Crock Pot Temperatures
Squeezed between no time and no money, we've become a nation of people living on highly processed, low nutrition foods. Dinner is something we grab through a drive-up window, pop in the microwave or pour out of a box.
It's cheap and convenient, but eating calorie-dense, nutritionally empty convenience foods isn't how you build a lean, healthy body. Unless you've got the money and willpower to only order healthy food, at some point you've got to do a little cooking. (Or convince someone you know to do the cooking for you.)
To give people better options, I've been posting a new healthy recipe on my website, one each week, for more than a decade now. Over the last year, I've noticed an interesting trend. With recipes broken down a dozen different ways, fully a third of the visitors in my recipe section go to one area. That's the recipe for meals made in a slow cooker, also known as a crock pot.
It's a convenient way to cook. Put all the ingredients into a pot, turn it on and leave it. A few hours later you've got a hot and delicious meal. But with so much interest in those recipes, I've started to get a lot of the same questions about crock pot cooking in general. So I'd like to offer a few tips to help you get the most out of your slow cooker.
Find out what temperature your crock pot cooks at. When you turn it on low, it's supposed to cook at 200 degrees Fahrenheit. High is designed to be 300 degrees Fahrenheit. However, some newer machines cook at higher temperatures. Here's how to figure out what yours is.
Put about 8 cups of tepid water in the pot. Cover and heat on low for two hours. Don't lift the lid while it's heating up! Use a quick-read thermometer and check the temperature of the water. Remember that lifting the lid will start to drop the temperature rapidly, so you want to get a reading right away. The temperature should be above 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If it's lower than that, repair or toss the crock pot out. It won't be heating foods up fast enough to reach a safe temperature.
If your crock pot passes the first test, put the lid back on and continue heating on low for 6 more hours. Then remove the lid and quickly check the temperature again. It should be right around 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Water that's 190 degrees or higher indicates a crock pot that cooks hot and you may have to adjust your cooking times. Below 185 degrees Fahrenheit indicates a crock pot that doesn't get hot enough and may cause food safety issues.
For anyone concerned about food safety, try the high/low trick. Put your slow cooker on HIGH for the first hour to get the food hot, then turn it on LOW for the remainder of the preparations. If you do this, take 30 minutes off the total cooking time. For most recipes, cooking one hour on HIGH is comparable to two hours on LOW.
Avoid the temptation to peek. Every time you lift the lid on a crock pot, you need to add at least 20 minutes to the total cooking time.
Unless a recipe provides specific instructions, you should defrost frozen foods before cooking them in a crock pot. Meats in particular shouldn't be cooked frozen.
Once a meal is cooked, put it in individual containers for freezing (if the recipe says it's freezer-friendly) or a separate container before you put it in the refrigerator. Crock pots are thick and hold heat well, so if you put them directly in the fridge, the food may not cool down fast enough to avoid dangerous bacterial growth.
For quicker cleanup, choose a crock pot that has a removable liner. Some slow cookers have everything built together, so you can't submerge it without destroying the electrical parts. Crock pot liners are available to help with cleanup, but the extra expense may make buying a different model a better long-term choice.
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