Slow Cooker Questions


The slow cooker is a great dinner preparation appliance for today's busy world.
The slow cooker is a great dinner preparation appliance for today's busy world.
©Hamilton Beach

The slow cooker has made a comeback in recent years, as more people work long hours yet still want the comfort of home-cooked meals. Whether you are new to using a slow cooker, or have been using one for years, you'll find these slow cooker tips helpful.

Check out these slow cooker questions and answers to get the most out of your slow cooker:

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Tips for Using a Slow Cooker

If you are new to using a slow cooker, find out what you need to know before you get started.

Slow Cooker Know-How

Learn some of the advantages of using a slow cooker instead of conventional cooking.

How to Use a Slow Cooker

This article discusses slow cooker sizes, and gives you an easy way to determine the size of your cooker.

Slow Cooker Facts

We all know the importance of food safety. Bu did you know that there are specific food safety concerns related to slow cookers? Read this article for more information.

Slow Cooker Recipes for Diabetics

Does food cooked in a slow cooker retain its nutrients? Are slow cookers recommended for diabetics? Get the answers in this article.

For more information on slow cookers, including recipes, see:

Tips for Using a Slow Cooker

Soups, stews, and other hearty foods are ideal for preparing in a slow cooker.
Soups, stews, and other hearty foods are ideal for preparing in a slow cooker.
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Q. I just bought my first slow cooker and can't wait to use it. What should I know before I start cooking with it?

A. When cold weather (or cooler weather, depending on where you live) arrives, we crave heartier, more substantial meals. That means more long-simmering soups and stews, or maybe pot roast with vegetables, fresh bread, and home-baked desserts.

And what could be easier than throwing the ingredients into a slow cooker in the morning and coming home to a hot, cooked meal? Before you get started, though, here's what you need to know to cook successfully in your slow cooker:

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  • Slow cookers can prepare just about any type of meal you can imagine, including the accompanying side dishes, breads, and desserts. You don't have to fret over the food; there's no need for constant attention or stirring. (As a matter of fact, unless the recipe states otherwise, you should not lift the lid while cooking because the heat that escapes adds almost another 30 minutes to the cooking time.)
  • Slow cookers are ideal for the aforementioned soups and stews, of course, and they're particularly good for dishes that call for tougher, inexpensive cuts of meat. But consider using your slow cooker for side dishes and desserts, too. This is especially helpful if you're entertaining, when your oven may be occupied by another long-cooking dish; in that case, use your slow cooker as another oven or burner.
  • To make cleanup easier, spray the inside of the crock with nonstick cooking spray before adding the food.
  • Meats will not brown in the slow cooker, so recipes requiring browned meat will instruct you to brown the meat in a skillet before placing it in the slow cooker.
  • Slow cooking doesn't lose as much moisture as conventional cooking methods, so -- although you may be tempted -- don't add more liquid to the cooker than the recipe calls for.
  • Remember that cooking times in all recipes are approximations. Several factors can affect cooking time -- your slow cooker's idiosyncrasies, how much food is in the cooker, the humidity, the temperature of the ingredients when you add them -- so note that cook times in the recipes are ranges only.
  • Don't keep your finished dish in the slow cooker for long. It will continue to cook for awhile, which could overcook the food; then, as the slow cooker cools, the food will not stay hot enough to prevent bacteria growth. Likewise, don't use your slow cooker for reheating; the cooker only gradually reaches cooking temperature, which gives bacteria the chance to grow.

For more information on slow cookers, including recipes, see:

Slow Cooker Know-How

The slow cooker is a versatile appliance, suited for a variety of foods.
The slow cooker is a versatile appliance, suited for a variety of foods.
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Q. What are the advantages of using a slow cooker to prepare food?

A. Who can resist the sensuous delights of a slow-simmered stew, barbecue, or leg of lamb slow-cooked until it's meltingly tender? Slow cooking remains a hot trend in food, and it seems slow cookers were invented for winter. They do a superb job preparing hearty, fulfilling foods when the temperature drops: pot roasts, thick stews with vegetables, bubbling soups, sauces and meats.

The slow cooker is a versatile appliance that's just as suited to vegetarian foods as it is meat and poultry, everyday meals, and entertaining occasions. You can make hearty, healthy dishes for the whole family the "throw-'n'-go" way: Simply add ingredients to the slow cooker, get on with your day, and come home to a kitchen filled with tempting aromas.

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The slow cooker, which is essentially an electric pot with a stoneware insert, can do what no oven or stovetop burner can: cook food at consistently low and even temperatures for what might be as long as 10 or 12 hours. Dinner cooks while you're out.

