Can I use a timer on my slow cooker?
A timer might be a great convenience when you spend 10 hours away from home and want to cook an 8-hour slow cooker meal. Here are some guidelines to help you do it safely.
Some slow cookers have timers for low, high, and warm settings, and there are even Wifi-enabled slow cookers that let you manage the time with your mobile phone. There are also timers available at the hardware store that you can attach to your slow cooker. A timer will allow you to cook a dish requiring 6 to 7 hours even though you will be away for 8 to 9 hours.
If you are using a timer to start and/or end the cooking time, here are a few safety guidelines.
Make sure all ingredients are chilled before you put the dish together. Depending on the recipe, you can even prepare the ingredients the night before and refrigerate the food right in the crockery insert until you're ready to begin timing or cooking.
Set the cooking to begin no longer than 2 hours after assembling the chilled ingredients in the crock and setting the timer, but for poultry, no longer than 1 hour later. The hot cooked food should not stand for longer than 2 hours after the cooking time ends, and if the temperature is above 90° F (32.2° C), no longer than 1 hour. The "danger zone" for food is between 40 F and 140 F. Harmful bacteria can grow between those temperatures.
The "warm" setting should be sufficient to keep the dish well above 140 F for longer than 1 to 2 hours, but a long period of time on warm could affect the taste and texture of the food. Follow the manufacturer's instructions if your slow cooker includes a timer and/or a "keep warm" setting. If you're in doubt, check the food with a reliable instant-read thermometer.
Another alternative for a dish requiring a short cooking time is to cook it the night before, cool it as quickly as possible in shallow containers and refrigerate. Heat the food in the oven or microwave the next day.
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