Safest way to leave something cooking all day?

northcarolinaAugust 22, 2012

May I have opinions please? I often leave something cooking for several hours while no one is home. I am comfortable using my slow cookers for that, but we just got a new induction range so I am wondering if it would make more sense to get a cast iron Dutch oven to use on that instead. Our countertops are wood (if it matters), and the house is old but the kitchen was completely rewired three months ago during renovation.

Here are the options:

1. Slow cookers (one is 15-20 yrs old, one about 1 year old and gets much hotter)

2. Dutch oven on induction range

3. Dutch oven in the range's oven

I am not concerned about temperature and food safety, but in not burning down the house.

Thank you!

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Ron Natalie

Crockpots located on a non flammable service and away from anything flammable should be relatively safe. If your countertops are wood, you can always put it on the floor (if it is noncombustable) or out in the garage on the concrete.

Most kitchen fires I've seen have the appliance / pot whatever catch fire and ignite cabinets above more so than what's underneath.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 1:37PM
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I always park 'all day' things on the stove top under the range hood in the middle.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 10:07AM
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You cook for several hours, or all day? You're unconcerned about temperature or food safety?

Personally, I leave nothing on when I'm gone from the house. Anything can malfunction or catch fire, why take a chance? It's not worth the risk to me, however small.

Many stewy/soupy/casserole type things people slow cook taste much better the next day. With just a few exceptions, many such recipes can also be done in much less time (and more safely too, from a food temp standpoint). Try cooking it in the evening while you're home, let it improve in the fridge for 20 hours, then have it for dinner the next day. It's likely to taste much better than something that's simmered all day and had all the flavor cooked out of it.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 1:07PM
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I leave a lot of things on when I leave the house. My furnace, my fridge, some lights, a fan, computers, etc. I'm not concerned about them malfunctioning and causing a fire.

A slow-cooker is just another electrical device. The only difference is that it produces a little more heat than some of the others. But it's designed to be safe at those temperatures. Keep it away from things that could be ignited and you'll be fine. As others said, put it in the middle of the stove top underneath the range hood and it's perfectly safe.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 1:22PM
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Sorry Greg, I was unclear and you read my post too literally. I leave all the same things on as you do, just nothing cooking.

I've never seen what the advantage is of using a slow cooker and I see lots of disadvantages. Many of the recipes use many already cooked ingredients anyway. Think of your reaction when you're served something in a restaurant that has the consistency and taste of having been sitting on heat all day - why do that intentionally?

To each his own.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 2:06PM
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I know that everyone leaves those things on, including you. I was just trying to point out that nobody worries about those common devices malfunctioning, so why worry about the slow cooker malfunctioning? It is a very simple device and very safe if used properly (ie. away from flammable material).

If you don't like food cooked in them, that's fine. As you say, to each his own. However, obviously the OP does but was worried about the safety of the device.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 2:42PM
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"and more safely too, from a food temp standpoint"

Slow cookers are around 180F on the low setting, and are NOT a food safety problem.

The early slow cooker recipes often neglected any browning of ingredients for flavor before placing them in the slow cooker.

There are many things that CANNOT be sped up.
It is the low and slow cooking that makes pulled pork what it is.
The fat in the meat is rendered out and soaks in, and then runs out without being fried form higher temperature.

A passable version can be made in a slow cooker minus the smoke flavor.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 3:20PM
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You're quite a contrarian Mr Brick, you remind me of the Monty Python Argument sketch.

I'll have to give you my friend's phone #, you can let him know that his family's incident of intestinal distress was imagined. There's apparently a poisonous substance in beans that remains unless the beans are boiled. That batch of crock pot chili was their last. The result was an attack similar to food poisoning.

The tenderizing of tough meat comes from the breakdown of collagen in the muscle that can be produced by many hours of cooking at a low temperature. The fat does nothing to the process, though it flavors the end result. I cook recipes like that sometimes, in the oven (when I'm home).

