Does A Crock Pot Need Water Always? (when and why it doesn’t)

My work is reader-supported; if you buy through my links, I may earn affiliate commission, at no extra cost to you. Full disclosure here.

Do you put water in a crock pot or not? It’s a fair question, but, no, I don’t always put water in a crock pot. It depends on what I’m cooking. Certain foods done a certain way in a crock pot don’t need liquid added. You might think crock pots are strictly for stews and similar meals with liquid, but here’s what I’ve discovered…

can you dry cook in a crock pot

I’ve had a slow cooker for as long as I remember and use it a lot. It’s a time-saver and convenient. You just set and forget and the meal is ready when you’re looking to eat.

A chicken stew or a chili mince is great… but there’s a variety of meals you can do in a slow cooker. What if you could come home to a tender chicken roast done in a slow cooker?

Can you dry cook in a slow cooker? Yes, you can dry cook in a slow cooker with foods containing moisture. A whole chicken is one, done the right way in a slow cooker that will release enough liquid for the food to cook through without it burning or sticking to the bottom of the cooker. 

Knowing the right foods for dry cooking in a slow cooker (AKA crock pot) makes way for a greater variety of meals done in a convenient way.

You don’t want to risk cracking your cooker by doing it incorrectly! So read on for the crock pot rules of cooking, with or without adding liquid, plus answers to frequently asked questions.

Read also: How to clean a crock pot inside out and top to bottom.

Does a slow cooker need water in the base, always?

Do you put water in a slow cooker for all meals? No, You don’t always need to add liquid to a crockpot type of slow cooker. The moisture in some foods produces enough steam and then liquid to cook the food through and prevent it from sticking or burning.

This differs to the Instant Pot type of cooking that uses pressure. As I wrote in my article covering precautions when cooking with these, Instant Pots need a certain amount of liquid.

How much liquid do you add to slow cooker dishes?

How much liquid to add to a slow cooker? Do you have to put water in a crock pot? The best answer is to follow the recipe. Different recipes require more water than others. You don’t need water in some and the size of your crockpot will make a difference in how much liquid you need to add.

There is no definite answer to these questions. It depends on what you’re cooking and the size of your slow cooker.

Adding liquid or fat helps the food cook through and stops it from burning, sticking to the pot, and drying out. It’s the same for food in a slow cooker as it is for food in a pot put in the oven or on the stovetop.

With practice you’ll become familiar and intuitively know how much liquid to add to your dish.

One crock pot rule: never overfill the pot. As a general measure, for recipes where you add liquid, fill the pot to a level that’s no more than 3/4 and no less than 1/2 of its full capacity.

Keto dishes in a slow cooker are a popular right now…

Keto Slow Cooker Cookbook: 500+ Easy Low-Carb Recipes for Busy or Lazy Food Lovers Who Want to Save Time, Cook Food Slowly, and Burn Fat Fast
Available at Amazon

To better understand, let’s look at how a crock pot works…

How does a crock pot work?

Crock pots or slow cookers work with moist heat at low temperatures. The food cooks in the pot, surrounded by liquid at a low temperature over an extended period.

In a slow cooker, the outer pot holds the heating element in the base and this radiates heat to the bottom of the inner pot first and then up the sides of the pot. It’s not an instant heating.

Read also: Best slow cooker with ceramic insert.

Use vs slow cooker size Guide

The slow cookers range in size from 1-quart to 10-quarts and upwards. The following indicates their use according to size…

  • 1-2 quart (1.7 L) — one person/couple — dips and condiments or for reheating leftovers.
  • 6-quart (4 L) — a family of 4 — standard size for most recipes.
  • 5-6 quart (5 L) – family of 5 — roasts, casseroles, stews, soups etc.
  • 10-quart (11.3 L) — for feeding a crowd.

How a crock pot cooks food:

  • Low heat 
  • Moisture: liquid / water in crock pot
  • Extended period

While a frying pan can reach temperatures of up to 700 ºF, a slow cooker may only reach 300 ºF at the highest setting.   

The moisture from the liquid you’ve added or the condensation from steam the foods release inside the crockpot, or both, provide the fluids for the slow cooker to cook the food through.

Slow cookers have a lip for seating the lid. While cooking, the foods release steam and the lid stops this steam from escaping. This trapped moisture along with the liquid you’ve added helps the food to cook through. It’s important to keep the lid on.

And, much like the 100% ceramic cookware, a slow cooker with the lid on locks-in flavor (as well as moisture)!

In a nutshell: The slow cooker or crock pot uses low heat to cook food over several hours.

How much liquid in slow cooker exists at the end of the cooking process, depends on these three factors:

  • The lid seating
  • Moisture content of the food
  • Amount of liquid you added to the pot

Do I operate a slow cooker differently when I dry cook?

No. The slow cooker works the same whether you dry cook or you put water in with the food.

How to use crock pot to dry cook

Dry cooking in a crock pot only works with foods that have a medium to high moisture content. This style of cooking is really about using the steam released from the food to do the cooking. That’s basically what dry cooking in a slow cooker amounts to.

Starchy vegetables and most meats fall in this 70-80% moisture content category. 

