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A slow cooker that's safe cooks fast enough to keep food out of the bacterial danger zone.
Cooking safely with the crock
By Pauline Oo
From eNews, March 10, 2005
When it debuted in 1971, the slow cooker was hailed as the busy mom's little helper--the easiest, non-messy way to make a delicious family dinner. (Rival introduced the invention under the trademarked name Crock-Pot.) Today, it's still a popular kitchen aid for the overworked mom or dad with precious little time to cook. But its popularity has extended to single people who refuse to slave over a stove for a one-person meal and working folks who have less and less time to spend in the kitchen.
"A slow cooker is the ultimate solution to fast food," says Liz Weiss, author of The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers: Improving the Way Your Family Eats, One Meal at a Time! "[It] solves the dilemma of providing a hot, healthy meal at the end of the day."
And slow cookers aren't just for soups and stews anymore. At Rival's first "Crock-tober" cook-off in Rhode Island last October, professional and amateur chefs were dishing out such goodies as Asian-style ribs, Christmas pudding, blue crab bruschetta, southwestern enchiladas, and pork roast with toasted almonds from their nifty little kitchen aids.
A slow cooker that's safe cooks slowly enough for unattended cooking, yet fast enough to keep food out of the bacterial danger zone, which is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. (Slow cookers cook food at a temperature ranging between 200 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit.) To check the safety of a slow cooker, heat two quarts of tap water on the low setting for eight hours. Then check the water temperature with a food thermometer--but do it quickly because the temperature will drop 10-15 degrees when the lid is raised or removed.
Here are more tips from the University of Minnesota Extension Service:
- Defrost meat, seafood, and other frozen ingredients before adding them to the slow cooker.
- Cut meat and vegetables into medium-sized chunks or small, uniform pieces to ensure thorough cooking.
- Preheat the crock before adding ingredients, or cook on the highest setting for the first hour.
- Fill the crock at least half full and no more than two-thirds full.
- Cook meat or poultry in water or stock-the level of liquids should almost cover the ingredients.
- Put vegetables in first, at the bottom and around the sides near the heat, because they cook slower than meat and poultry in the slow cooker.
- Do not lift the lid during the cooking cycle. Each time you raise the lid, the cooking process is slowed by 30 minutes.
- Do not leave cooked food to cool down in the crock. Eat it immediately or place leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate within two hours of cooking. Never reheat leftovers in the slow cooker.
And finally, a tip from the national Food Safety and Inspection Service: Throw away the food in your slow cooker--even when it looks done-if the power goes out when you're not at home during the cooking process. It's hard to tell how long your food--cooked or uncooked--has been just sitting there.