Slow cookers are often used to prepare stews, chilis, meats and other great meals, but often, people don't realize the risks to food safety that can be posed by using a slow cooker. Eating food that has not been properly cooked can lead to stomach distress, food poisoning and even death. This article discusses how to properly use a slow cooker in order to ensure food safety.
Have a Properly Working Food Thermometer
Having a food thermometer that is in proper working order is probably the most important way to ensure that your slow cooker will properly cook your food. Food thermometers can typically be found at most home improvement or specialty cooking stores. Be sure to change the batteries in your food thermometer if you are concerned that it is no longer functioning the way that it should.
Test Your Slow Cooker before Using It to Prepare a Meal
Before actually using your slow cooker to prepare a meal, it is essential that you test it in order to determine whether or not it is in proper working order. To do this, start by filling your crock pot with at least two quarts of water that is currently at room temperature. Turn on the slow cooker to low heat, and then leave it alone for eight hours. After this amount of time has passed, you can use a properly working food thermometer to test the temperature of the water.
Ideally, the temperature should be around 185 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is above this heat, the slow cooker is heating the food too rapidly, and it could become burned. Similarly, if the temperature is below 185 degrees, the slow cooker does not reach a high enough temperature, and this could lead to serious conditions including sickness or even food poisoning.
Basic Guidelines for Cooking with a Slow Cooker
When cooking with a slow cooker, it is essential that you use meats that have already been defrosted. It takes long enough to cook meats that are fresh; if you place a frozen piece of meat into a slow cooker, it will take exceedingly longer to cook. Next, be sure to cut the meat into small, uniform pieces. Not only will this speed up the cooking time, but it will ensure that the meat cooks evenly. When it is finally time to start cooking, be sure to heat the meat on high for the first hour, and then turn the heat down to low for the remainder of the time.
Finally, be sure to keep the lid of the slow cooker closed for the entirety of the cooking processes. This can be the most difficult part of cooking with a slow cooker, but remember that every time the lid of the slow cooker is opened, it adds another twenty to thirty minutes of cooking time! When you believe the meat has been thoroughly cooked, use the food thermometer for inspection. Ideally, the internal temperature of the meat should be at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit in order to ensure complete cooking.