This level of moisture in foods means you can dry cook them, with no liquid added to the crock pot. It works like this…

  • You place the food in the slow cooker (see layering the food) and set the cooker on low. The temperature is low enough that the food won’t burn at this point.
  • With the lid in place, as the cooker heats, the food releases steam within the cooker that condensates to form liquid around the food to allow it to cook through without burning or sticking.

Layering the food

When you dry cook in a slow cooker, it helps to layer the food.  

Heat is not evenly distributed in a slow cooker and placing certain food at the bottom helps release the steam for the cooking process.

Dry slow-cooked recipes will have you place root vegetables in first and then the meat on top for this reason in contrast to recipes given for dishes with added liquid.  

What can you dry cook in a slow cooker

For dry cooking in a slow cooker, avoid foods with a low moisture content, such as dried beans and rice and at the other end of the scale, foods with a high moisture content, such as tomatoes. Also, forget foods that go mushy when cooked such as pasta and certain greens.

Stick to root vegetables, like potato and carrots, or similar vegetables that take longer to cook then soft greens.  

Here’s a quick guide on the foods to avoid and those you can dry cook in a slow cooker…

chart of what can you dry cook in a slow cooker as a guide

Cooking dried or raw beans in a slow cooker is something to avoid. Kidney beans, for one, need to be boiled in water to neutralize the toxins that they contain.1  

Tips for using your crock pot without adding liquids

Tips for using a crock pot without water or extra liquids …

  • Avoid putting foods with moisture content of 90% or higher in at the beginning of the cooking, and definitely not on the bottom of the pot. Too many juicy tomatoes, for example, will result in a watery soup.
  • Avoid using cuts of meat that are dry and lean, e.g. chicken breasts (I’ve found chicken thighs to be okay). 
  • Raw meat, such as ground beef, will cook through, but because a slow cooker uses low heat, will not brown. If you wish, brown your meat first before adding it to your slow cooker.
  • Pro tip:  For best results, cut food into equal sized pieces so they cook uniformly.

Read also: Pros and cons of slow cooker liners

FAQs about cooking with or without water in your crockpot

Can you boil water in a crock pot?

Yes you can boil water in a crock pot since water boils at 100 °C or 212 °F. A crock pot heats to about 200°F on low and 300 °F on high setting. It’ll take a couple of hours on the high setting. This means that the water will seem to take forever to boil. But then a watched kettle never boils and you’d never want to sit that long watching for water to boil.

Can you put raw chicken in a slow cooker?

Yes! You can cook a whole or part chicken in a slow cooker by adding it raw. Some recipes may say to brown it first, but it is simply a preference. I always add chicken raw to the slow cooker.

Do you cook meat before putting in crock pot?

Not always. Browning the meat before adding it to the slow cooker will enhance the flavor of the meat and the overall appeal of the meal. This is why many recipes say to do that. At times I brown the meat first, other times I don’t. It’s not a large concern overall. You can add raw meat to a slow cooker.

Can you put raw meat in a slow cooker?

Yes. You can put raw meat in a slow cooker. Cooking it this way isn’t a worry in terms of food poisoning as the heat is enough to prevent that.

Can you cook chicken in slow cooker without liquid?

Yes! You can cook chicken in a slow cooker without adding liquid. Here’s a recipe that I’ve used…

Delicious Slow Cooker Chicken and Potatoes

Ingredients you will need: 

  • 1 whole chicken
  • Baby carrots, you will need about ½ a bag of carrots
  • Red or yellow potatoes, you will need about ½ a bag of potatoes 
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • Pepper & salt as seasoning to taste
  • 3 teaspoons paprika (optional)
  • 3 teaspoons of tarragon (optional)
  • 3 teaspoons of rosemary (optional)
  • 3 teaspoons of minced garlic (optional)
  • 1 lemon (optional)

Next Step:

Gather all your ingredients. Clean your potatoes, carrots, and onion. Cut potatoes into chunks. Cut carrots into about one-inch coins.

Instructions: 

  1. Clean your chicken, remember to remove giblets and neck. 
  2. Rinse your chicken off, pat it dry with a paper towel. 
  3. Season the inside and outside of the chicken. 
  4. Layer potatoes, carrots, and onion at the bottom of your slow cooker pot. 
  5. Sprinkle remaining spices over the vegetables. 
  6. Place the chicken on top.
  7. Cook on low for about 6-8 hours (depending on size of chicken and your slow cooker). 

You can modify this to include or exclude your prefered herbs and spices. When I cook a chicken this way, I add lemon quarters to the inside of the chicken. This ensures there’s enough moisture and the lemon flavors the chicken. If you like your chicken well browned, a final option is to place it in a hot oven for 10-15 min or so until it browns.

The bottom line

It is possible to dry cook in a slow cooker. However, if you are cooking without adding liquid then refrain from lifting the lid of your slow cooker until your food is cooked through. 

Another detail to keep in mind when using a slow cooker is that most recipes require a small amount of liquid. But there are those that don’t, and they are just as delicious. So, why not try some now. 

Info sources

  1. About boiling water
  2. Berkerman, C. 2012. 500 Slow-Cooker Dishes. New Holland Publishers.
Share on: