I'm writing because I have a question about crock pot cooking that I am hopeful you may be able to answer. I have a rather large (Crock Pot brand) slow cooker that I use quite often. With recipes like soups and stews and large roasts, things go fine. However, when I cook smaller amounts or dishes with less liquid, it seems like more liquid is cooking off than should be. I noticed this problem when I made the Thai Beef Curry, and I noted that I thought the problem was my broken lid that I felt was letting out too much steam. I ordered a new lid and cooked with it tonight, and the same problem happened! Tonight I made a pork chop recipe and when I checked it at only 5 hours, most of the liquid was cooked off and the sides of the crock pot were crusted with dried sauce. When I tried to thicken the sauce (as per the recipe) it immediately turned into a ball of thick black sludge. Yeah. The pork chops themselves were also really dry, which shouldn't have happened. I have been wracking my brain to figure out what the problem is. Could it be that I'm making a recipe in too large a crock pot? Could my crock pot be cooking hotter than normal for some reason? Or do you have any other ideas about what the problem could be and how I could resolve it in the future?
Good questions (and fairly common). This is my take...
Could it be that I'm making a recipe in too large a crock pot? Yes. Crockpot recipes are written as if your crockpot is 2/3 to 3/4 full. So if you are cooking a smaller portion and it is only taking up a small space in your huge slow cooker the cook time on the recipe is going to be way too long. You'll have to either cook it for significantly less time or use a smaller slow cooker. Or you can put a oven safe dish inside your large slow cooker and put the ingredients inside the smaller dish and it will cook closer to the correct cook time on the recipe.
Could my crock pot be cooking hotter than normal for some reason? Yes. The newer pots cook a lot hotter. If you want to see where yours is at this is what I would do: Place 4 quarts of room temperature water into your slow cooker, cover it, and cook on either HIGH of LOW for 6 hours. Then measure the temperature of the water. It should be between 195 and 205 degrees. If your cooker runs hotter or cooler, be ready to check food for doneness either earlier or later the recipes indicate.
Or do you have any other ideas about what the problem could be and how I could resolve it in the future? Does your slow cooker lid have a plastic-y lining on it? My plastic ring around my slow cooker's lid keeps the lid in place. Does your lid shake around a lot when it's cooking, like it's not totally sealed? This could be the reason that too much liquid is evaporating. Look for a slow cooker that has a fairly heavy lid. This will keep the crock sealed and cooking the way it is supposed to.
Here is another really good post from Crockpot Recipe Exchange about crockpot's cooking too hot.
And another one here, that is really terrific!