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Simple Solutions for Slow Cooker Dilemmas

Slow cookers are relatively easy to use. With no moving parts, they break or malfunction much less frequently than other appliances do. Nevertheless, things can go wrong, whether it's user error or operational. Here are some common problems that can occur, along with reasons and advice on how to keep the trouble from popping up again.

Holy smoke

Problem: The slow cooker smokes when you plug it in and turn it on.

Reasons:

  • Manufacturing oil on the heating element or metal housing.
  • Spilled food on the heating element or metal housing.

Solutions:

  • Manufacturing oils used in production to protect metal components may cause slight smoking and/or a burning smell the first few times you use your slow cooker. The problem will dissipate after a couple of uses.
  • Check that no spilled food residue is on the heating element or metal housing. If food happens to spill on the heating element or housing, unplug your slow cooker; let it cool to room temperature; and wipe off the spills with a clean, damp cloth or sponge. Towel-dry before using it again.

Stone-cold slow cooker

Problem: The slow cooker never heats up.

Reasons:

  • Not plugged into a working outlet.
  • If you are certain the electrical outlet is in perfect working order and the slow cooker continues not to operate properly, there may be an electrical component malfunction with the heating element, cord, or plug.

Solutions:

  • Make sure that the slow cooker is plugged in a properly wired and functional 110v, 60hz electrical outlet (the standard outlet found in all U.S. homes). If it is plugged in but it still doesn't heat up, unplug and plug it into another wall outlet that's on a different circuit.
  • Unplug the appliance and contact the manufacturer for further instructions. If there is uncooked or partially cooked food in the slow cooker, remove it from the crock and continue cooking by using conventional methods if it has been sitting out for under two hours; if the food has been sitting out for more than two hours, discard to avoid the risk of food poisoning.

Uneven cooking

Problem: The food did not cook evenly.

Reasons:

  • Food not placed in the slow cooker in the proper order.
  • Food pieces not cut to the same size.

Solutions:

Certain foods, such as root vegetables, need to be placed on the bottom and along the sides of the slow cooker so that they are in direct contact with the cooking container. If you place some on the bottom and some on top, the ones on top may not cook as quickly and may be undercooked.

To ensure even cooking, cut foods such as vegetables into bite-sized, evenly shaped pieces.

Help, I'm swimming in liquid!

Problem: Food tastes bland or watery.

Reasons:

  • Underseasoned.
  • Too much cooking liquid.

Solutions and Preventive Tips:

  • Use dried leaf herbs rather than ground dry or fresh herbs because the dried leaf form keeps more flavor during the long cooking time. You can add fresh herbs during the last hour of cooking. Taste and adjust for seasoning before serving.
  • Because little evaporation occurs in slow cookers, you need about 50 percent less cooking liquid than called for in stovetop or oven cooking. If food appears too liquidy, remove the cover approximately 1 hour before it has finished cooking and cook on the high setting so that the cooking liquid can evaporate and thicken.

Honey, I burnt the roast

Problem: Food burns or sticks.

Reasons:

  • Too little cooking liquid.
  • Food cooked with the slow cooker uncovered.

Solutions and Preventive Tips:

  • With the exception of foods like snack mix and granola, you can't dry-cook in a slow cooker. For the appliance to operate properly, you must cook with some liquid; otherwise, the food will dry up as it cooks.
  • Do not cook with the slow cooker uncovered unless you are thickening the cooking liquid toward the end of the cooking process. Otherwise, the cooking liquid will evaporate as it heats. Burnt food usually cannot be salvaged and should be discarded. If something has overcooked a bit and stuck to the bottom or sides of the slow cooker, carefully remove the remaining food without scraping up any of the burnt particles. Let the cooking container cool to room temperature before cleaning. Fill it with warm, soapy water and let it soak until the cooked-on particles can be removed easily.

Get me a flashlight!

Problem: The power goes out while food is cooking in the slow cooker or the slow cooker gets unplugged accidentally.

Reasons:

  • Thunderstorm, blizzard, brownout, blackout, and other causes of power outage.
  • Slow cooker accidentally unplugged.

Solutions:

  • Food should not sit out at room temperature for more than two hours. If you're slow cooking at home when you lose power and the power is restored in less than two hours, you can safely continue cooking. If the power comes back on close to the two-hour limit, be on the safe side: Remove the food from the cooking container and finish cooking it by using conventional methods. If the food sits in the slow cooker for more than two hours, avoid food poisoning by discarding the food.
  • If the slow cooker is accidentally unplugged, plug it back in and continue cooking immediately. If the slow cooker has been unplugged for a couple to a few hours, follow same steps as given in the preceding solution.

If you come home and find that you lost power while you were out and the food is not fully cooked, discard it to avoid the risk of food poisoning.

Shattered lid or liner

Problem: Glass cover or ceramic cooking container is cracked.

Reasons:

  • Dropping.
  • Setting on a cold counter.
  • Running cold water in the hot liner or placing the hot container in the refrigerator.

Solutions and Preventive Tips:

  • Glass and ceramic can't withstand radical changes in temperature and will crack when hot and exposed to cold rapidly. Never place a hot lid or liner on a cold tile or stone surface; let it cool to room temperature first, or lay a clean, dry kitchen towel on the counter and place it on that.
  • Never run cold water over the hot glass cover or the ceramic cooking container. Also, never place a hot cooking container in the refrigerator or freezer. Allow to cool first.
  • Contact the manufacturer to replace damaged or broken lids and crocks.
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