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Get tasty slow cooker chicken every time with these simple tips and tricks

Our secrets for making a delicious, slow-cooked chicken dinner

slow cooker
KEHAN CHEN/Getty Images

Chicken is a go-to meal for many households because it’s a fan favorite of adults and kids alike. Whether for busy weeknights, outdoor grilling, or leisurely Sunday dinners with the family, chicken is healthy, tasty, easy-to-make, and adaptable to virtually any type of cuisine or cooking method. 

Fried, baked, grilled, or sauteed, chicken is a mealtime superstar. But you can take your poultry to the next level by pulling out your slow cooker. You might use it for making beefy roasts or stews that result in fork-tender meals that never fail to satisfy. Although the slow cooking process is shorter for chicken than for beef or pork, this low-and-slow method can still bring out the best flavor and tenderness of your chicken. 

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But there are a few pitfalls you’ll need to avoid to be sure your chicken dinner is a chicken winner. Want to make delicious chicken in your slow cooker or crockpot? These are the important dos and don’ts to know.

Close up of Chicken Piccata with pasta.
Lauripatterson / Getty Images

8 tips for perfect slow cooker chicken

1. Preheat

When searing chicken, you always heat the pan before adding the meat. The same applies to your slow cooker. For the best results, preheat the slow cooker before adding the chicken. This is particularly important if you are searing the chicken first or adding sauteed aromatics, like garlic or onions. If you skip this step, it could tack an additional 15-20 minutes of cooking time.

2. Always use skinless chicken

Slow-cooked chicken skin will turn out rubbery with an unappealing white color, so be sure to remove the skin before cooking.

3. Start with room-temperature chicken

Allow the chicken to rest on the countertop for about half an hour before cooking. The natural juices of the chicken are more evenly distributed when at room temperature meats than they are straight out of the fridge.

4. Sear the chicken 

Sear one side of the chicken in a hot skillet on the stovetop before adding it to the slow cooker. Searing gives the meat a more appetizing golden color and adds a richer flavor and crispier texture than is achieved strictly with slow cooking. 

Deglaze the browning pan with wine, chicken stock, or water, and cook over medium heat. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits of chicken, and then add the liquid and chicken morsels to the slow cooker, along with the chicken.

5. Cook over a bed of potatoes

Not only will the potato bed be the start of a tantalizing one-pot meal, but the potatoes will soak up the juices and fat from the chicken to deliver incredible flavor. 

6. Choose the right day for a slow-cooked chicken meal

Unlike beef, slow cooker chicken doesn’t require a full day to cook, so it may not be the best choice for a weeknight meal when you will be out of the house all day. Slow cooker chicken dinners are perfect for when you have time to meal prep and then set it and forget it for a few hours. In no time, you’ll have a perfectly cooked chicken dinner.

7. Allow the sauce to cook along with the chicken

One of the key benefits of slow cooking is that the meat will soak up the flavor of all the ingredients alongside it, so be sure to add any flavorful sauces or marinades while the chicken is cooking. Most slow cooker manufacturers recommend that chicken be covered in liquid while cooking to ensure effective heat transfer. Add just enough liquid so that the slow cooker is 1/2 to 3/4 full. 

8. Timing is everything

Watch the clock because, despite what you may have previously thought, you can overcook chicken in a crockpot. Many slow cooker chicken recipes can be done in as little as two hours. Double-check the cooking time on the recipe and monitor the chicken when it’s about 15 minutes shy of doneness to ensure it isn’t overcooked.

9. Add a little lemon (or a lot)

To give your slow cooker chicken a little burst of flavor, add a bit of lemon at the very end. Or, if you want to make lemon chicken, stir in the lemon juice at the beginning of the cooking. The flavor will soak in as it cooks. Regardless of how you add lemon to this recipe, the acidity will give it that extra zing it needs to impress your dinner guests.

slow cooker on table with food
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Foods that should not be cooked in a slow cooker

We’ve shown the best ways to make chicken in a slow cooker, but are there any foods that just don’t do well utilizing this cooking method? Absolutely! Here are a few:

  • Most seafood: Many types of seafood, including fish, shellfish, oysters, and clams, need to be cooked quickly, and slow cooking will destroy the delicate proteins. However, both squid and octopus are tougher, so slow cooking can tenderize the meat.  
  • Dairy products: Dairy products should only go into the slow cooker during the last few minutes of cooking. If they are cooked for too long, cheese, sour cream, and milk will separate and curdle.
  • Pasta or Rice: Both are traditionally cooked quickly. Slow cooking will likely result in a pasty, mushy mess. 
  • Tender vegetables: Certain vegetables, including peas, asparagus, and peppers turn mushy and flavorless in the slow cooker. To preserve their flavor, add them towards the end of the cook cycle for no more than 30 minutes.

Slow cookers are convenient and make dinner time so much easier for busy households and home cooks that don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen. With these must-follow tips and tricks, your slow cooker chicken dinner will be worthy of five stars every time! 

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Kim Renta
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kim has written for Bloomingdales, Movado, and various e-commerce wine sites. When she's not writing about wine and…
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