Slow Cooker Cooking Tips

A slow cooker is convenient, easy to use and saves time. With advanced planning, a meal can be prepared in the morning and be ready to eat in the evening. Here are a few cooking tips to help you prepare delicious meals safely.

  • Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time. Refrigeration assures that bacteria, which multiply rapidly at room temperature, will not get a "head start" in the first few hours of slow cooking.
  • If you cut up meat and vegetables in advance, store them separately in the refrigerator.
  • For a shorter cooking time and food safety concerns it is recommended to thaw frozen meat and poultry in the refrigerator before adding to cooker. You can also thaw frozen foods on the "defrost" setting in your microwave. Never thaw foods at room temperature.
  • Cut meat, poultry and vegetables into medium to small uniform pieces to ensure rapid heat transfer.
  • Since root vegetables such as carrots or potatoes cook the slowest, place them near the heat, at the bottom or sides. Then add meat, seasonings, and other vegetables and liquid on top of the root vegetables.
  • Cook pasta by traditional methods and add near the end of the cooking time, as it may become gummy or fall apart. Small pasta shapes, such as macaroni or shells can be added to soups 20-30 minutes before end of cooking.
  • Add dairy products near the end of the slow cooking period so they do not curdle.
  • Fresh or thawed fish and seafood will fall apart during long hours of cooking. Add these ingredients an hour before serving.
  • It is not necessary to brown meat before adding to the slow cooker, except for ground meats which need to be fully cooked before adding to the cooker.
  • Do not overload your cooker. Fill to a minimum of 1/2 full and a maximum of 3/4 full. If you fill less than half full, suggested cooking times should be reduced.
  • Do not lift the lid any more than absolutely necessary during the cooking cycle. Each time the lid is raised, the internal temperature drops by 10 to 15 degrees and the cooking process is slowed by 20-30 minutes.
  • Cooked food can be held up to an hour on the low setting without overcooking.
  • Insert a meat thermometer into roasts, hams or whole chickens to ensure meats are cooked to the recommended internal temperature. The new USDA safe internal cooking temperatures are: Whole meats (steaks, roasts, chops) should be cooked to 145 degrees F. All ground meats should be cooked to 160 degrees F. and all poultry should be cooked to at least 165 degrees F.
  • Dried herbs are often better to use in a slow cooker than fresh herbs as they have a stronger flavor and will release their flavor slowly. Fresh herbs can be added about 30 minutes before the end of cooking or just before serving.