Slow cookers are a great kitchen appliance that slowly cooks a meal throughout the day. It does this by creating steam inside the slow cooker pot and bringing the meal to a simmer. You will see condensation build-up on the lid as proof of rising temperatures. But should steam escape from a Slow Cooker?
It is normal to see a little bit of steam escaping from the slow cooker. As it reaches the proper temperature and pressure small amounts of steam will leak out the sides and through a vent in the lid. The vent in the lid is meant to have steam release through it during cooking, so seeing a little is fine.
However if there is a large amount of steam coming from the slow cooker then you may have a problem. In this article, we’ll explore some common problems that slow cooks can have as well as some pros and cons of using them.
What too Much Steam Escaping from a Slow Cooker Means
If you are experiencing more steam than just a little bit then you might have a problem with your slow cooker. If this happens the heating plates may be broken and overheating. To make sure your slow cooker is working correctly you can test it.
Use tepid water (not too hot and not too cold) and heat in the slow cooker for eight hours. After eight hours, use a food thermometer to check the water. It should be above 185 degrees Fahrenheit/85 degrees Celsius.
Pros and Cons of the Slow Cooker
Slow cookers have been around for a long time, since at least the 1940s, so they have been tested over and over. There are many pros and cons to using them.
Pros of the Slow Cooker
They save on time and cook prep times and you have a hot meal after a long day. The slow cooker is great for a busy person!
Slow cooking requires fresh produce to create the best meal. By using fresh ingredients with no additives you can make a delicious and healthy meal within hours. This also prevents you from ordering out all the time if you’re a busy person.
Slow cooking allows you to place all your ingredients inside the pot and walk away. Slow cookers are designed to cook at low temperatures for long periods. You can start a meal in the morning and then have it later in the evening without needing to keep an eye on it.
Lower temperatures allow the flavors to distribute through a meal properly over time. The flavors also come out fully when food is cooked for longer periods. Slow cookers combine the various characteristics of each ingredient and create a full and flavorful meal.
The moisture inside the slow cooker is absorbed into tougher meats making them soft and tender. It’s recommended that you buy cheaper meats because of the slow cooker’s ability to make them tender and juicy.
Easy to Learn
Slow cooking is quite easy to learn. If you’re an absolute beginner there are easy recipes that have 5 ingredients or less that help you learn. Everything just gets put into the pot and cooked on the desired setting, high or low.
Cut on Costs
They use less electricity which cuts the costs of cooking. Fresh ingredients are also cheaper to buy than constantly eating out all the time. They can cook in bulk, which means you can have a few days worth of leftovers ready to eat.
Easy to Clean
A majority of slow cooker inserts are dishwasher safe. Once you remove the meal inside you can simply place the pot in the dishwasher. You can also hand wash it if you don’t want to waste the space in your dishwasher.
There are many different sizes and shapes when it comes to slow cookers. There are sizes for any amount of cooking you want to do. The smallest slow cookers can be used to cook for one to two people and the largest can feed a crowd.
Slow cookers have three settings, and one of them is the warm function. This allows you to keep food warm, without cooking the meal, until you’re ready to serve. Many programmable slow cookers switch to slow automatically after the cooking time, so if you’re late your meal isn’t overcooked.
Prep time for slow cooking can take about 20 minutes. After prepping your meal and adding it to the slow cooker you’re done until the meal is ready. This saves you time because you don’t have to keep a watch on your cooking. You can walk away and do what you’d like until the meal is finished.
Cons of the Slow Cooker
Although slow cookers have many advantages there are also many disadvantages to using them. These things need to be considered when choosing to use a slow cooker or not.
Some spices are stronger than others, and if they cook for long times they get stronger. These stronger flavors can overpower the meal and ruin it. To avoid this issue try adding the stronger flavors either after the meal is done cooking or just a little before.
Can’t Use Every Recipe
There are recipes out there that aren’t ideal for slow cooking. There may be some recipes out there where you need to cook ingredients in a different pan before adding them to the slow cooker. This increases your prep time, and if you don’t have that extra time you may not be able to cook that recipe.
As the name implies slow cookers are slow when it comes to cooking a meal. You won’t get a quick meal from a slow cooker. The fastest recipes out there have to cook for about 3 hours, which is still a considerable wait.
Mistakes Can’t be Fixed
If you make a mistake during preparation there will be nothing you can do. The meal will already be cooked by the time you realize what happened. Slow cooking requires quite a bit of planning to get the best meal you can.
Slow cookers produce condensation that builds on the lid. This extra liquid can drip down into the meal and dilute the flavors. This can be prevented by adding less liquid at the beginning. Also, remember that fatty meat and hard vegetables like carrots add extra liquid while cooking.