When cooking meat or anything else, whether at high or low heat, most good cooks have learned to use a thermometer to determine when cooking is done and the food is safe. I suspect most people cooking with a crock pot have no idea what temperature their food has reached or stayed at over the many hours.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 6:37PM
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Thank you all for weighing in. For clarification, I am not worried about the safety of the slow cookers. I am just wondering if induction, now that I have it, is an even better choice for unattended cooking. Snidely, of course I think about food temperature, I just meant that that was not what I was asking about here. :)

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 7:14PM
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I would take a roast cooked all day on low over one cooked on medium or high for a few hours and then stuffed in the fridge. Some things gain flavor and tenderness over time.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 8:30PM
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Countryboymo, I agree with you re. the roast, and I agree with snidely about soup tasting better the next day, and... it's fun to try it all. [grin]

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 9:39PM
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Many of the induction stoves/cooktops have sensors under
the glass top that will shut off the burner if the temp
gets too high. For exapmple, if you have a pan of
something cooking away, and all the liquid evaporates,
then the pan will get very hot, so before it's contents bursts into flame, the sensor shuts the burner down. I'm not sure at what temp. they shut down, but it's higher
that you would cook anything, but lower than the
kindling temp. of food. It sounds like a nice safety
feature, but I would not rely on it on a regular basis.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 9:36AM
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'There's apparently a poisonous substance in beans that remains unless the beans are boiled. "

What beans?

Better tell the world.

There are hexose sugars in beans that can cause intestinal distress (large gas production), but it is pretty far form "poisonous."

A lye soak for beans is an old world technique to remove the hexose sugars.
Less caustic bases are safer through, but may take longer soaking for the sugars to dissolve.

While the slow cooking does indeed aid on the breakdown of collagen, then fat is not an insignificant part of making sure the meat stays moist through out the cooking process for certain techniques.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 10:04AM
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Click on the link below to see the FDA page with information on Phytohaemagglutinin, or google it.

Any liquid (including water) will keep cooking meat moist, that's what the technique called "braising" is.

Better to keep silent and thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt.

Here is a link that might be useful: No need to tell the world, the world already knows

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 10:56AM
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I don't think that there is much of a safety difference between the proposed methods. Just don't get in a hurry and leave the hob on without being sure it is stabilized at a simmer before you head for the door. With the temperature increase slope detectors in the induction systems a fire should not result, but a ruined dinner might. A sprinkler system in the kitchen or the whole house is your best bet. Residential sprinkler systems are becoming more common and a good idea IMHO. So is a paid-up homeowners policy. The suggestion of putting the slow cooker on a nonflammable surface is a great one. Get one of those decorative glass things with little feet at the corners.

Simmering a stock for a long period is often essential, over night or all day. My kitchen strategies include heat rejection to the house since I live in a hot climate. The oven is not a rational choice for a lot of things, but I won't hesitate to use it if it is necessary.

Crock-pots are often too small so a stockpot is needed. A stockpot and an induction hob a good match for efficiency, but probably cannot match a crock-pot. Everyone has ignored a good kitchen tool. Though common residential models are no bigger than a crock-pot, pressure cookers can really do a nice job on a pork shoulder. A Dutch oven or pressure cooker can be used to brown stuff and then add liquid for slow cooking on the induction hob. There is then no separate pan to clean. Compared to the crock-pot, I like that.

There are some seriously toxic "beans" out there, but I've never seen them in a food store. Phytohemagglutinins are easily avoided by proper cooking. The non-toxic sugars that cause gastric distress are polymers, or oligomers are a different thing entirely. They are broken down by bacteria, but not humans. The problem is that bacteria break them down in human guts. The results are sometimes very explosive. Phytohemagglutinins are inactivated by relatively brief exposure to boiling temperature. Extraction of the sugar polymers takes longer and they stay in the cooking liquid.

