It’s 7 p.m. on a Tuesday. You’re just getting home from work, stomach growling up a storm. What, oh, what should I have for dinner? Then you remember: You set up the slow cooker before you left this morning! YES. You have your sh*t together. You’re an adult. You’re doing great. Patting yourself on the back, you walk into the kitchen to check on the pot.

You lift the lid, excepting to be hit with a cloud of savory steam, but are greeted by... nothing. In fact, there aren’t many smells coming from the pot at all. The liquid is really, really high in the pan; the skin has partially come off of the chicken; and there are are weird, floaty white bits all over the surface of your dish. WTF happened?! While you make some emergency eggs-on-toast for dinner, we’ll tell you. And we promise, you’ll do better tomorrow.

1. You didn’t brown the meat first.

Starting with raw meat might be the biggest slow-cooking blunder. Adding any type of raw meat to your slow cooker—minus chicken, which will overcook if seared first—yields sad, beige protein. Searing meat in a screaming-hot pan with a bit of neutral oil (we like grape-seed) for even just a few minutes will add great color and flavor.

Got it? Good. Now make... 

Slow cooker: Beef Bourguignon
Photo: The Recipe Critic

2. You used skin-on chicken.

While chicken skin gets delightfully crispy when baked or grilled, skip it in the slow cooker. Unless you’re a fan of a rubbery, chewy chicken exterior. (Bleh.)

Got it? Good. Now make... 

Slow cooker: Lime Chicken
Photo: Carlsbad Cravings

3. You added herbs and seasoning too early.

Don’t add fresh herbs, acid (like citrus juice for extra flavor), or much salt and pepper before plugging in your slow cooker. The delicate flavors of the seasoning will disappear after hours of bubbling away. Instead, finish with fresh herbs and a squeeze of lemon. If the recipe says, “add salt and pepper to taste,” add a good pinch and a few cracks respectively at the start; then add more when your dish is done cooking.

Got it? Good. Now make... 

Slow cooker: Chana
Photo: Delish Knowledge

4. You added dairy too early.

Did you add milk to your creamy stew before letting it cook for five hours? When you opened the lid was your dinner flecked with gross bits of white stuff? If you answered yes to both questions, you added milk too early, and it curdled. (If you answered no, you’re either extremely lucky or unlucky… ) Regardless, as with herbs and acidic seasoning like lemon juice, wait to add dairy until the last steps of the recipe.

Got it? Good. Now make... 

Slow cooker: Chili
Photo: Chelsea's Messy Apron

5. You over- or under-filled the container.

You don’t want your dinner to burn, and bubbling over makes the biggest soupy mess. So should we err on the side of more or less liquid? Let's break it down: Meat should be fully covered in liquid to ensure even cooking, but that doesn’t mean you need to fill the pot within an inch of life. Fill the cooking chamber halfway-plus and let it be.

Got it? Good. Now make... 

Slow cooker: Lentil Soup
Photo: Pinch of Yum

6. You peeked (a lot).

This mistake typically only happens on #slowcookersunday, (that’s a thing, right?) because you’re in and out of the kitchen all day. But seriously, you don’t have to do anything to your pot of dinner. Culprits are often found saying, “I’m just stirring it!” or “Let me just sniff it for a sec!” Nice try. You’re peeking, and you’re letting out precious heat from the cooking chamber. Don’t do it.

Got it? Good. Now make... 

Slow cooker: Tacos
Photo: Le Creme de la Crumb
READ THIS NEXT: 77 Healthy Crock-Pot Recipes