Slow Cooker Secrets You've Never Been Told

Do crockpots have lead? How do I make a small recipe in a big slow cooker? What's the best way to clean a crockpot? Do I have to brown my meat? What do I do with the temperature probe? These questions and more are answered by slow cooking expert and NYT best-selling author, Stephanie O'Dea of

Hi Slow Cookerers!

I've got a treat for you today ---  I've compiled all of the questions I get pretty often into one email cheat sheet. Feel free to forward this along to a friend, or bookmark for reference.

While cooking in the slow cooker is pretty easy, sometimes things don't go exactly quite as planned. Since I've used the crockpot eight million and fifty-six times I have a few tricks up my robe sleeve that might be of some help to you.

Cleaning Baked on Gunk.

If you make a casserole in the slow cooker, like a lasagna, sometimes the baked on gunk is hard to get off. Don't use a brillo pad, or harsh abrasive scrubber to scrape it off. Instead, fill the crock with hot water and drop in a fabric softener (dryer) sheet, and let it sit over night. In the morning, rinse out the crock and wash it normally (either by hand or in the dishwasher).

Do You Use the Slow Cooker Liners?
I don't. But that's because I use my pots so much. When I recipe-test I can have up to 7 plugged in at one time! So it wouldn't be cost-effective for me to do so.

If I think what I'm making will be difficult to clean, I'll spray a bit of cooking oil on the crock before loading it up. Otherwise, I just clean promptly, or use the above fabric softener sheet trick.

Also, I just moved to the Ninja Cooking System pretty much full-time, and it has a nonstick coating that is super easy to clean --- cleaning just hasn't been an issue at all with this pot.

Hard Water Stains or Bean Residue.

The white, filmy stuff left behind on a black stoneware is lime scale, and comes from hard water, soap scum, or bean goop. Once you wash your pot with hot, soapy water, it's fine to use, even with this white discoloration. If it really bothers you, you can use a mixture of water and vinegar to wash away the stains, or make a big pot of tomato-based something or other (chili, stew, marinara sauce) to get rid of the stains.

I live in an area with hard water, and have these stains pretty often. I simply ignore them and keep cooking.

HELP, there is Water Trapped in The Handle of the Glass Lid of My CrockPot!

Ew. This happens if you don't have a tight seal on the handle of the glass lid and you run it through the dishwasher. The best thing to do is to unscrew the lid, wipe out the water, and then hand-wash the lid from now on. I'm sure you could hunt down a rubber gasket from a hardware store to make the seal tighter, but usually the glass lids don't get so dirty you can't just hand wash them.

Do you peek while slow cooking?

Yes. I am not the best at following rules, and I often taste, stir, and poke at my food while it's in the slow cooker near the end of cooking time (when I'm certain the food isn't raw anymore!!).

I've heard from reliable sources that you can lose up to 20 minutes of valuable cooking time each time you peek, but I have not noticed that to be the case. Peeking and tasting makes me feel like I'm doing something, and it makes me happy.

I like being happy.

Do you Brown Your Meat, Onions, etc.

Sometimes. If I'm cooking for a party or I'm trying to impress (like on a Holiday), I do take the time to brown my meat and caramelize my onions and garlic. Taking the time to brown the meat and aromatics provides a more pronounced flavor profile and a bit of color and texture.

But unless you are doing a side-by-side taste comparison most people simply can't tell the difference. So on a busy Wednesday when I'm just trying to throw dinner in the pot? No. I do not bother to brown anything.


The Handle Fell off the Glass Lid and it's Broken and I Need a New One.

You can order new glass lid handles from the Crock-Pot main website.  You'll need to get the model number from the bottom of the heating element before seeing what type of knobs are available.

Or, you can go to a hardware store and get a single screw drawer-pull and use that instead for a new handle.

The Glass Lid is Broken.

You can order replacement glass lids from the Crock-Pot or Hamilton Beach website (again, have your model number ready), or you can use a few layers of foil as a lid. Crimp the edges tightly, and cook your food the same way. Be super careful when removing the foil, the steam will be quite hot!

Which Slow Cooker do you Recommend?

I have all my recommended slow cookers and accessories listed on the Store page of the website.

