Stew is one of the most common things cooked in the slow cooker, and you might think about whether there is an optimum length of time to cook it. When you’re out most of the day working, how long can you leave stew in the cooker?
Cooking a slow cooker stew on the low setting takes 6-12 hours, or it can be done in 4-6 hours on high. Many cuts of stewing meat get better when cooked longer at a lower temperature.
The exact timings for cooking stew in a slow cooker will also depend on the ingredients used.
We all know that a good casserole can take several hours to simmer into the perfect combination of flavors. But what happens if it’s cooked too long? If you’re worried about overcooking your stew, I’ve found the best settings to ensure your food comes out perfectly.
If you follow recipes for slow cooker stews, you’ll likely notice that most call for 6-8 hours of cooking time. However, it is possible to overcook the stew if you leave your cooker settings too high for too long.
How Long Can You Leave Stew In Slow Cooker?
The general rule is that lower temperatures allow longer cooking times, while the hotter settings only need a few hours. A high-heat setting recipe may be done in four hours, while a low-heat setting recipe could take up to twelve hours.
Cooking time will also depend on what you’re making. Vegetables cook faster than meats, so a stew or casserole that is heavy on meat will usually have a longer cook time.
Another aspect to consider is the type of slow cooker you use. The numbers I give here will be general guidelines; it’s best to check the manual for your slow cooker for more specific instructions.
While it’s best to follow a recipe for accuracy, I often throw what’s left in the fridge into the slow cooker. For meals like this, I use these standard guidelines for how long stew should be in the slow cooker:
- High setting – 4-6 hours
- Low setting – 8-12 hours
Do not use your slow cooker’s ‘warm’ setting for cooking—it’s meant to keep already-cooked food warm. This temperature doesn’t get high enough, and food will spoil. If you must leave your casserole on the warm setting, eat it within 2-4 hours.
One thing to note is that cooking at high altitudes can increase your cooking time. It’s suggested to add an extra 1/4 of cooking time when making simmered foods like stew.
Can You Overcook Slow Cooker Stew?
You can overcook food even on a lower setting—it will take longer, though.
Some recipes call for long cook times, such as certain slow-cook dishes with meat, usually tough pork or beef. However, several all-day slow cooker recipes take anywhere from nine to twelve hours, making them ideal for people at work all day.
Most modern slow cookers have automatic shut-off times—usually 20-24 hours—so even if you somehow forget you were cooking something, it’s unlikely that the food will burn down and start a fire.
If you know you will be out and need food that will cook over the day, choose one of these recipes instead of one that requires a shorter cook time.
You’ll also want to ensure you use meat meant for stewing. These are normally tougher cuts that taste best when they have a long cook time that will break down the tendons and connective tissue.
Use cuts like chuck roast, lamb shanks, pork shoulders, and dark meats from poultry. These cuts need to simmer gently for a long time to break down the collagen and fat. Save the leaner, more expensive cuts for faster meals.
If you overcook your stew, you will end up with vegetables cooked down to mush and meat that has gone from soft and tender to dry and stringy. None of that sounds appetizing!
Do You Put the Slow Cooker On Low Or High For Stew?
While I always recommend following the instructions in a recipe to get the most succulent results, it’s usually better to cook a stew at low for a longer period.
Some cuts of meat or veggie-only stews will only need to cook for around four hours on high, but the long slow cooking time gives you stew meat that melts in your mouth.
Start your cooker on high if necessary to heat the food, then switch to low. By keeping the setting low, you can ensure you don’t cook your meat at too high a temperature for too long.
There are some slow cooker models that you can set to switch from high to low automatically. Look for models with auto-setting if you think this feature would be useful.
It should still be fine if you have to cook a stew on high for a shorter time. Sadly, you won’t get the same kind of fall-apart, meltingly soft meat you would if you cooked your stew on low for longer.
Does Stew Get Better The Longer You Cook It?
In most cases, the answer to this is yes, though it will depend on the ingredients of your stew. Some things take longer to cook to a delicious softness, like very tough cuts of beef and pork, and raw legumes like beans.
On the other hand, delicate, softer vegetables like squash will overcook.
Most of the problems with stew come from the dish not being cooked long enough, leaving you with root vegetables that are still hard, undercooked beans, and meat that is still tough.
If you cook your meat too long, however, it moves past where it has cooked the gelatin so that the meat is moist and tender. Instead, the broken-down connective tissue dissolves from the meat, leaving you with dry, stringy meat that mashes into little pieces.
The sweet spot for cooking stews is to have the beef be tender enough to fall from the bone, feel soft and juicy, and melt in the mouth. But you don’t want to cook until it is a pulpy inedible mash.
How Long Does It Take For Stew To Thicken In Crockpot?
Because a slow cooker doesn’t allow liquid to evaporate, sometimes your stew won’t thicken completely even though it’s cooked for hours. The stew will thicken as starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots, break down and dissolve.
Most slow cooker recipes have calculated for the lack of evaporation, but if you are converting a regular stove top recipe for the slow cooker, you may have to make some changes.
You could reduce the amount of liquid called for at the start, or you can add a thickening agent like a starch at the final part of the cooking process. If you add a thickener like cornstarch slurry, allow an extra 30 minutes of cooking time once added, and keep stirring to ensure it’s evenly spread.
When it comes to how long you can leave a slow cooker stew, you can cook on high for 4-6 hours or low for 8-12 hours. Generally, the food will cook in half the time on the slow cooker high setting, but it is best to follow your given recipe.
Most stew meats are cheaper, tougher cuts that benefit from a long, slow cook time to become tender and succulent.
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