Q.: With the cold weather setting in, we have been dusting off our slow cooker, but with questions. We do not think it is working properly. It seems to cook too hard and fast even on slow. How does the slow cooker work? Is it just a one temperature pot that cooks either a short or long period of time? Or, is it a variable temperature pot that cooks a short or long period of time?
While our cauldron bubbles, we eagerly await your expert answer.
— Lorry and Chick Kormanik
A.: Most slow cookers have at least two settings, high and low. Some more deluxe models have more than two settings. Most slow cookers cook somewhere between 175 degrees Fahrenheit and 220 degrees Fahrenheit, however, these settings may vary between manufacturers and number of settings. Some newer models have a warming setting around 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
The general concept of a slow cooker is that foods are cooked for a longer period of time at a lower setting than they would be in a traditional oven. The temperature of the pot should remain consistent for either setting. The low heat, length of time, and steam created inside the pot combine to cook foods safely. This is also why you should avoid lifting the lid on the pot during cooking. Every lift lowers the temperature inside and can extend the needed cooking time by as much as half an hour.
If you have the manufacturer’s book that came with your pot, by all means, follow its guidelines.
If you aren’t sure whether your cooker is working correctly, you can test it for accuracy. Here is the slow cooker safety test from the University of Minnesota Extension.
“A safe slow cooker, cooks slow enough for unattended cooking, yet fast enough to keep food out of the bacterial danger zone (above 40 degrees Fahrenheit to below 140 degrees Fahrenheit). 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 to 15 degrees when the lid is raised or removed. 4. The temperature of the water should be 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures below 185 degrees Fahrenheit 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.”
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