The other day one of my facebook fans (well, what started out as one, but quickly turned into several) said that their crock pot ran too hot. I've noticed that with the new models of most all slow cookers that I have are tending to run hotter than the older models.
I reached out to Crock-Pot brand slow cookers and was told that the low and high settings reach the same temperature of 209 degrees, but at different rates.
I didn't get any response from Hamilton Beach, Calphalon or Cuisinart.
So let me start by telling you what I've noticed. On the top of the new crock pots that I've purchased there is extra venting. Some have actual vent holes in the lids and some have little grooves in the crockery where the lid sits.
This venting is letting moisture escape. With escaping moisture, recipes (other than soups, stews and braises that are plentiful in liquid) will begin to dry out. This definitely will give the impression of a "HOT" running crock pot.
Now I have to tell you, my older crock pot has a clear plastic lid and no vent holes or grooves. It definitely has a more "EVEN" cooking to it than the newer ones I have.
Realizing this I decided to do a "test" on the way an older crock pot and a new crock pot cooked. Luckily my older crock pot with the plastic lid and no grooves is the same size as one of my newer ones.
Before I tell you about the "test" I want to put the disclaimer out there that when I get a new crock pot of any size or kind the first thing I do is fill it about 3/4's full of water. If it has a warm setting I start there. I turn it on and after a couple of hours check the temperature. An instant read, candy or meat thermometer work great for this.
After checking the warm setting I then check the low setting followed by the high setting the same way. On the low and high setting I watch for hot spots around the edges of the crockery. You will see bubbles where the hot spots are.
Once you determine the temperature of each setting and the hot spots you will get better use out of your crock pot(s) and more efficiency. I have learned that to help distribute the heat a little more evenly and avoid hot spots you can do one of two things: 1.) Turn the removable crockery a quarter of a turn every 45 minutes to an hour or 2.) Line the crock pot with foil and then place a slow cooker liner over that before adding your ingredients.
Now, back to the regularly scheduled test.....
I chose a recipe to test that I knew would have a tendancy to dry out or burn. Yes, you are reading this right. I chose crock pot mac 'n cheese. Not only was it not going to have much liquid added to it, but it was going to have the dreaded make up of dairy products that tend to not do so well for extended periods of time in such heat.
The first crock pot (the older one I've always made it in) cooked it like always. It was put in, cooked on low and done perfectly after about 5 hours.
The second crock pot (the newer one that tends to "run hot") worked too. I just had to do some adjusting. Here are the adjustments I made:
- Instead of spraying the crock pot with non-stick cooking spray I lined it with foil then placed a slow cooker liner over that.
- I placed a layer of two paper towels over the top and secured it with the lid. This did two things.... 1.) It didn't let the moisture escape and cause extra dry mac 'n cheese and 2.) It didn't let the excess of moisture make it runny. (I hope this makes sense... moist environment without the extra water in the dish)
- I started it out on low. Only for the first hour. I then turned it to warm. Doing it like this it cooked in almost the same amount of time as the older crock pot.
- Knowing the hot spot is in the back (opposite of where the temp knob is) of this crock pot I did turn it a quarter of a turn every hour (it's a round crock pot too*). I just wanted to ensure an even golden color all the way around the edges of the mac 'n cheese.
So here's what I determined: DON'T THROW AWAY OR QUIT USING YOUR CROCK POT THAT RUNS TOO HOT!!! Learn the crock pot. Learn the techniques that make it a useful appliance, not JUST the recipes. Including:
- Use the correct size of crock pot for your recipe. Yes, as simple as that sounds, it's true. If you put the ingredients that are intended for a recipe to fit into a 3 quart crock pot into a 6 quart crock pot it's going to cook much faster. It will probably dry whatever you're trying to achieve out so bad that even the dog won't eat it (speakin' from experience, just sayin').
- Cook the recipe according to the lowest cooking setting and the shortest amount of time, especially if you're going to be out of the house. For example, if a recipe says cook on low for 7 - 8 hours or on high for 3 - 4 hours, start out on low and check at the 3 hour mark. Got it? Got it.
- Until you get VERY comfortable with your crock pot start with some of the simpler recipes. I would try a brothy soup, a braised meat or even rocking a hot beverage. I definitely wouldn't start with something starchy (pasta, rice or layered potatoes with cheese and eggs). It's a learning process so take your time. Low and slow, that's my motto ;o)
- If you feel like EVEN your brothy, liquidy, moisty recipes are drying out try covering the top of the crockery with foil or parchment and securing with the lid. ONE IMPORTANT NOTE THOUGH: Use oven mitts and remove the foil carefully... actually, remove it from the facing away side of you. The steam can seriously burn you.... SERIOUSLY. BURN. YOU. And it will be sneaky about it! P.S. The reason I used paper towels instead of foil with the mac 'n cheese is because I didn't want the cheesy goodness to stick to the foil or get all watered down.
I'm definitely not suggesting that y'all go to all the trouble that I did with my little mac 'n cheese experiment, but knowing your crock pot IS a great idea. Keep in mind that I'm no chef, expert or crock pot guru. Just a mom, wife, wiper of noses, cleaner of toeses.... and TOTALLY infatuated with the crock pot and how it works :o)
I just want to leave y'all with one last thought:
The reason you see guidelines of times in crock pot recipes is because all crock pots/ slow cookers are different. Get to know yours....
*If your crock pot is round you can turn it a quarter of a turn every so often. If it's oval and runs hot, pick up the crockery and flip it. Yes, flip it. The side that was facing left of the removable crock should now be on the right. Instead of doing it as often, I would do it every hour or so. This will just help that hot spot that tends to be at the the back of the crock pot cook both sides of your oval crock pot more even ;o) ~ Thanks to Karen for pointing this out to me so I could clarify for y'all.