As the weather cools down the type of meals we often cook in slow cookers start to sound wonderful. Think warm, hearty, time saving, and one-dish meals. Slow cookers can help you to save both money and time – and maybe even your sanity. Instead of walking in the door at the end of the day to “What’s for dinner?” you can hear “Wow! That smells good. I’m going to wash up for dinner.” Because slow cookers use a low temperature to cook foods over a longer than usual time, there are a few safety and preparation tips to keep in mind:
- As always, start with clean hands and a clean surface as you prep your meal.
- To avoid sticking and provide a speedy clean-up, spray the inside of the crock with non-stick spray before adding ingredients.
- Thaw frozen meats before adding to the crock either in the microwave or refrigerator.
- If you decide to cut up foods ahead of time, store meats and vegetables separate before placing them in the pot to avoid growth of bacteria.
- To shorten the time that foods are in the danger zone, between 40 and 140 degrees, either pre-heat the cooker or use the high setting for the first hour. I often add one of my liquid ingredients and turn my pot on high as I prep the other ingredients to add.
- Surprisingly vegetables cook slower than meats, so add them first.
- Newer research states that larger cuts of meat can be now cooked in a slow cooker, but check manufacturer directions to see how many pounds your machine will hold safely. Check large cuts of meat with a meat thermometer to ensure safe temperature, 165 degrees for poultry and ground meats; and 145 to 160 degrees for beef, pork and lamb.
- When cooking meats and poultry water, broth, or vegetable juices should almost cover the meat. This liquid provides more even heat transfer and creates the steam to ensure safe cooking.
- While it is tempting, do not over-fill slow cookers. A pot one-half to two-thirds full is a full pot for cooking.
- Do not remove the lid unnecessarily. When you lift the lid the inside temperature drops and can add 30 minutes or more to the cooking time.
- After serving foods do not leave them to cool down in the crock. Store slow cooker foods safely as other left-overs – separate into shallow containers within short time and store in refrigerator or freezer. Left-overs should be reheated to 165 degrees before eating.
Are you looking for a low cost slow cooker meal idea? Try one from our Ohio State University Extension, Wayne County http://go.osu.edu/slowcooker. What is your favorite slow cooker recipe? I love my mother’s baked beans, white chicken chili, and anything for a tail-gate. Comment on your favorite.
USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service, “Slow Cookers and Food Safety”, http://www.fsis.usda.gov.
University of Minnesota Extension, “Slow Cookers and Food Safety”, http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/preserving/safe-meals/slow-cooker-safety/.
Writer: Lisa Barlage, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Ross County.
Reviewer: Tammy Jones, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Pike County.