Slow cookers provide endless opportunities to cook all kinds of foods, from soups and casseroles to dips and vegetables. You can put ingredients in your slow cooker in the morning and come home to a ready-to-eat dinner. While we often think about using slow cookers in the cold weather months to make a hot meal, slow cookers are also great to use in the warm months because they put out less heat than an oven.
Slow cookers work by heating food at a low temperature, so food will take longer to cook than they might in the oven or on the stovetop. This is great for tougher cuts of meat like shanks, chuck roasts, and shoulders, as the low temperature helps make them more tender. The direct heat and long cooking time help ensure that meat cooked in the slow cooker will reach a safe internal temperature for consumption. There are other food safety considerations to be mindful of when using a slow cooker, such as the following:
- Before Beginning: Make sure your slow cooker and work area are clean. Place the slow cooker in a secure location, such as a high countertop, where it won’t be knocked, touched, or come in contact with other kitchen tools or food. The outside of the slow cooker can still become hot to the touch, so keep it away from children.
- Ingredients: Thaw frozen foods like meat and poultry in the refrigerator before adding them to the slow cooker. Always keep perishable ingredients refrigerated until you begin preparing them. When cooking dry beans in your slow cooker, soak them first and boil for at least 10 minutes before adding to the slow cooker.
- Preparation: Add vegetables to the bottom and sides of the slow cooker since they cook slower than meat. Starchy vegetables like potatoes, green beans, and carrots cook well in the slow cooker with enough time. After vegetables, add meat, then a liquid such as broth or water, as indicated by the recipe. Properly secure the lid and leave it on the whole time the food is cooking. Use the low setting for all-day cooking and for less tender cuts of meat.
- After Cooking: Before removing food from the slow cooker, check the temperature with a food thermometer to ensure it has reached a safe internal temperature. After the slow cooker has finished the programmed cooking time, it will keep the food at a safe temperature until ready to serve. If you have leftovers, store them in a shallow container and cool within 2 hours at room temperature before covering and refrigerating.
For more information on slow cooker safety, visit https://www.fsis.usda.gov/shared/PDF/Slow_Cookers_and_Food_Safety.pdf