I've been noticing more and more complaints about food burning and overcooking in the crockpot. It has been established that newer crockpots, those manufactured in the past five or six years, are cooking at temperatures significantly higher than in the past. Due to concerns about food safety and bacterial growth in the danger zone of 40 degrees F to 140 degrees F, slow cooker manufacturers have increased the cooking temperatures in these appliances.
I remember my old Rival crockpot booklet reassuring me that since their 'low' setting was 185 degrees F, there was no worry about food safety, since the highest temperature required, for dark poultry meat, was and is 170 degrees F. Now 'low' is 200 degrees. At least. And 'high' cooks at 300 degrees F.
Which is giving recipe writers fits. I've been getting more and more mail about food burning in the time spans specified in recipes. And this puts me in a dilemma too, because I don't want to give cooking times that are too short because of the risk of food poisoning. And I've been guiding this site for eight years, so many of the recipes were developed using the older crockpots.
Food manufacturers and appliance manufacturers must produce safe, good quality food and equipment so the risk of food poisoning is as low as possible.
Slow cookers were an easy target for new regulations, which I usually support, simply because lower cooking temperatures automatically raise red flags. But the older crockpots, as long as they heated liquids to 185 degrees F within a few hours, were perfectly safe when used as directed.
So about five years ago, slow cooker manufacturers decided to increase cooking temperatures. And thus the dilemma.
Hotter crockpots are making food safer. The goal is to get the food through the danger zone as quickly as possible. Since millions of Americans get food poisoning every year, and since 5,000 die from food poisoning every year, that is far more important than having to throw out some burned food.
And it's not difficult to individually adjust cooking times so the food doesn't burn. Consumers have to know how their appliances work. This isn't that different from adjusting cooking times for microwave recipes, depending on the wattage of your microwave oven.
Food is burning, chicken is overcooking, and food is being wasted. And are we really safer? Most food poisoning really occurs because of improper handling by the consumer, which includes:
- Not washing hands
- Leaving perishable food at room temperature
- Under cooking food
- Not promptly refrigerating leftovers
- Mixing uncooked with cooked foods
Appliance cooking temperatures really don't make that list.
Where It Stands
So it seems I'm going to have to change my recipe writing style. Manufacturers are not going to return to the lower temperature settings of yore. So I'm going to give two cooking time directions for crockpot recipes; one for older crockpots, and one for newer appliances. It's up to you to know your crockpot and to follow the times for the type you have.
It's also very important to test your own crockpot to see if it cooks hotter than the older varieties. It's impossible to write recipes for every single variable in the kitchen.
Always use a meat thermometer to check that meats, including chicken, beef, pork, and seafood, are cooked to the correct final temperature.
And make a note about how your crockpot cooks. You'll need to adjust every single recipe on the internet and many cookbooks according to that particular appliance.
And add your voice! Tell us about your experiences on Do You Like the Newer Hot Crockpots?