January is National Slow Cooker month! How fitting! There is nothing like coming in from the cold to the cozy smell of comfort food cooking unattended on your counter. I have found, over the years, that there is a sweet spot in the timing of slow cookery. If your days necessitate leaving the house for more than 8 hours, then you might have been disappointed with slow cooker results. Cooking times longer than 8 hours often result in flavorless food. There are some techniques that can help with boosting the flavor, but the good news now is that many of us are working from home with the option to use the slow cooker without the longer cooking times.
So, what are you waiting for? Let’s slow cook!
Here are a few tips to help make your slow cooker one of your favorite kitchen appliances:
- For easy clean-up, spray the inside of the crock with a non-stick cooking spray, before adding ingredients.
- When cooking meat or poultry, the water or stock level should almost cover the ingredients to ensure effective heat transfer throughout the crock. Water or liquid is necessary to create steam.
- Place vegetables on the bottom of the slow cooker and fill the crock to a minimum of 1/2 full and a maximum of 2/3 full.
- Thaw ingredients in the refrigerator before adding to the slow cooker.
- New research conducted by USDA FSIS indicates it is safe to cook large cuts of meat and poultry in a slow cooker. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and safety guidelines.
- Preheating the cooker before adding ingredients or cooking on the highest setting for the first hour, will shorten the time foods are in the temperature danger zone.
- Do not lift the lid during the cooking cycle. Each time the lid is raised, the internal temperature drops 10–15 degrees and the cooking process is slowed by 20 minutes.
- Use an accurately calibrated food thermometer to test meat for doneness. The thermometer should be inserted in the thickest part away from bone. Safe internal temperatures: USDA FSIS www.IsItDoneYet.gov
- Do not leave cooked food to cool down in the cooker or liner. Either consume it immediately or place leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate immediately.
- It is not safe to reheat leftovers in a slow cooker. Heat leftovers in the oven, microwave, or stovetop, until it reaches 165°F and then add to a preheated slow cooker. In the slow cooker, food should remain hot for serving, 140°F or above, as measured by a calibrated food thermometer.
- Watch this video on slow cooker safety to learn more.
- Here are some slow cooker recipes.
- If you are not at home during the entire slow-cooking process and the power goes out, throw away the food even if it looks done.
- If you are at home, finish cooking the ingredients immediately by some other means: on a gas stove, on the outdoor grill or at a house where the power is on.
- When you are at home, and if the food was completely cooked before the power went out, the food should remain safe up to two hours in the cooker with the power off.