Ever since I started using my slow cooker more and more I've been a teensy bit worried about the possibility of Lead.

Lead. I've heard that crockpots have lead! OH NO!!!!

I first heard about this in the middle of the slow cooker challenge. It seems to be a bit of an internet rumor, thankfully. I contacted Jarden (parent company of Crock-Pot) and heard that they routinely check for lead levels and that their reports haven't found anything.

this is the exact wording I got back:
Jarden Consumer Solutions (JCS) continues to proactively test its products for lead and other toxic metals, with the results continuing to come back favorably. Lead is not an additive in the Crock Pot® slow cooker ceramic glaze. JCS is diligent in its efforts to ensure that its products are compliant with applicable regulations regarding the presence of lead.

JCS tests for lead and other toxic metals on its products to ensure they are safe for consumers. In addition, we periodically use accredited third party lab testing to reveal that our slow cooker stoneware is far below the U.S. FDA and California Regulation Prop 65 requirements for extractable lead and cadmium in ceramic wares, thus supporting our results.

also, a bit ago a blogger decided to check this out for herself, and these are her results.

What Do I Do With the Temperature Probe My Slow Cooker Came With?

Throw it in a junk drawer. I don't use the temperature probe, and none of my recipes call for using one, because I try to keep them pretty simple. If you are cooking a whole chicken or a fancyish piece of meat and would like the meat to turn off when it reaches a desired internal temp, use the probe.

The probe is  not to be used as an instant-read meat thermometer, but as a tool to turn the pot to a "warm" setting once the desired temp is reached.

I Only Have a 6-quart. How Do I Make Recipes that Call for a 4-quart or 2-quart?

Slow Cookers work the best when they are pretty full---about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full. You can still use them if they aren't to this capacity, but your food will cook faster.

If you are making a smaller recipe in a 6-quart, you can  load the ingredients in and shorten the cooking time, or you can insert an oven-safe dish and then load the food into that. I recommend a Pyrex or Corningware-type dish, although a metal loaf pan or baking dish would work fine also. It's okay if the food mounds over the top, or overflows.

This is also what I use to make creme brulee or cheesecake.

I Need The Easiest Way to Start. I Haven't Done This Before, and I Need Help.

No Problem! I've got your back! Start with the all-the-hard-work-has-already-been-done-for-you Meal Plan. 

Each packet (which are ridiculously under-priced) has step-by-step instructions and an itemized grocery list.
Easy Peasy Pumpkin Squeezy! :-)

I hope this proves helpful to you! Have a wonderful day, and happy slow cooking!


this article answered ALL of my questions -- how to make the pot smaller, how to cook different sized portions, whether or not I should use liners, and if there was Lead in my Pot!

Do you love this article?

Please share it with your friends!

Posted by: Stephanie O'Dea | A Year of Slow Cooking at January 14, 2017

Sign up for the A Year of Slow Cooking newsletter and get the Top Ten Reader Favorite Recipes sent directly to your inbox!

What they say about this article

  1. You have so friendly smile. I like it.

  2. That has always been my favorite picture of you, Steph! I was a little sad when you upgraded to the grown up pic but that's what happens when you hit the big time and publish cookbooks and stuff. :) Anyway it's awesome to see it again. <3

  3. Thank for sharing Steph! I've already buy the book!

  4. Im going to oder this book today, thank you Steph for shareing this.

  5. Anonymous5/24/2017

    I have 2 crockpots of different sizes & makers. When cooking with them I always get a heavy buildup of moisture on the lids that drips onto the food. I would like to be able to bake and make puddings but have tried and ended up with soggy messes. Is there some secret to it that I'm not aware of?

  6. Hi Anon, great question!

    yes, you can certainly help alleviate the condensation when baking. I like to prop the lid open with a chopstick or wooden spoon while baking. You can also use a large length of paper towel folded over a few times -- but large enough to cover the entire opening -- and drape that over the top of the crock, then put the lid on.

    if the paper towels aren't absorbent enough, you can also use a clean tea towel over the top.

    I hope this helps a bit!!

  7. thank for sharing Stephanie!
    next week, i will order this book.