Since the 1940s, slow cookers have become important components in many kitchens around the world. Also referred to as a crock pot, a slow cooker is a kitchen appliance that simmers at low temperatures, allowing food to cook slowly and unattended for many hours.
But before you start using a slow cooker in your kitchen, you need to learn how to set its temperatures properly. This article offers you a complete slow cooker temperature settings guide.
What’s a Slow Cooker?
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A slow cooker is an electric cooking pot made from porcelain, aluminum, or ceramic. It’s designed to cook food at very low temperatures, thus taking time to thoroughly cook a meal and giving you time to focus on other important things without worrying about overcooking your meals. Many people love it because it enables them to cook and have their meals ready when they aren’t around the house.
A slow cooker is the opposite of a pressure cooker, which is designed to cook fast. A crock pot features an electrical unit that offers a heating element. The heating component usually surrounds the pot to heat it from all sides. But some new models come with just a heating plate without the sides.
Another major feature of a slow cooker is the lid, which can be made from ceramic, glass, or metal. The lid is a low-pressure seal that stops moisture from evaporating, thus reducing the risk of burning your food. It’s also important to note that many other kitchen appliances now come with slow cooking functions.
Although a slow cooker takes hours to thoroughly cook a simple meal, it consumes less power than a microwave or oven because it operates differently from other electric cooking appliances. Some slow cookers can automatically switch on and off to allow the heat to remain steady when cooking.
So, aside from helping you to focus on other important chores while preparing your meals, a slow cooker also saves you money by lowering your electricity bills.
What Temperature Does a Slow Cooker Cook At?
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First of all, understand that slow cookers feature both low and high heat settings. So, it’s up to you to decide what temperature is ideal for you. The difference between the two heat settings isn’t necessarily in the temperature, but in the speed with which the unit reaches its simmering temperature. So, you need to understand your unit’s low and high heat settings to choose the right simmering temperature.
What Temperature Does a Slow Cooker Cook on Low?
One of the main concerns that people have when they’re buying a slow cooker or learning how to cook with it is the safety of their food and cooking appliances. This is a legitimate concern because a slow cooker allows the food to cook for more than seven hours without stirring, which under normal circumstances can easily lead to overcooking.
Fortunately, a slow cooker can safely cook for up to eight hours when it’s on low. The cook time for low heat varies with the type of food you are cooking. For instance, if you are cooking a large pork roast (about 7lbs), it will take about 9-10 hours to cook thoroughly on low heat. Four pounds of pork loin will take approximately six hours to cook on low heat, while six pounds of poultry will take about eight hours.
Therefore, there’s no fixed cook time for all foods on low heat. The appropriate cook time on low heat varies according to the specific quality of the food, including fat content, connective tissue, and ingredients added. The amount of food and how the slow cooker is filled also determine how long it takes to cook on low.
Nevertheless, you can easily establish your desired cook time on low heat by checking the temperature of your food or drink with a thermometer immediately after cooking. For instance, you can boil water with your slow cooker on the Low setting for about eight hours and measure its temperature immediately after turning off the cooker to know if your cooker can safely cook food on Low.
The ideal temperature on Low should be approximately 185° or 200°F. Anything above this range will overcook your food.
What Temperature Does a Slow Cooker Cook on High?
For most slow cookers, the High heat setting is approximately 300 F. In short, one hour on High is equal to two hours on Low. However, the cooking time on High depends on the type of food you are cooking.
So, choose your ingredients wisely if you want your slow cooker to cook safely on High. Here’s a list of cook times for different foods on High:
• Pot Roast: four to five hours on High
• Stew: four to five hours on High
• Ribs: four to five hours on High
• Stuffed Peppers: three to four hours on High
• Brisket: eight to nine hours on High
• Swiss Steak: seven to eight hours on High
• Corned Beef & Cabbage: four to five hours on High
• Casserole: two to four hours on High (with occasional stirring)
• Rice: two to three hours on High
• Meat Loaf: six to seven hours on High
• Dry Beans: one to two hours on High
• Soup: two to six hours on High
• Artichokes: two to four hours on High (with water)
How to Test Your Slow Cooker’s Temperature
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As mentioned above, you’ll need a thermometer to measure the temperature of your slow cooker. Just put two quarts of water in the slow cooker, set it on Low, and heat it for eight hours. Make sure the cooker is tightly sealed with the lid to prevent moisture from evaporating from the cooker.
After eight hours, remove the lid and immediately measure the temperature of the water with your thermometer. Don’t waste time before measuring the temperature because water loses heat very quickly when you remove the lid. Also, make sure the thermometer you are using is accurate. The water temperature should be between 180 and 200 F.
If the temperature is higher than 200 F. on Low, then the slow cooker is likely to overcook your food. Since the Low setting is supposed to cook food for a longer period, it shouldn’t exceed 200 F. Also, it shouldn’t drop below 180 F. because it means that the crock pot can’t reach the required simmering temperatures to cook your food thoroughly.
6 Tips for Using Your Slow Cooker
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Although slow cookers are so common nowadays, some people still don’t know how to use them properly. So, their food is either overcooked or undercooked. If you are having trouble cooking with a slow cooker, here are some useful tips to guide you.
1. Reduce Your Preparation Time
A slow cooker gives you enough time to prepare your ingredients. However, it cooks more effectively when you load it with all the recipes at once and cover it with the lid. Therefore, choose ingredients that don’t require a lot of prep time. For example, if you are using onions, it would be good to cook them beforehand instead of throwing them in raw.
That way, you’ll get more flavor from them. Also, start by browning your meat so that it can have some color. These preparations shouldn’t take too much time.
2. Prepare Early Enough
Most people use slow cookers to cook their dinner before they leave for work. In this case, you should prepare your ingredients the night before. Put the ingredients in the crock pot and leave it in the fridge overnight.
In the morning, take it out of the fridge and give it about 20 minutes to reach room temperature before you switch on the cooker. Remember that the pot should be as close to room temperature as possible when you turn on the cooker. Preparing your ingredients early enough leaves you with enough time to prepare for work.
3. Minimize Fat in Your Meals
Although a slow cooker is great for cooking meat, you shouldn’t add a lot of fat to your meals because the fat content won’t catch when there’s moisture in the pot. So, remove excess fat from your meat before putting it in the pot. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a pool of fat in your pot.
4. Minimize Liquid in Your Meals
As noted above, a slow cooker comes with a tight lid that prevents moisture from escaping the pot in the form of vapor. So, add water and other liquids to your meals sparingly to avoid excess broth. If you are cooking a standard meal, the liquid content should only cover the meat and vegetables. Don’t overfill your pot with water because it might leak out the top or prevent the food from cooking thoroughly.
5. Set Your Cooker on Low
Since most meals cook effectively on a slow, gentle heat, you should always set your slow cooker on Low. This not only brings out all the flavors but also gives you enough time to focus on other things without worrying about your food. You can even prepare your dinner before leaving for work in the morning and go about your work knowing that your food is safe.
6. Add All the Ingredients at Once
The heat and moisture will escape the pot if you keep removing the lid to add more ingredients. So, it’s good to throw in all the ingredients at the start and seal the pot tightly with the lid. However, some ingredients like rice and fresh herbs may have to be added later on.
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