Newer crock pots, those manufactured in the last five to ten years, are cooking hotter than older models. This has led to burned and overcooked food and frustration. Recently I addressed this issue in Are Hotter Cooking Crock Pots Good or Bad?.
The answer was overwhelmingly no.
I contacted two manufacturers of crock pots or slow cookers. I didn't hear back from Rival, but Hamilton-Beach responded. Here's what one of their home economists said:
- Do not tilt the lid to reduce the cooking temperature. This introduces too many variables in the cooking process. Extraneous material will get into the food, especially since the cooking time is so long. There is no way to control the temperature of the food if the lid is tilted or removed. And this negates one of the advantages of slow cooking—moist heat. There will no longer be a seal between the slow cooker and the lid to keep moisture in, and meats will dry out.
- Do not cook on the 'warm' heat setting. This is not safe, especially for large chunks of meat because the temperature won't get through the danger zone of 40 degrees F to 140 degrees F quickly enough. If your crockpot has a 'simmer' setting, this advice may not apply.
My advice? Reduce the cooking time in all of your recipes if you have one of these newer slow cookers. I know that totally spoils the convenience of turning on your slow cooker and leaving the house for eight, nine, or ten hours. And it's frustrating. But manufacturers just aren't going to go back to the old cooking temperatures.
And here's what I'm going to do—purchase a crockpot that has a built-in thermometer. When cooking large cuts of meat like a roast, you can set the final temperature and the appliance will turn itself off and go to the 'keep warm' setting so the meat won't overcook. You can also use this feature when cooking other recipes - follow the owner's manual for complete directions. That plus the 'delay cooking' feature will extend the cooking time significantly.
I'm also going to look for old crock pots and slow cookers at garage sales, thrift shops, antique stores, and especially eBay. I did an eBay search and found hundreds of 'vintage slow cookers' and 'vintage crock pots' for sale.
One caveat: If you do buy an old used crock pot, please follow these steps before you use it to cook. First, take it to an electrician to make sure that the cord and plug are in good shape and are safe to use. And second, test the crockpot's temperature.
To test the temperature, fill the appliance 2/3 full of cool water. Cover it, turn it on, and let it cook for 8 hours. At this point, the water temperature should be at least 185 degrees F. If it is cooler, the crockpot's temperature is too low and won't be safe. If the temperature is significantly higher, you'll need to watch the cooking time the first couple of times you use it, and adjust recipes accordingly.