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slow cooker stew

Why use your slow cooker?

Posted by Mary Liz Wright -


Ah, Fall—it's finally here! Crisp bright days followed by cool nights—football, leaves, pumpkins, slow cookers. Slow cookers? Yes—cool days make us crave comfort foods—warm stews, roasts, and casseroles. It is so nice to walk into the house after a long day to the fragrant smells of supper!

Do you use your slow cooker? Why not? Afraid it's not safe? Too much trouble to drag it out of the cabinet and find a recipe?

You really should try using your slow cooker, here's why:

  • One pot –less prep, less mess
  • Use cheaper cuts of meat—slow cooking tenderizes otherwise tough cuts
  • Food cooks without fats and oil
  • Rely less on prepackaged convenience foods

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 the slow cooker.
  • Fill the crock to a minimum of 1/2 full and a maximum of 2/3 full.

Food safety

  • Thaw frozen meat, poultry, and other 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 crock before adding ingredients or cooking on the highest setting for the first hour, will ensure a rapid heat start. Either will shorten the time foods are in the temperature danger zone.
  • Do not lift the lid or cover unnecessarily during the cooking cycle. Each time the lid is raised, the internal temperature drops 10–15 degrees and the cooking process is slowed by 30 minutes.
  • Use an accurately calibrated food thermometer to test food doneness. The thermometer should be inserted in the thickest part away from bone. Safe internal temperatures: USDA FSIS
  • Do not leave cooked food to cool down in the crock. Either consume it immediately or place leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate immediately. It is not recommended or 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.


  • Most cookers have two or more settings. Foods take different times to cook depending upon the setting used. Certainly, foods will cook faster on high than on low. However, for all-day cooking or for less-tender cuts, you may 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 your recipe. However, it's safe to cook foods on low the entire time — if you're 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.

Power Outage

  • 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.

Slow Cooker Test for Safety

A safe slow cooker, cooks slow enough for unattended cooking, yet fast enough to keep food out of the bacterial danger zone (above 40?F to below 140?F). In the danger zone, bacteria grows very rapidly. Food left in the danger zone too long can cause food borne illness. To determine if a slow cooker is safe to use:

1. Fill the slow cooker one-half to two-thirds full of tap water.

2. Heat on a low setting for 8 hours with the lid on.

3. Check the water temperature with an accurate food thermometer. Do this quickly because the temperature drops 10–15 degrees when the lid is raised or removed.

4. The temperature of the water should be 185°F. Temperatures below 185°F would indicate the slow cooker does not heat food high enough or fast enough to avoid potential food safety problems; the slow cooker is unsafe and should be replaced.

USDA slow cooker safety.htm


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