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Sometimes I like to make my cooking as easy as possible. Take the meat, add garnish, some spices, and a bit of water, start my slow cooker and forget it for a couple of hours. I recently realized, is it ok to be lazy sometimes and put raw meat in a slow cooker?
In general, it is ok to put the raw meat in a slow cooker. If the recipe that you are following says so. If you are not sure and trying to freestyle a bit, you should have two crucial things in mind. First is what the finished product should be. Second, you should not forget the raw meat in the turned-off slow cooker, as it can go bad very quickly. The maximum amount of time that you might leave the raw meat in a slow cooker is 2 hours!
Below, I explain the two most important things to look for while putting the raw meat in your slow cooker. Both are vitally important in my eyes. Let’s check them together now.
What is the final product going to be?
The first point is pretty straightforward. It is essential to know what you are aiming to have as a final product.
Cooking the raw meat in a slow cooker will impact it by releasing most of its juices into the rest of the ingredients. At the same time, the heat and water will penetrate the meat easier. As a result, you will get meat that is falling apart. Great fit for pulled pork or any other recipe that would benefit from easily separable meat strings.
Also, while I cannot recommend lifting the lid on a slow cooker in most cases, I would break my rule in case of cooking with raw meat. As the cooking time will be quite long anyway, a few minutes here or there won’t change much.
On the other hand, if you sear the meat first, it covers the outer layer with thin seared skin, which prevents the massive loss of juices over time. This tenderizes meat inside itself, and the result will be much more succulent, juicy, and firm meat.
Both approaches are heavily dependant on the recipe. If you don’t follow the recommended times in it, it will most likely result in slightly different meals.
We can debate which approach is better, but the question of putting the raw meat in a slow cooker alone is pretty clear to me. You can do it if the recipe says so or aim for meat in the style of pulled pork, for something that is falling apart just by touching it with a spoon.
Do not forget the raw meat in a slow cooker!
It can happen to the best of us.
You prep everything, throw it into your slow cooker, and then something more important happens. You leave the raw meat in the slow cooker and run away to fix things quickly. You forget yourself a bit and, with a slight scare, realize that you have forgotten to turn on the slow cooker.
As you come back to check the state of it, you wonder, is it still ok to cook it, or has it been too long?
The best way how to make sure is to check the time. Has it been more than 2 hours? If so, I would not risk it.
On the one hand, cooking kills the majority of bacteria. On the other, you do not know the state of meat when it was slaughtered and what could alter this state.
There is a massive list of things that can be wrong with raw meat left in a slow cooker after 2 hours.
To pick a few: temperature of the meat and environment, the composition of the dish (pH, sugar content, water content, how long the meat’s been in the fridge, how long ago it was killed, the health of the animal when it was slaughtered, the degree to which any contamination affected it in slaughter, and many more).
This is tightly related to my article about slow cookers with delayed start, in which I am also opposed to using a slow cooker that would allow you to delay the cooking and leaving the ingredients in the slow cooker for a prolonged time.
Another good way to check the state of meat is to touch it with your bare hands. This test is relevant for a much shorter time window.
When you touch the meat, feel a dry surface, and it has been only a short amount of time, it is borderline to start cooking it immediately. In this case, you have to count in the time it takes the slow cooker to warm up, especially at a lower temperature.
If you are interested in slow cooker temperatures, check my article here.
If everything else fails, you can always check by smelling the meat. This is one of the oldest tricks in a ‘book’. In most cases, you can recognize if the food is terrible by smelling it. So lower your head to the meat and take in a big sniff.
If the meat reeks odd or off, dispose of it and cut your losses. It is always better to be safe than sorry. If you are not sure, ask somebody else to check with you.
In case there is nobody around, and you have a dog or cat, cut a tiny piece and offer it to them. Animals have more sensitive noses than humans naturally. They can recognize the meat that is off by smelling it.
This way should be saved as a last resort. For those situations where you are down with a cold, and you are sure that you have been out for a short amount of time. Even your loved pet can be mistaken, and you don’t want to put him or yourself in danger.
Have I been able to answer your question about putting the raw meat in a slow cooker? Do you have any other tips and tricks to check if the meat is spoiled?
Do let me know in the comments below.
Until next time have tremendous and spoiled free slow cooking!