Why are slow cookers one of the most convenient pieces of kitchen equipment? You can create delicious food with minimal effort. It’s a simple answer, right? Almost every home has a slow cooker (also termed as a crock-pot) in its kitchen. All you have to do is put all the ingredients and turn the dial after which you are free to go about doing your tasks while the food cooks. After a few hours, the food is hot, cooked and ready for you to enjoy. People even use it for cooking meat, oatmeal, or a stew overnight. It is a real definition of convenience in the kitchen and has been around for decades now.
Sometimes, there arises the question: is a slow cooker safe, especially regarding food? The answer to that question is that they are safe. Like any other appliance in the kitchen or your house, slow cookers are completely safe if you use them correctly. Many people think that leaving the slow cooker unattended is dangerous. The fact is that it is not dangerous to leave it unattended for hours. In fact, that is the whole point of it; you can leave food for cooking and head to work or run errands. Nonetheless, safety is important in terms of preserving the food you are cooking.
What can go wrong with a slow cooker?
Slow cooker cooks food at low heat for several hours usually between 170 to 280 degrees Fahrenheit. However, there is a risk of bacteria developing in the food, particularly when meat is involved. There is a certain temperature range where bacteria can easily thrive. This is often called the danger zone, and it is usually in the range of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Food contaminated with bacteria can be extremely hazardous to eat. There will be a greater chance of food poisoning. Therefore, it is necessary that the temperature does not stay in the danger zone for long. Once the cooker reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit, you do not have to worry anymore because your cooker has now attained appropriate temperature.
To ensure safety, it is also necessary that the cooker is not damaged. Ensure that you do not break the handles. The lid should fit properly. If it is damaged somehow, then, there is a chance that heat will leak out of the container and the food will hardly attain the required temperature and cook thereof. Crock-Pot SCCPVL610-S 6-Quart Programmable Cook and Carry Oval Slow Cooker is a slow cooker which has locking gasket lid that keeps the ingredients locked tightly. This makes it an ideal choice for slow cooker when traveling. If you are going on a picnic, a small bump can cause the lid to get loose or open spilling all the ingredients. This is why a pot with a tight cover is the best way to ensure that the contents stay heated and safe.
Slow cookers are designed to be left running for several hours. Therefore, there is no danger of electrocution or electrical fire. Such an occurrence can only be possible if there is something wrong with your appliance. The safety measures necessary for other electrical devices also apply on crock-pots. Additionally, there is no risk of lid bursting. They can go as high as 400 degrees Fahrenheit and still not burst due to the pressure.
Slow Cooker Food Safety Tips
Delicious food slow cookers are designed to make cooking easier and your food delicious. As discussed earlier; with small mistakes, the whole process can go wrong. Nobody likes to eat bacteria filled food as it can be hazardous to health. However, with a little care, you can avoid such mishaps in cooking with slow cookers. Remember, it is your job to ensure that you have followed the proper steps before the cooking. Also, it is your duty to use clean ingredients.
Following are some basic and easy tips to follow when cooking with crock-pots:
- High Moisture Cooking
Slow cookers should be used for dishes with high moisture contents. Stews, soups, and broths make a good choice for slow cooking. The reason behind this is that moisture creates steam, which helps cook the contents and raises the temperature to an adequate degree to prevent bacteria formation.
- Defrost Before Cooking
Never put a frozen item in the slow cooker. You must first defrost the meat or poultry by keeping it in the refrigerator for some time, usually 30 to 45 minutes, before tossing it into the slow cooker.
- Refrigerate Separately
The ingredients should be refrigerated in separate containers. The slow cooker insert itself should never be refrigerated. It will get cold and take a lot of time to reach the temperature where food starts to cook.
- Cutting the Meat
Make sure the meat or poultry is cut into small pieces as it will speed up the cooking and allow the meat to be cooked through and through.Heat penetration is easier with small pieces. It is not recommended to cook a big piece of meat or a whole bird in the slow cooker. It will not be able to get the entire piece to the appropriate temperature to avoid food safety risks. However, there are exceptions. Hamilton Beach Set ‘n Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker With Temperature Probe (33969A) offers a probe mode that allows big pieces of meat to cook slowly. You just only turn on the probe mode and set a particular temperature. When this temperature is attained, it will shift to keep warm mode.
- Amount of Contents
It is recommended that the slow cooker is at least half full or a maximum of two-thirds. Anything less or more than that is going to affect the cooking of the contents. If it is less than the lower limit, then the liquid might evaporate too soon and result in burning the food. If more than the maximum limit, then there is a risk of overflow.
- Start with High Temperature
Some dishes might need a low temperature to cook. However, it is necessary that you cook it on high temperature for the first hour. The remainder of the time, you can cook it on low heat. Alternatively, you can bring the liquid to a simmer, then add meat and other ingredients so that the there is a zero chance of bacteria.
This is super important because this is the main risk with cooking meat in a slow cooker. You should attain at least 165 degrees so that the heat starts accumulating as soon as the meat is added into the cooker. This step ensures that your food is bacteria free.
- Do not lift the Lid
Lifting the lid, again and again, can cause cooker to lose heat and your food will be under-cooked. Only lift the lid towards the end at least after half the cooking time has elapsed. Also, the cover would be very hot after some time, therefore, do not touch it with your bare hands. You can use oven mitts or pot holders. Cuisinart PSC-350 3-1/2-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker offers a stay cool handle to eliminate this very problem. No matter how hot the pot or the lid is, you will be able to pick it up easily with the handles.
- Clean the Slow Cooker
Like any other kitchen equipment or utensil, cleaning the slow cooker will prolong its useful life. Wash it thoroughly after use. Many of the modern slow cookers come with dishwasher safe parts. Cuisinart PSC-350 3-1/2-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker is one such slow cooker. Not only does it have the stay cool handles, but it also has a ceramic inner pot and a lid both of which are dishwasher safe. More and more companies are trying to make slow cookers easier to handle and clean.
- Use a Food Thermometer
You can use a thermometer to find out if your food is safe to eat. You can find guides for proper internal temperature. Also, most recipes outline the required temperature.
- Do Not Reheat Food
Slow cookers should not be used for warming the food. They do not reach high temperature fast like a microwave or a stovetop. A slow cooker can cook food and keep it hot for a few hours. Do not use it to reheat a frozen or refrigerated dish. Cuisinart MSC-600 3-in-1 Cook Central 6-Quart Multi-Cooker automatically keeps your food warm by turning on the Warm Mode when it is cooked or reaches the maximum temperature.
- Keep Away from Walls
The slow cooks get most of their heat from the walls, so it is recommended that it is kept at least 6 inches from the wall or any other kitchen appliance. The chord should be kept away from the walls as well when the cooker is in cooking mode.
- Place it on Heatproof Surface
Wood surfaces may not be entirely heatproof. Granite or tiles are better at tolerating the constant heat from the slow cooker. You can also use a trivet for extra protection.
- Refrigerate Leftovers
Keep the leftovers in a shallow container and refrigerate them within 2 hours of removing from the slow cooker.
- Keep Cord Away From Liquids
Always keep the cords, connections, and switches away from liquids. The slow cookers are safe from electrical disasters, but if the wires come in contact with liquid, then there is a chance of an electric fire break out or short circuiting.
- Continuous Power Supply
If somehow the power supply fails in the middle of the cooking and your food does not get heat for several hours, then this food should not be eaten as it has not achieved appropriate temperature and may contain bacteria.
Why use a slow cooker?
The science behind slow cooker is not complicated. It uses its temperature and the steam that builds up to cook the food. The food cooks slowly at a constant temperature for quite some time giving you the chance to carry on with other tasks or even leave your house if need be without any worries. The time taken depends on the dish you are making. Some dishes may be done in two hours, and some can even take the entire night. The primary purpose of this appliance is to provide convenience for you and time for cooking as some dishes need a very long time to absorb flavors completely.
It started off in the 1970s as a bean cooker and has come a long way. Now with advanced technology, slow cookers have many additional features as well, besides their core cooking purpose. Another significant benefit of slow cookers is that you can go on a road trip with them. They cook food slowly and keep it warm afterward. Crock-Pot Pittsburgh Steelers NFL Cook & Carry Slow Cooker is one such slow cooker that is tough enough to carry on road trips or games.
Last but not the least, these cooking appliances are loved by ordinary people and chefs alike because the end product is delicious. Slow cookers are known for making meat taste incredible, unlike traditional pots on a stove or pressure cookers. Since they cook slowly, the meat takes in all the flavors of other ingredients. This requires time, which other utensils cannot provide as the meat may get overcooked.
Slow cookers have been known to bring convenience to your life and taste to your table. It is super easy to use but with a little care you can avoid potential mistakes with a crock-pot. The only significant problem with slow cookers is the risk of bacteria for which the right temperature must be attained. For this, it is better to start at a high level and then go for low after an hour or so. You are already well aware of the consequences of having bacteria in food.
If you carefully follow the tips for ensuring food safety, your food will be healthy and properly cooked. More often than not, the time the cooker takes to cook depends on the type of dish. Nevertheless, the result is a delicious meal that everybody loves.