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I made beef stew last night in my slow cooker. At seven hours I felt like it wasn't ready so I set an alarm to wake me up at ten hours and moved it into the fridge around 1 AM.

Let's say I left it in the pot the whole night, would 17-18 hours be too much? Is there such a thing as overcooking stew, and how long does it take until you reach it?

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If you're cooking low and slow, with enough liquid, you'll end up with a style of stew called ragoût. The trick is to not add the vegetables during the cooking, unless they're either something that you want to break down, or you've added enough acid to the cooking liquid to prevent onions and potatoes from fully disintegrating.

Personally, I prefer to take pot-roast to this stage, as it's what I grew up with.

You might not get the 'cooked to rags' quality of the meat, as you may not have agitated the meat before cooling. In the Good Eats episode 'Stew Romanace', Alton Brown cooks the meat, then lets it cool so it'll firm back up. It's possible that this might happen in your case (although in his, he drains the liquid before cooling).

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    I like this answer because it implies (correctly) that "over-cooked" is entirely subjective. It all depends on what you're going for in the end. – logophobe Jun 16 '14 at 17:22
  • @logophobe : I assume you've heard Denis Leary's take on 'Irish Cuisine'. If not, see tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Creator/DenisLeary – Joe Jun 16 '14 at 17:58
  • I hadn't, but I think it's a point that seriously applies to just about every food culture. Some people would probably consider ceviche or sushi to be "undercooked". Sauerkraut and kimchi could very well be considered "spoiled" by some standards. So my literal answer to this question would be that it's overcooked only if you try it and consider it so. There's no objective definition. – logophobe Jun 16 '14 at 20:42

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