Your Slow Cooker Doesn’t Need Water, But Your Recipe Might

Slow cookers are popular with people who work, because a one pot meal can be ready as soon as they walk through the door.

One of the most common questions we hear about slow cookers is whether you have to use water in it, or if you can just put your food in dry.

It’s perfectly fine to cook without water in a slow cooker, unless the recipe specifically calls for it.

Raw pork getting ready to cook for a long time in the slow cooker


Simple Rules Regarding Water in a Slow Cooker

Slow cookers are amazing appliances because all you do is put your ingredients in the pot and turn it on, and they do all the hard work of cooking delicious meals for you. In some cases, water or another type of liquid is added to the recipe. Other recipes don’t require it.

It’s important to follow your recipes to the letter so the dish comes out with ideal taste and texture. Also, keep in mind that in a crock pot—as slow cookers are sometimes known—water will never evaporate. The liquid that’s put in the pot will remain there.

You don’t usually add water when slow cooking meat, unless you want to braise it. Water is often added to soups and stews, which cook meat in liquid such as water, broth or soup stock.

Hand pouring coconut milk into curry in a slow cooker
If the recipe calls for liquid, like coconut milk in a curry, then by all means go ahead and add it.

Each dish is different, and a lot of the rules have to do with how much moisture is already in the food you’re cooking. Meat usually has plenty of moisture and therefore doesn’t need any other liquid added, with soups and stews you’re going for a certain consistency that will require it.

Some foods need to be covered in liquid in order to prevent them from drying out, but you don’t want to automatically add liquid to whatever recipe you’re using. Instead, add only whatever liquid the recipe specifies.

Pay close attention to the amount of water or liquid indicated by the recipe. Because evaporation will not occur, you’ll have the same amount of water in the end as you did in the beginning.

Where to Add Your Liquids

It’s also important to know where you add liquid required by the recipe. Never add it to the heating base of the crock pot. The base is where the heat comes from, and the water can interfere with the electronics inside of the base, which could damage your cooker. The pot itself is the only safe place to put it.

If the recipe has a cooking time that involves a range (e.g. from 3-4 hours), always check the dish after the minimum amount of time because it could be finished cooking at that point. Although it’s very rare for dishes in slow cookers to burn, they can still dry out and have a tough texture if they’re cooked too long, so keep that in mind when a recipe gives you a range of time instead of a specific time.

Some Foods Create Their Own Liquids

Yet another tip to keep in mind when adding liquid to your slow cooker is that some foods will release their own liquids after being in the cooker for a while. For instance, if you are cooking raw meat or vegetables, you’ll find you only have to add a small amount of liquid, or sometimes no liquid, because the cooking process causes them to release liquid.

Mushrooms in a slow cooker
Those mushrooms are going to release a lot of juice while cooking.

For a piece of meat that has to be browned or even cooked for a while before you put it in the cooker, this won’t happen nearly as often. In those cases, you’ll likely need to add extra liquid to keep the meat moist, or at least more liquid than you would for raw foods.

You should try to add exactly the type of liquid the recipe requires (e.g., water, stock, etc.) so the dish comes out the way it was intended. Water and other types of liquid are usually not interchangeable.

Types of Food and the Rules That Go with Them

So, what types of slow cooker recipes call for liquids, and which ones don’t? As a general rule, soups, breads, and some leaner meats require water or other liquids, while raw meats and veggies usually don’t need liquids added—or require very little—because a certain amount of liquid will be squeezed out as they’re cooked.

The basic rule is, do not add water to a slow cooker recipe unless it specifically mentions this in the instructions. Otherwise, the food may come out too moist and with a poor texture.