Crock Pot Cooking Tips for that Ideal Winter Dinner

Crockpot Crock pot cooking becomes much more popular in the wintertime. I think that people definitely eat more in the winter, and hot, warming foods are favorites. Foods with a lot of liquid, steam and a pleasant aroma) seem to have extra appeal. Maybe it’s because of the warmth that the liquid (I’m thinking of a bowl of soup) can give to your body as it’s consumed. The steam from the food also warms up the air around the cooker, the bowl, and the entire room.


Warning: Crock pots don’t have a lot of heating capacity compared to other cooking methods such as a stove burner or oven, so it takes food much more time to reach the desired cooking temperature. In terms of food safety, this might be a potential danger--especially if the crock pot is challenged with a high heat load (e.g. frozen ingredients, over-filled with food, ice-cold water added, or cold ambient environment). The longer the time to reach the required cooking temperature, the greater the opportunity for bacteria to multiply.


 With the above warning in mind, get out that crock pot (or buy one), and follow these suggestions to have a safe, delicious meal and healthy leftovers for yet another meal. 


- Don’t overfill a crock pot because, if you do, it might heat too slowly.


- Start cooking at a high temperature setting; then reduce to the desired temperature after the crock pot heats.


- Preheat liquids (especially water) before adding them to the crock pot. This allows the crock pot to heat up much more rapidly and effectively.


­­- Most people make a large crock of their favorite stew, soup, or chili. They eat some and save some for another day. In fact, I like chili better the second time because an extra day or two allows some flavors more time to develop. Cooling a large pot of stew or chili requires some special attention. (If perishable foods are cooled down too slowly, contamination can result.) Don’t cool food in the crock pot; remove it to a sealed container and ice or refrigerate it as soon as possible. Removable crocks make this task much easier. According to the FDA, hot, perishable food should be portioned into small, shallow containers and refrigerated immediately (so that pathogens have no time to grow). To lower food temperatures even more quickly, the containers can be pre-chilled on ice or in an ice-water bath before placing in the refrigerator.


­- If the power has gone out while you were away and the crock pot was cooking, when you return, check the temperature with a thermometer. If the temperature has fallen below 160° F, discard the food even if it looks good. The low temperature setting on the crock pot is designed to heat food to approximately 170° F.


- Don’t use your crock pot to reheat foods. It’s just not designed for this kind of duty.


If you’re planning to buy a crock pot, I recommend purchasing one with a removable liner that lifts out.  That design makes it easier to cool the contents quickly and to clean.  This type is usually made of ceramic or “stoneware.” (See the photo on  There are also disposable plastic liners for crock pots (Reynolds® Slow Cooker Liners). To see this product, click here. If you check the website, you’ll see that manufacturers now make programmable slow cookers with multiple time and temperature settings. The cook & carry models are great too, if you sometimes bring crock pot food to pot luck dinners. With a cook & carry model you don’t need to worry about spilling the juice on your coat or in the car! Make sure you get a model with a gasket in the lid, or the liquid will still be able to spill out.




Timothy J. Bowser, Ph.D., Oklahoma State University, Dept. of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering



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