Slow cookers work by gradually heating up food to a safe temperature which will ensure food is thoroughly cooked through and safe to eat.
If you want to turn your slow cooker off earlier than a recipe dictates, you’ll first need to make sure the food has reached a high enough temperature. Roast meats cooked in the slow cooker should reach an internal temperature of 160 °F before they are safe to consume, while casseroles and stews should reach 165 °F before being considered safe to eat.
If your slow cooker meal has reached or exceeded these temperatures, then you can stop it early.
How to Stop a Slow Cooker Early
If you need to stop a slow cooker before the full cooking time has passed, you can do this by simply switching the cooker off, however, you should be aware that the food inside may not be fully cooked through, and is therefore unsafe to eat. In some cases, you may need to turn the slow cooker off sooner than you had planned, for example, in the event of an emergency.
If you need to take a family member to the hospital and you’re unsure how long you’ll be, then it’s best to turn your slow cooker off and deal with the repercussions later. The food will likely be ruined, but this is preferable to leaving the cooker on for a dangerous amount of time. In other instances, you might want to stop a slow cooker early for non-emergent reasons.
In these cases, you’ll have to assess whether or not the food is cooked and suitable for eating on an individual basis. If the cooking time is nearly finished, for example, the oven has been out for 7 of the 8 recommended hours, then you may find the food is cooked enough to be eaten. If there is a long time to go before the full cooking time is up, then the food will likely not be cooked, and you’ll have to throw it away if you want to turn the slow cooker off.
Is it Safe to Stop a Slow Cooker Early?
It’s perfectly safe to stop a slow cooker early, but the safety of the food it is cooking is another matter. If the food is fully cooked, then you can go ahead and eat it, but if it is undercooked, it will need to be discarded.
Fully cooked food
Food needs to reach a certain temperature during the cooking process in order for it to be safe to eat. If you have a food thermometer, you can insert this into your slow cooker meal to check that it’s definitely reached the necessary temperature. If it has, you can go ahead and switch the slow cooker off prematurely and eat your meal. Meats should reach an internal temperature of 160 °F before they are safe to consume, while casseroles and stews should reach 165 °F.
At this temperature, you can be sure your slow cooker meals are safe to eat, but they may not have taken on the texture or flavor you were hoping for. A slow cooker tenderizes meat and concentrates flavor throughout the long and slow cooking process. If you cut the process short, the food may well be safe to eat, but it may not be in its most delicious state.
If your slow cooker food has not reached the safe internal temperature, then you should not eat it. There could be harmful bacteria present in the food which is likely to result in sickness or abdominal discomfort. If you need to stop your slow cooker early, then this food will need to be thrown out.
Will Stopping a Slow Cooker Early Affect Taste?
If you decide to stop your slow cooker early, the taste and texture of the food is going to depend on how long it has been cooking for. While the food might be cooked through to the point that it is safe to eat, it may not have had long enough at the simmering point to make it tender and flavorful.
If you want to benefit from the full intensity of flavor and delicate textures that slow cookers are famed for, then you will need to allow the full cooking time to pass.
Alternatives to Stopping a Slow Cooker Early
If you switch your slow cooker off before your food is ready, then you risk wasting an entire meal. Instead of sacrificing your food, you can consider these options.
Switch to the high setting
If you are running short on time, then you can switch your slow cooker from the low setting to the high setting. This will double the speed your recipe cooks at and could save you from having to turn the cooker off and wasting a meal.
For a slow cooker recipe which takes 8 hours on the low setting, you can switch to the high setting and cook it in 4 hours. This will save time and make sure the food is safe to eat, though you will be compromising on taste and texture.
Another way to make a slow cooker work faster is to remove the lid, cover the top with aluminum foil, and then replace the lid to hold the foil in place. This stops heat from escaping and helps to maintain a high temperature, which will allow the food to cook more quickly. This means you could stop the slow cooker earlier than planned and still enjoy a safe, fully-cooked meal.
Leave it on
If you need to go out, then turning the slow cooker off is not your only option. These appliances are safe to leave turned on and unattended for an entire day. If you are cooking your recipe on the high setting, switch it to low to ensure it doesn’t overcook while you’re out of the house, and then return it to the high setting when you return.