One of the best make-and-forget meal prep saviors of all kitchen appliances, the slow cooker now has a kitschy vibe.
Your mom was right to throw the ingredients in the slow cooker and let them simmer all day.
There’s no meal more comforting on a chilly night than slow cooker soup, but there are a few tips and tricks for making it right.
The idea is low and slow. It’s in the name of the kitchen tool, after all. Learn how to develop nuanced flavors the easy way with a slow cooker.
Just in time for soup season, here’s a step-by-step guide to making the best slow cooker soup.
How to make healthy slow cooker soup
“Soup can be turned into a hearty, balanced meal that’s sure to satisfy,” says Krista Maguire, RD, CSSD and Beachbody’s Chief Nutrition Officer.
“In addition to lots of vegetables, add a protein like chicken or beans and a starchy vegetable like sweet potato or whole grains like quinoa,” she adds.
Add dairy-free creaminess and thickness to a healthy slow cooker soup by pureeing beans, potatoes or a slice of day-old bread with broth or whole coconut milk.
You can also combine water and nutritional yeast with pureed cashews until smooth.
Avoid powders or granulated stock cubes – many contain monosodium glutamate, artificial colors and hydrogenated oils.
Opt for low-sodium, all-natural broths or bone broths.
Ready to cook? Follow these steps for slow cooker soup success!
1. Brown meats first to deepen flavor
Yes, it’s an extra step, but it adds tons of flavor. Sear all sides of the meat before adding it to the slow cooker, then let it simmer.
2. Use less liquid
Rearranging a soup recipe on the stove? Use less liquid, as it evaporates less when simmering in a slow cooker, thanks to the tight-fitting lid.
Cover ingredients with broth, water, or liquid of your choice by just ¼ inch.
3. Raise the plants
A little meat can go a long way in adding flavor and protein. Augment the soup with added vegetables of all colors. (You can also add legumes and whole grains.)
Soup is a great way to add more vegetables to your day.
4. Trim the most visible fat from meat
There’s nowhere for fat to go in a slow cooker (and it can’t be easily drained like on the stovetop), so cut it off before cooking.
Otherwise, you’ll end up with puddles of fat in your soup — do not good food.
5. Forget the oil
Unlike stovetop soup methods, you don’t need to add oil to the slow cooker. Nothing will stick!
6. Don’t overfill the jar
Three-quarters full is the maximum, but two-thirds is ideal. If you fill the pan too high, it could leak or cook unevenly.
7. Thicken in two steps
The liquid in your slow cooker doesn’t get hot enough to reduce or thicken, so if you don’t want a runny soup, you’ll need to add a thickening agent.
Use any type of flour or a starch like tapioca or arrowroot.
Mix one tablespoon of flour or starch to one cup of liquid, whisk until smooth, then stir into soup and simmer.
8. Use less expensive cuts of meat
Harder, leaner cuts love the long, slow, gentle simmering of a slow cooker.
It breaks down all the wiry morsels, turning them into melt-in-your-mouth tender flavors.
Don’t splurge on lobster tenderloins or tails for a slow-simmered soup.
9. Cook over low and slow heat
Cook soups over low heat to develop the most flavor. If you’re pressed for time, you can cook them on a higher setting, but be sure to cut the cooking time in half.
10. Cut vegetables roughly the same size
Cutting each vegetable evenly will help them cook evenly. To prevent vegetables from becoming too mushy, avoid cooking them for several hours over high heat.
Add softer or faster-cooking vegetables like zucchini and summer squash in the last hour.
11. Let the slow cooker do its thing
Every time you open the lid, you release heat, so resist the urge to peek. Install it and go.
This cooking method is designed to save you time, so let it do the work for you!
How to Layer Slow Cooker Soup Ingredients
Place the ingredients that require the longest cooking time at the bottom of the pan, closest to the heat source.
Here’s a basic guide if you’re creating your own slow cooker soup recipes.
Add these ingredients at the start:
- Raw vegetables : Add root vegetables (potatoes, turnips, carrots) to the bottom, followed by onions, shallots or leeks.
- Raw, rinsed or soaked beans: According to Kalyn Denny, food blogger at Kalyn’s kitchen and cook at home.
- Stock, broth, water, coconut milk: Liquid is what makes soup, after all.
- Raw meats: If you have time to brown the meat, so much the better. Exceptions include chicken or turkey breast, fish and shellfish.
- Cheese crusts: Tip from an old Italian cook, add Parmesan or Romano crusts for a nutty, salty flavor. Discard any remaining crust before serving.
Add them in the last 15 to 45 minutes of cooking:
- Meat and Seafood that do not take long to cook, such as chicken breast (sliced or cut), fish or shellfish. Add the chicken breast in the last 25 to 30 minutes of cooking.
- Dried lentils only takes 30 to 40 minutes of simmering to cook, notes Nagi Maehashi, the cook and creator of RecipeTin Eats. Use red, yellow, brown and green lentils, but do not Le Puy lentils, because they don’t soften as well as others, she says.
- Delicate fresh herbs like basil, mint or tarragon: Ladle soup into serving bowls and sprinkle with torn fresh herbs for a pop of color and a burst of flavor.
- Hearty fresh herbs like rosemary, oregano, parsley, celery greens, beet greens, etc.: Add in the last 15 to 20 minutes, especially with rosemary, which can become bitter if cooked too long, says Emma Christensen, food journalist and graduate of the Cambridge School for Culinary Arts.
- Thickeners: Add when the soup has finished cooking. Stir in, put the lid back on and reheat for a few minutes, then serve.
- Already cooked ingredients: Add cooked cereal in the last 15 to 20 minutes of cooking. Stir in leftovers such as pasta cooked in the last 10 minutes.
- Quick Cooking Ingredients: Add dry pasta, quinoa and starchy or frozen vegetables for the last 15 minutes.
- Dairy: Stir in low-fat Greek yogurt or low-fat sour cream in the last 5 minutes to prevent curdling.