Secrets to Success

Answers to some frequent questions about the use and care of crockery cookers.
Old-time Beef Stew
Old-Time Beef Stew

What is a crockery cooker and how does it work? A continuous slow cooker cooks food at a very low wattage. The heating coils, or elements, wrap around the sides of the cooker and remain on. On this type of cooker you'll notice fixed settings: low (200 degrees F), high (about 300 degrees F), and in some models, automatic (shifts from low heat to high heat). The ceramic liner may or may not be removable. Another type of cooker, an intermittent cooker, is not recommended for the recipes designated for crockery cooking. In this cooker, the heating element or coil is located below the food container and cycles on and off during operation. If your cooker has a dial indicating temperatures in degrees, you have an intermittent cooker. Because recipes for crockery cooking need continuous slow-cooking termperatures, an intermittent cooker will not cook the food properly.

Do crockery cookers come in different sizes? Crockery cookers range in size from 1 to 6 quarts. Many recipes list the recommended size or sizes that will accommodate that recipe. Check the capacity of your cooker to see whether it fits the recommendation. For best results the crockery cooker must be at least half full and no more than two-thirds full.

How often do I need to stir? For most recipes, you do not need to stir, and stirring can even be harmful. Because a crockery cooker cooks food at a low temperature, removing the lid can dramatically reduce the cooker's interior temperature. Therefore, when you lift the lid to stir or add ingredients, replace it as quickly as possible, especially when cooking on the low-heat setting. An uncovered cooker can lose up to 20 degrees of cooking heat in as little as 2 minutes. A quick peek, however, will change temperature by only 1 or 2 degrees. To keep the temperature constant, resist lifting the lid.

Should I use the high-heat setting or the low-heat setting? If you want dinner to cook all day, use the low-heat setting of your cooker. This allows most foods to cook for 10 to 12 hours. For a shorter cooking time, use the high-heat setting, which cooks most foods in 5 to 6 hours. Cooking times may vary depending on the cooker, but the timings generally work well for all continuous slow cookers. If a recipe recommends cooking only on one setting, do not use any other setting because your food may not turn out properly.

How do I clean my crockery cooker? Always remember to unplug your cooker before cleaning, and never immerse the cooker or the cord in water. To clean the cooker's ceramic lining, use a soft cloth and warm, soapy water. If your cooker has a removable liner, you can wash it in the dishwasher. Avoid using abrasive cleaners and cleansing pads. To avoid cracking the crockery insert, cool the cooker or the insert completely before cleaning.

My 6-quart crockery cooker makes more food than my family can eat at one meal. What can I do with the leftovers? Freeze the leftovers. Many cooks buy large-capacity crockery cookers so they can cook once and have enough leftovers for another meal. To freeze leftovers, cool the food about 30 minutes and transfer it to freezer-safe containers. Label and freeze. To reheat, do not use your crockery cooker. Place the frozen food in an appropriate-size saucepan; cook and stir over low heat until boiling.

Playing It Safe

Foods prepared in a crockery cooker are safe to eat even though they cook at a very low temperature. The long cooking time and the steam that forms in the tightly covered container destroy any bacteria. To ensure that your food is safe to eat, take a few precautions. Clean the cooker and all utensils before you start. Do not use the crockery cooker for large pieces of meat. Cut in half any roasts larger than 2-1/2 pounds.