Flavor is one of the big advantages to meals you cook in the pot. You can get a deeply flavored meal at the end of an 8- or 10-hour slow simmer. Time-saving is another reason for the slow cooker's popularity. Plus, they're practical: Since a slow cooker holds up to five quarts, you can definitely plan to have leftovers.

There is planning involved, however. The pot is perfect for cheaper cuts of meat that need long, gentle cooking to become tender: beef short ribs, brisket, pork shoulder, and lamb shanks. Fish and dairy products, however, don't fare as well; both will break down during the cooking. Chicken can get mushy, too, so pay strict attention to cook times for chicken recipes.

Always put vegetables in first. Vege­tables take longer to cook than meat does, so for layering purposes, start with vegetables, then meat, and finally seasonings and small amounts of liquid. To prevent overcooking, fresh dairy products, pasta, or instant rice should be added during the last 30 minutes of cooking time, or as your recipe directs.

For more information on slow cookers, including recipes, see:

How to Use a Slow Cooker

Use a measuring cup to determine the size of your slow cooker.
Use a measuring cup to determine the size of your slow cooker.
©Tory Byrne

Q. I'm just beginning to use a slow cooker but am confused on the sizes. How do I find out what size my slow cooker is? It was a gift.

A. Slow cookers do come in a lot of sizes, and range from about 21/2 to 6 quarts. Recently, a 1-quart slow cooker was introduced. Usually, smaller sizes are deep and narrow, while the larger sizes tend to be wider and rounder.

There's a simple way to check what size of slow cooker you have. Just use a measuring cup and keep track of how many cups it takes to fill the slow cooker to the rim. Remember, 2 cups equal 1 pint, and 4 cups equal 1 quart. If your slow cooker holds 31/2 to 4 quarts, you should get 14 to 16 cups of water into it, and so on.

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For more information on slow cookers, including recipes, see:

Slow Cooker Facts

Recipes with a high moisture content, such as soups, are ideal for the slow cooker.
Recipes with a high moisture content, such as soups, are ideal for the slow cooker.
©Photodisc

Q. Are there any food safety concerns I should be aware of when using a slow cooker?

A. Many of us have pulled the slow-cooker out of hiding and rediscovered how easy cooking can be. As with all cooking, food safety is very important.To be considered sound, a slow cooker must cook food slowly enough so that it can be left unattended, yet hot enough to keep food at a safe temperature.

The low setting is designed to be about 200°F; the high setting is designed to be about 300°F, with food temperatures between 170°F and 280°F. This lower heat helps tougher, less expensive cuts of meat become tender and shrink less.

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The direct heat from the pot, lengthy cooking, and steam created within the tightly covered container combine to destroy bacteria and make slow cooking a safe process for cooking foods.

Handle your food properly before cooking to help ensure a safe dinner. Keep slow cooker, utensils, and work area clean. Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time.

Cut food into one-inch chunks or smaller pieces to ensure thorough cooking, and never use the slow cooker to cook whole chicken, since the temperature inside a whole chicken may not reach a safe temperature quickly enough to prevent bacteria growth.

Likewise, don't turn off the heat and use your slow cooker to keep foods warm; the temperature will not stay high enough to keep bacteria at bay. Always remove cooked food from the slow cooker and store it promptly.

Defrost meat or poultry in the refrigerator completely before cooking. To help distribute heat evenly, choose recipes with a high moisture content, such as chili, soup, or sauces. 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.

If you are not at home during the cooking process and the power goes out, check the temperature of the food with a thermometer. If it is below 165°F, the food is probably not safe to eat.

Remember the following tips for safe slow-cooker cooking:

  • When doing advanced preparation, remember to store uncooked meats and vegetables separately.
  • Once your food is cooked, don't keep it in the slow cooker too long. Foods need to be kept cooler than 40°F or hotter than 140°F to avoid harmful bacteria.
  • Do not reheat leftovers in the slow cooker! Use the microwave oven, range or oven for reheating.

For more information on slow cookers, including recipes, see:

Slow Cooker Recipes for Diabetics

Soups and other foods cooked in a slow cooker retain most of their nutrients.
Soups and other foods cooked in a slow cooker retain most of their nutrients.
©Steve Woods

Q. Can diabetic recipes be made in slow cookers? Does the lengthy cooking change the nutritional values of the ingredients?

A. Foods made in slow cookers (and foods cooked slowly in regular ovens) retain most of their nutrients and are certainly healthful.

Your question may reflect a concern that all-day cooking may cause important vitamins to be lost. Fat-soluble vitamins would still be contained in the foods. Water-soluble vitamins will leach out into the cooking liquid.

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Fortunately, with slow cooking meals you usually eat the liquid -- the gravy or broth -- containing the water-soluble vitamins.

For more information on slow cookers, including recipes, see: