Slow cookers, as the name implies, cook foods slowly at a low temperature — typically between 170 degrees and 280 degrees. The low heat helps less-expensive, leaner cuts of meat become tender and shrink less. The direct heat from the pot, lengthy cooking and steam created within the tightly covered container combine to destroy bacteria and make the slow cooker a safe process for cooking foods.
Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. Choose to make foods with a high moisture content, such as chili, soup or stew. Vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry in a slow cooker, so if using them, put the vegetables in first. Large cuts of meat and poultry may be cooked safely in a slow cooker, however, since slow cookers are available in several sizes, consult the instruction booklet for suggested sizes of meat and poultry are appropriate. Then add the meat and desired amount of liquid, such as broth, water or barbecue sauce, as suggested in the recipe. Keep the lid in place, removing it only to stir the food or check for doneness.
Most cookers have two or more settings. Foods take different times to cook depending on the setting used. For all-day cooking or less-tender cuts, a person might want to use the low setting. If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in the recipe. However, it’s safe to cook foods on low the entire time — if leaving for work, for example, and preparation time is limited. While food is cooking and once it’s done, food will stay safe as long as the cooker is operating.
Store leftovers in shallow, covered containers and refrigerate within two hours after cooking is finished. Reheating leftovers in a slow cooker is not recommended. Cooked food should be reheated on the stove, in a microwave or in a conventional oven until it reaches 165 degrees. Then the hot food can be placed in a preheated slow cooker to keep it hot for serving — at least 140 degrees, as measured with a food thermometer.
Rebecca McFarland is the family and consumer sciences extension agent for Frontier Extension District No. 11, which serves Franklin County. For more information, call her at (785) 229-3520 or email firstname.lastname@example.org