Once you’ve researched and bought the best slow cooker and learned how to safely use it, it’s time to try making one of the most basic staples: soup. Sure, you could follow a tried and true slow-cooker soup recipe, but it’s fun to get creative — with some guidance of course. We’re outlining the best bases, meats, and veggies for slow-cooked soups along with proper amounts and cooking times. While the appliance does enable you to have a “dump it and forget it” mentality, there are a few rules of thumb to follow.

Rules For Slow-Cooking Soup

  • Assuming you’re using a six-quart slow cooker, we recommend using six to eight cups of liquid, one to two pounds of meat, and three to five cups of vegetables and extras. As for seasoning? Start with one teaspoon total.
  • Most soups should cook on low for six hours. This is enough time to let flavor develop, without making your soup too thick by letting out too much liquid.
  • Browning meat before using it in a soup or stew often gives you a richer flavor. When using ground meat in soups or chili, be sure to brown and drain it before adding it to the soup.
  • Our favorite chicken shortcut is to grab a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the deli of your grocery store, shred it, and toss it in the soup last minute for a quick protein option.
  • If your soup isn’t as thick as you hoped, whisk in a little flour or gluten-free thickener at the end.
  • Tougher cuts of meat work just fine for soups and stews, just cook them for several hours on low before adding other soup ingredients.

Best soup bases

  • cream of mushroom soup (great for a stew)
  • coconut milk
  • broths
  • stocks

Best meats

  • boneless, skinless chicken (cube or shred the chicken once it’s cooked)
  • rotisserie chicken
  • stew beef
  • ground beef
  • sausage (either pre-cooked or raw with casings removed)
  • bacon or pancetta, diced

Best veggies

  • tomato (crushed, stewed, diced)
  • corn
  • carrots
  • celery
  • peppers
  • potato
  • onion
  • sweet potato
  • spinach/kale (add shortly before serving, cook only until it wilts)

Best extras

  • beans: pinto, black bean, white bean, chickpeas, lentils (they all add hearty protein to your soup and will withstand hours of slow-cooking)
  • rice or quinoa
  • pasta (add to slow cooker uncooked toward end of cook-time)
  • cheese (cheddar and gruyere melt best; add them in the last few minutes of cooking)
  • sour cream or Greek yogurt added at the end for creaminess

Best seasonings

  • garlic
  • paprika
  • chili
  • cumin
  • salt and pepper
  • thyme
  • rosemary
  • fresh cilantro (stirred in at the end)
  • fresh parsley (stirred in at the end)
  • lemon zest and/or juice

For more slow-cooker recipes, check out Brit + Co on Pinterest!

(Illustration via Marisa Kumtong / Brit + Co)