The perception of meat as "moist" is dependent on a lot of things. There is a lot of confusion. Water retention is only one of those things. Fat content is another. Among the most important factors, if not the paramount one, in water retention is the final temperature of the meat. Bathed in liquid or not, the final temp is the thing. That is why re-heating a nice tender slice can be so tricky. It is best to heat the gravy and toss in the meat if you have gravy. No gravy? It might be best to put the meat in a bag and heat it that way, but I don't like heating food in plastic.

Collagen is a nice hydrophilic polymer that sticks to water pretty well and keeps it around. It also gives a nice mouth feel. That is why adding gelatin to some meat dishes can allow substitution of cuts of meat that might not normally come out so well braised or stewed.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 2:50PM
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Every grocery store in my area sells dry beans - all have them in plastic bags, and many have them in bulk too. It's easy enough to understand how the problem happens - people assemble ingredients to start a slow cooker "meal", figure the time will be long enough for dry beans to "cook", and so they get added too. They do cook but at too low a temperature to eliminate the toxin. The easy solution is to cook the beans separately, and properly, and then add them to the dish.

Intestinal gas (flatulence) from eating beans is of course a completely different topic from the toxin-caused distress I mentioned before.

Personally, I don't use gelatin as a sauce thickener. It does nothing for flavor (like most thickeners) but I don't like the consistency it gives. If you like that, you'll like corn starch too, which gives a similar funky consistency. I prefer arrowroot, or a roux, or in some things, instant mashed potato flakes (great for thickening soups too).

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 1:15PM
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Welcome to the cooking forum

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 1:40PM
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Meat, or anything else, immersed in a liquid, cannot
get any hotter than 212 degrees Farenheit, the boiling point of water.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 2:32PM
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While I could really comment on the Cooking Forum here, I'd just like to reply to the original post and say that I think the crock pot is the safest and most economical choice - and also placed on a non-combustible surface without any combustible materials above it for added safety.

Another option though during the winter months, if you're in a colder climate, is a cast iron dutch oven on top of a woodstove. We have newer woodstoves, one is specifically a cook-top, that are very safe (when used with common sense) to bank a fire in and let burn slowly all day - put a pork roast, tri-tip, or chicken in there and come back home to some of the best cookin ever!

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 9:56PM
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Thanks all! I asked my electrician when he was here to install the range hood and he said about the same as you all have (and I got the impression that there really isn't a known answer) -- that slow cookers are safe, but he also liked the wiring for the stove from a fire safety standpoint. So I will continue to use my Crock-Pots as I always have (maybe set on a cookie sheet or something), but I won't get too worried if I have to run out while something is cooking on the induction, if I can bring myself to do that after a lifetime of never leaving things unattended on a stove.

I can't comment much on the cooking discussions other than to say that I have small children, so half the time I am cooking in self-defense (ha) and happy to use whatever is most convenient, especially if it lets me cook from scratch. Ah, yosemitebill, wouldn't it be fun to use a dutch oven on a woodstove -- or an Aga? We don't have either (too hot). And ionized, you are quite right, I don't use my pressure cooker enough. I mostly use it for fast soups, but I should branch out.

All I can say about the bean discussion is that it's making me want pinto beans and cornbread for supper. [grin]

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 2:09PM
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"Meat, or anything else, immersed in a liquid, cannot
get any hotter than 212 degrees Farenheit, the boiling point of water."

Until it dries out.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2012 at 12:56PM
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I said: "immersed in liquid".
God, you are worse than Brickhead.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2012 at 3:08PM
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Just to be accurate, the statement about 212 degrees is true for meat or anything immersed in water only. Meat immersed in oil or drippings can become substantially hotter than 212 degrees Farenheit.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 8:52AM
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And to add to what kurto said, 212 F or 100 C is the boiling point of water, but adding solutes (such as salt) to the water raises the boiling point as well.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 1:20PM
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I have an induction cook plate (CookTek). From my experience, if you are going to leave something on it and walk away be sure to turn the temp to the lowest low. Mine will scorch easily if left to its own devices.

2ndly, some induction tops have a time limit, like 3 hours, where it will shut off if no buttons are touched. Check if yours has this feature.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 3:35PM
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