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I have read that slow cookers manufactured recently (not sure what time period that actually means) rise to their cooking temperature faster because of FDA concerns of keeping a food at a dangerous temperature for too long. The recommendation is to perhaps cook things for a bit less time than the typical 8 hours on low to avoid overcooking.

To this end, I have been putting a thermometer in my meat and cooking to a temperature instead of to any set time. However, I'm finding the meat gets to its "done" temperature at WELL below the time suggested. For example, I have a chicken recipe (skinless, boneless) that suggests cooking for 8 hours on low. In my slow cooker, the chicken gets to 165 degrees at only 2-1/2 or 3 hours! Well below the 8 hour suggested cooking time.

So, my question is, should I say my meal is done at that 165 degree mark, or is there any slow cooker advantage to leaving it in for the full or close to full cooking time? It seems to me the meat just gets dry if I leave it in longer, but maybe if I left it in the full 7-8 hours, some other chemical process takes place, leaving the meat more moist and flavorful than if I take it out at the 3 hour mark because of the temperature.

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2 Answers

The answer depends on the type of cut. If you have a tender cut of meat then there's no reason to cook it any longer than then desired doneness. If you are using a tough cut then there's lots of collagen that needs to be broken down, and that requires moisture and time. You want to cook it until all the collagen is broken down as that will make the meat tender. That may take 2 hours, it may take 6, it depends on the cut and the thickness.

I have a similar experience with my slow cooker, it goes way too fast. To get around this I've ended up putting in big chunks of meat and veggies because anything else is completely nuked after 8 hours! I've also thought about using a light timer to have it start 3 hours after I leave home.

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+1 for your answer which is very good. I also like your idea about the light timer but I would be worried about the meat and some ingredients sitting outside the refrigerator not cooking for that initial time period before the slow cooker turns on. It makes me want to only use my slow cooker while I'm home to watch it. –  Kristina Lopez Nov 5 '12 at 18:37
    
I know what you mean, it defeats the whole purpose, doesn't it! –  GdD Nov 5 '12 at 19:16
    
Thanks! That makes a lot of sense. I wish there was a device you could attach to a slow cooker to lower the temperature it cooks, back to the levels they used to cook! –  Marcy Nov 6 '12 at 3:49
    
There's no device unfortunately, but if you scour yard sales, flea markets (boot sales in the UK), and the like you may be able to find an old one for next to nothing. They are built to last. –  GdD Nov 6 '12 at 10:01
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The target temperatures you describe are based on food safety recommendations, not quality of product. With chicken, for example, it is safe at 165f. However, I prefer the dark meat to get to 180f, give or take (I go by visual and tactile qualities, not by temperature). If you want to make pulled pork or beef, the meat has to get up to around 200f. Same goes for shredded chicken, even -- the temperature has to get pretty far beyond the safe range for the meat to be shreddable.

So I think the answer to your question is you should go by NEITHER time nor temperature, as long as your quality target exceeds your safety target.

I'm also going to go out on a limb and suggest that there may be some fault with the recipe itself. A slow cooker does not lend itself to cooking something like chicken pieces, where there is a lot of surface area in relation to the total mass of meat you are cooking. Additionally, unless you are intending to shred the chicken, I don't think cooking it for so long would be of any benefit. A slow cooker is better suited to a large cut of meat with lots of connective tissue, like a Chuck roast or a Boston butt, and the time/temperature caters to that type of cooking.

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