The main reason for turning the crock pot on High for an hour at the beginning is to jump-start the cooking process, getting the crock pot hot faster. If you're hyper-nervous about food-borne illnesses, this is a good idea. However, I don't think it's that big a deal to start the cooking on Low from the beginning, since you'll be simmering away any bacteria for the bulk of the cooking time. My crock pot instruction booklet says 4-6 hrs on High equals 8-10 hrs on Low. So I'd guess that your 1-hr-high-plus-7-hrs-low recipe should take about 9 hours on low altogether.
As for overcooking in a crock pot, it's hard to do but not unheard of. I once made chicken breasts that cooked about 10 hours (maybe the 1st hour was on high, can't remember) and all of the juices in the meat had been sapped dry. The liquid in the crock pot was still plentiful, but the meat itself tasted dry and chewy. But for general roasts, etc., I think you could cook it for an extra hour without a noticeable difference in quality.
As for the fire hazard, I know a friend of a friend who did burn down her kitchen with a crock pot - but I'm pretty sure she left it cooking with no liquid. Also, if you fill your crock pot the night before and leave it in the fridge, the crock pot could crack when cold porcelain meets heating element the next morning. It's a better idea to refrigerate your food in a separate dish and put it in a room-temp crock pot before cooking.
I used to worry about the fire idea, too. When I first got my slow cooker, I used it a few times on the weekends when I'd be around more, and once I saw that it was safe, I started using it when I'm at work.
On the other extreme from fire, one day I plugged it in, left for work and when I got home that night, I discovered it had died on me since the last time I had used it. My food was still all sitting in it uncooked and unedible!
I really like the idea of coming home to a main dish already cooked up in the slow cooker. Most of the recipes call for turning the cooker up to High for 1 hour - that would be easy to do while I am getting ready in the morning. It is the 7 hours later part that I have trouble with. Most work days are 8+ hours.
What will happen if I leave meat in there for 9 hours? Will my house burn down? Will my dinner be so liquidy and mushy that we will have to drink it thru a straw?
Any advice would be helpful and favorite recipes would be delightful!
Food girl, I am laughing at the title of your post. I really doubt your slow cooker will burn the house down, but I understand your concern about your dinner. I recently made a chicken in my crockpot and it was probably in there for more than the 7 hours it was supposed to cook. It didn't make any difference at all. My mom used to always use the crockpot when we were younger and we'd just turn it all the way down when we got home from school. I guess it would depend on what you were cooking, though. We used our mostly for soups and stews, so an extra hour wasn't a problem. With the meats (chicken or beef) I don't think it mattered too much, the meat just falls off the bones that way. As far as burning down the house, I am paranoid about that, too (and several other irrational things), but unless you have a crokpot and wire held together with electrical tape, I think it'll be just fine.
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