People love convenience! Since the 1970s (when women were joining the workforce in greater numbers), the crock-pot—or slow cooker—has provided hot, homemade dishes in the most convenient manner possible. Cooks begin dinner before they leave for the day and return to a delicious and nutritious one-pot meal. It’s easy to use and simple to clean.
Whether used to make chicken and dumplings, Mexican meatloaf, hearty beef stew, or even lasagna, there are certain things to be aware of to ensure that dishes are successful. Following a few guidelines nearly guarantees that the food is evenly cooked, safely and served on time.
Prepare Meat and Vegetables Properly
Although crock-pots are likely the safest appliance in the kitchen, there is one possible hazard—food poisoning through consuming improperly prepared or undercooked food.
Having food between the temperatures of 40 and 140-degrees F for too long allows bacteria to spread. Proper handling ensures it remains in this “zone” for as short a period as possible, reducing this risk.
The goal is to heat the meat to over 140-degrees F quickly. Putting frozen meat in the cooker guarantees that it takes longer to reach safe temperatures. Defrost meat and poultry in the refrigerator first. Then divide into small pieces or chunks so they heat quickly and cook more thoroughly.
Keep prepared vegetables refrigerated separately from uncooked meat to avoid cross-contamination. Also, avoid storing them in the cooker within the refrigerator. Beginning with a cold container slows the heating process.
Fill the Cooker
To ensure the contents cook evenly, fill the cooker no more than two-thirds full and no less than half. Also, use sufficient fluid and similarly sized or layered pieces of meat and vegetables. Stews and soups make this easy.
Proper Order of Ingredients
Place the ingredients that take the longest amount of time to cook near the heating element at the bottom. For example, root vegetables like potatoes and carrots take longer to cook than meat, so they should be added first. Other vegetables take less time; place them around or over meat.