shock you.

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Charring your meat

While raw or undercooked meat can pose health hazards, so can overcooked or charred meats. "Cooking meats above 300°F, which usually results from grilling or pan frying, can form compounds called HCAs (heterocyclic amines) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), that may be harmful to human DNA," warns Christen Cupples Cooper, EdD, RDN, assistant professor and founding director of the Nutrition and Dietetics Program at the College of Health Professions at Pace University. "Some research suggests that when metabolized, these compounds may activate enzymes linked to cancer risk." While the research is limited, Cooper believes there's enough evidence to recommend reducing your exposure to these chemical compounds. "Avoid cooking foods for any length of time over an open flame or hot metal surface, turn meat frequently during cooking, and cut away charred portions of meat," she says.

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Using the wrong cookware

Just like it's important to know what ingredients are in the food you eat, you should also know what ingredients are used to create the cookware you use. "Nonstick cookware is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to toxicity," warns Raul Serrano, DC, doctor of functional medicine in Palm Harbor, Florida. "Teflon, which is practically everywhere (cookie sheets, muffin pans, and frying pans), contains a man-made chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA or C8)." Some studies have found links between PFOA exposure and cancer development, reproduction, and liver dysfunction. Serrano recommends healthier alternatives, such as cast iron, glass, ceramic, and stainless steel. (Here's the best way to organize your pots and pans.)

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Storing your leftovers in plastic containers

In the same vein of being careful when selecting your cookware, you always want to take precaution when purchasing your food storage containers. "Some popular storage containers on the market contain bisphenol-A (BPA), which studies have shown that once ingested, mimic estrogen in our bodies," says Dr. Serrano. "High levels of estrogen result in weight gain, irregular menstrual cycles, headaches, and higher risk of certain cancers." Instead, he recommends swapping out plastic containers for glass containers.

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Getting too much salt 

If there's one flavor Americans love in their food, it's salt. In fact, about 90 percent of people living in the United States over the age of two consume too much of the stuff, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The American Heart Association recommends 2,300 mg of salt per day, which is about a teaspoon; the average adult is consuming around 3,592 mg. "In some cases, our taste buds may be desensitized to the flavor of salt," says Michalczyk. The problem is all the sodium packed into prepackaged foods: According to the American Heart Association, 70 percent of the sodium in the average American diet comes from processed food. Here are some foods that are surprisingly high in sodium.

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Adding too much sugar

If there's one flavor Americans love in their food, it's salt. In fact, about 90 percent of people living in the United States over the age of two consume too much of the stuff, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The American Heart Association recommends 2,300 mg of salt per day, which is about a teaspoon; the average adult is consuming around 3,592 mg. "In some cases, our taste buds may be desensitized to the flavor of salt," says Michalczyk. The problem is all the sodium packed into prepackaged foods: According to the American Heart Association, 70 percent of the sodium in the average American diet comes from processed food. Here are some foods that are surprisingly high in sodium.

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Relying on processed frozen food dishes for weekday meals

It's tempting to turn to a frozen meal that promises to be ready for you in just three minutes in the microwave, especially after a long, stressful day of work. But oftentimes, these foods contain a slew of preservatives and chemicals that are hazardous to your long-term health. Remember that humans have only been exposed to these for a very short time in evolutionary history," says Krampf. "Not only do processed foods leave less room in your diet for healthier foods, but they are loaded with ingredients like artificial preservatives, refined sugar, and white flour." Instead, she recommends opting for whole foods, like vegetables, fruits, eggs, and meat whenever possible. And, if you must buy something in a box, choose one with ingredients that you can at least understand and pronounce. Here are frozen meals you can feel good about feeding your kids.

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Drinking a glass of wine while cooking

Unless you're sipping on a full stomach, experts warn against having that glass of wine while stirring your family's meal, as relaxing as it might be. "Drinking on an empty stomach can lead to an unhealthy spike in blood sugar," says Michalczyk. "Plus you may notice that the longer you wait to eat after the initial drink, the hungrier you will feel, which may lead you to overdo on whatever food you see next." Or the opposite can happen: Drinking alcohol before a meal might suppress your appetite, causing you to miss out on calories and nutrients your body needs. Here's what happens when you drink a glass of wine every night.

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Using 'low-fat' everything you can find

There was a time when nutrition experts believed that fat was the enemy, but, thankfully, that time has come and gone. We've since learned that there is good fat and bad fat: Anything fried isn't too great, but avocados and fish are full of good fat (omega-3-fatty acids). Krampf warns that not adding enough fat when cooking is a mistake. "In addition to being an energy source and protection or organs, fat is used in cell membrane function, start reactions that affect the immune system and metabolism, and allow for absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K," she says. Here are some clear signs you're not eating enough healthy fats.

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