The whole aim of a slow cooker is to cook food for an extended period of time. However, even the longest slow cooker recipes do have maximum cooking times, and leaving food in the pot for too long or on the wrong setting can result in some very unsatisfactory dishes indeed.

If you’re wondering how long you should leave food in the slow cooker, or if these handy kitchen tools can be used to refrigerate food, too, keep reading for the answers to these questions and more.

What’s the Maximum Time Cooking Time for Electric Slow Cookers?

Slow cookers are very low wattage appliances, meaning that they cook food slowly, as well as safely. Unlike other cooking appliances, you can leave food in a slow cooker unattended for hours at a time. This is what makes them so useful as a kitchen tool; you can pop your favorite meal in to cook in the morning, then return home after a busy day at work to freshly cooked, delicious food.  

That being said, however, it’s not a good idea to leave food in a slow cooker for days at a time. The food will not only stain the cooker’s interior, but it will also be soggy and overcooked and be left open to bacteria.  

Most of the programmable slow cookers available today have a 24-hour cycle, which would shut the slow cooker off automatically, but older models don’t necessarily have this function.  

Generally speaking, however, it’s best to only cook food for the indicated times on the recipe you’re using. While some recipes for slow-cooked meat call for extra-long cooking times (anything between fourteen and twenty-four hours), most meals you’ll prepare in your crock pot will need to be cooked for four to six hours on high heat, or eight to twelve hours on low.  

What About Leaving Food to Warm?

On some occasions, you’ll want to leave food in the slow cooker to keep warm, during Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner, for example, or any other event or holiday. While it’s perfectly ok to use your crock pot in this way, try to avoid leaving food on the warming setting for more than four hours.  

According to the USDA, food kept at between 40 and 140 degrees is more at risk of forming bacteria. In this temperature range, bacteria can double in number within just 20 minutes. Therefore, if your slow cooker isn’t maintaining a precise temperature, or if you’re frequently opening the lid to spoon out food, it’s more likely that the food will become spoiled.  

The best way to store food that you cannot eat in one sitting is to leave it on the warming setting for two to four hours, then transfer it to the refrigerator.  

How Long Can I Cook Food in A Cast Iron Pot?

In terms of preparing and cooking food in a cast iron dutch oven or tagine pot, you do have a bit more freedom.  

In a tagine with an enamel inner surface, such as this Uno Casa pot, you can easily marinate your food for a long time. The surface is impermeable, meaning it can withstand acidic ingredients and store cooked and raw food safely.  

A cast-iron crock pot also provides similar levels of flexibility when it comes to marinating or even cooking food for longer stretches of time. It’s not uncommon to braise meat in a cast iron pot or tagine overnight, which improves both the texture and the flavor of the meat. You can also leave a stew to cook overnight in a manual pot, as this will boost its final flavors, especially if the stew includes chili or tomatoes as ingredients.  

Can I Put a Dutch Oven in the Refrigerator?

The beauty of traditional cooking pots like dutch ovens is that they can withstand the most extreme temperatures. Cast iron dutch ovens can cook food at the highest temperatures and easily refrigerate food or even store food in a freezer.  

To ensure that your meal doesn’t become spoiled or develop any nasty bacteria, you will need to wait for your Dutch oven to cool down to room temperature before transferring it to the fridge or freezer.  

In Summary

When cooking food with your slow cooker or Dutch oven, first and foremost, it’s essential always to follow the cooking times stated in your recipe. This is not just a matter of safety, but it will also ensure that your resulting dish is cooked to perfection.  

Additionally, while it is possible to cook food for longer in an electric slow cooker and even leave food to warm, you will get a lot more versatility out of a Dutch oven or tagine pot.  

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