Cooking Tips

Your Slow Cooker Sauces Are Watery and Thin. Here's How to Prevent That.

In a slow cooker, that silky texture doesn’t always build itself.

Published Apr. 27, 2023.

A slow cooker is great for making juicy, fall-off-the-bone tender braises and stews. This moist environment allows you to leave food to cook for hours without risking it drying out.

But because there is no evaporation, the liquid isn't able to reduce and thicken naturally in a slow cooker, often resulting in watery sauces and loose gravies.

The common solution? Using a thickener. But not just any old thickener will do. You’ll want to choose a thickener that adds body without distracting from the flavors you’ve worked to develop. 

Here are three of our top methods for thickening slow-cooker dishes.

Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter

Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!

1. Thicken with a Roux

Use a classic fat-and-flour-based roux like we did with our Slow-Cooker Smothered Pork Chops and Slow-Cooker Turkey Breast with Gravy recipes. This is a great way to make sure those flavorful juices from the browning step don’t go to waste.

Simply whisk in flour and butter along with the pan drippings at the beginning of the recipe. The gravy doubles as a cooking medium that can be spooned over the top of your protein at the end for extra richness.

Equipment Review

Slow Cookers

Can machines designed for the same simple purpose—cooking food slowly enough that you can walk away—be all that different? You’d be surprised.
See Our Winner

2. Thicken Using Ingredients Already in the Dish

Whenever possible, try to use ingredients already in the dish to help thicken it. Process portions of canned beans and frozen corn before building the stew base, as we do in our Slow-Cooker Pork and White Bean Stew With Kale, or finish a dish by mashing some of the cooked beans and vegetables, such as in our Slow-Cooker Vegetarian Black Bean Chili

This method ensures you aren’t introducing any other flavors to the dish and keeps everything consistent.

400+ Recipes

The Complete Slow Cooker

The definitive guide on how to use a slow cooker, The Complete Slow Cooker builds on the test kitchen’s work testing and retesting slow cooker recipes and pushing the limits of what a slow cooker can do.

3. Thicken with Tapioca

If all else fails, reach for instant tapioca, a great no-fuss thickener that can be stirred in at the start (we love using tapioca in fruit pies too). This pure starch gels easily with a neutral flavor and fine texture. 

It thickens everything from luxurious Slow-Cooker Beef Burgundy to Slow-Cooker Southern-Style Shrimp and Corn Stew. A few tablespoons of tapioca added to the slow cooker with the lamb in Slow-Cooker Lamb Vindaloo ensure that the sauce is thick and clingy. 

This is a members' feature.