Slow Cooker Efficiency
Compared to other appliances slow cookers are very efficient when it comes to energy usage. Here are a couple of charts that look at the efficiency of slow cookers.
Electric Vs Slow Cooker
|Food||Cook Time||Crock Pot||Electricity|
|Roast||1 ½ Hour Oven8 Hours Crock Pot||0.8 kWh||3 kWh|
|Quick Soup||1 Hour Stove8 Hours Crock Pot||0.8 kWh||0.8 kWh|
|Slow Simmer Recipe||4 Hours Stove8 Hours Crock Pot||0.8 kWh||3.2 kWh|
Gas Vs Slow Cooker
|Food||Cook Time||Crock Pot||Gas|
|Roast||1 ½ Hours Oven8 Hours Crock Pot||87,000 BTU||173,000 BTU|
|Quick Soup||1 Hour Stove8 Hours Crock Pot||87,000 BTU||12,071 BTU|
|Slow Simmer Recipe||4 Hours Stove8 Hours Crock Pot||87,000 BTU||48,242 BTU|
Safety Tips for Using a Slow Cooker
Using a slow cooker may seem confusing when you’re first starting out. Here are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind to help keep you and your food safe.
Have a Clean Space
Before you begin adding ingredients to your slow cooker make sure it is clean. The space it will be sitting on should be clear of clutter as well. All ingredients should be prepped and washed. To avoid bacteria growth, wash your hands before working with any food.
If you need time to prep or clean anything, keep your ingredients in the fridge until you’re ready to use them. Bacteria can grow at room temperature, so keeping ingredients refrigerated until they go in the pot will keep them safe.
Keep Ingredients Separate
To avoid cross-contamination during preparation keep the meat and vegetables away from each other. Bacteria from the meat can grow onto the vegetables if you mix them before the cooking process.
Plan ahead by pulling out your meat to thaw the night before. Frozen meat thrown directly into the slow cooker can spend too much time in the bacteria-creating temperature and can become dangerous.
Check the Internal Temperature
Use a food-safe thermometer and check that your meal is above 140 ℉. Below this temperature is where bacteria can grow. Check your meal to make sure your slow cooker is functioning correctly.
As we’ve briefly mentioned above you can easily overfill a slow cooker. Keep in mind that the pot needs to be filled ½ or ¾ of the way. If you’re using fatty meat and hard vegetables they release their own liquids during cooking and can cause an excess of water, which can spill over.
Even Cuts of Meat
Huge chunks of meat can take much longer to cook in a slow cooker. To ensure that the whole thing is cooked evenly and finishes when you want, cut the large chunks into small more manageable pieces.
Defrost Meat Before Use
As we’ve discussed, frozen meat doesn’t cook evenly in the cooker, because it’s frozen. The temperature of the meat can also lower the overall temperature of the slow cooker, putting the meal at an unsafe temperature where bacteria grow.
Keep the Lid On
It may be tempting to peek at what you’re cooking early, but this can ruin your meal. The lid is what traps moisture and heat for cooking. By removing the lid you chance dropping the temperature and drying out what you’re cooking. The only exception to this rule is a soup that you’re adding to throughout the process.
Food Safe Thermometer
To ensure the food is at a safe temperature you’ll need a food-safe thermometer. Having one of these you can make sure your slow cooker is working properly every time. You can also make sure that your food hasn’t dropped to unsafe temperatures where bacteria grow.
Storing the Ceramic Pot
The ceramic liner of a slow cooker can easily be transferred into a fridge if you have room. Never put the liner into the freezer. The cold temperatures can cause the ceramic to crack and ruin it. If you’re leaving the food on warm, try not to leave it for more than four hours, as most only operate that long on the warm setting.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it Safe to Leave the Slow Cooker Unattended?
Slow cookers are designed to be pretty hands-off. Unless you have a meal that you’re adding to they can be left alone. Slow cookers are designed to be on cooking for hours and use little electricity. Leaving the house or multitasking is perfectly fine while the slow cooker makes your food for you.
Can a Slow Cooker Catch Fire?
The chances of a slow cooker catching fire are very small. If you have an older model with a cloth cord then replace it. These cloth corded models don’t reach the same standards as new models and are more likely to catch fire.
Should the Vent be Closed During Slow Cooking?
No, the vent should be open while you are slow cooking. Allowing a small amount of steam to vent out during cooking allows the heat and pressure to stabilize. This is a normal process of slow cooking, and closing the vent could cause your meal to overcook.
As the slow cooker reaches the correct temperature you will begin to see steam building up inside the slow cooker. Seeing a small amount of steam escape through the vent and sides of the lid is normal. This is simply the process the slow cooker goes through to make sure the internal temperature is correct.