Slow Cooker Help, FAST
February 19, 2014 9:55 AM   Subscribe

I've got a 5 lb. pork shoulder in the slow cooker, making this recipe. I started it at 7:30 this morning and want to eat around 7:00 tonight. The recipe calls for 16 hours of cooking time on low. Can I speed things up by cooking it on high for a couple hours? If so, is it better to do that toward the beginning of the cooking time (it's already been in over two hours) or toward the end. Or should I just give up on serving it tonight and make other plans for dinner?
posted by ms_rasclark to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Not to worry, it'll cook just fine on low. 11.5 hours is PLENTY!

Some stuff just tastes better the longer it goes. But your meat will be done and it will fall apart with no hassle.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:56 AM on February 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think 11.5 hours on low will be fine. If you really want, I'd put it on high for about 2 hours first thing, then turn it down to low -- it's good to get it up to cooking temperature as fast as possible any way. But I bet it will be great no matter what you do.
posted by OrangeDisk at 9:58 AM on February 19, 2014

I think 11 hours of cooking time is fine, but you might want to cook the bacon a little bit first to improve the texture. Also, I'd add half a cup or so of brown sugar to the mix since it mentions potential for over-saltiness at the end of that blog post. Brown sugar + crockpot pork shoulder = yum yum yum.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:00 AM on February 19, 2014

When I make pulled pork I usually use about a 4 pound shoulder and it's done in about 9 hours in my small slow cooker on low. I agree with the above posters that you may find it's done when you're ready to eat.
posted by selfnoise at 10:01 AM on February 19, 2014

We cook 5-7 lb shoulders regularly. 8-10 hours on low is plenty of time.
posted by COD at 10:09 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just to add, I typically brown the shoulder in a pan beforehand but I doubt this would affect cooking time much.
posted by selfnoise at 10:10 AM on February 19, 2014

Thanks for the input, slow cooker meisters! What benefits are gained by cooking it longer as suggested in the original recipe? And would those benefits be gained by giving it a higher blast of heat in the middle of the cooking time, or could that potentially have negative effects? (Tougher, drier meat perhaps?)
posted by rsclark at 10:16 AM on February 19, 2014

Oops, accidentally commented above from my husband's account.
posted by ms_rasclark at 10:24 AM on February 19, 2014

My understanding of slow cookers is that low and high eventually reach the same temperature, high just gets there faster than low. I'm not sure what putting it on low in the middle of cooking it would do.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:25 AM on February 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

What benefits are gained by cooking it longer as suggested in the original recipe?

I suspect that the recipe is meant to go before bedtime the night before, so that you don't have to fool with it in the AM. Basically, it CAN be in the crock pot that long, but it doesn't need to be.

Perhaps it invites marriage of flavors. But I think that after 11.5 hours that the benefits to flavor beyond that would be of the diminishing returns variety.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:26 AM on February 19, 2014

There is a comment from a cooker who adjusted cooking temp and times successfully in the comments on that recipe, if it helps:

Made a 8lb butt using this recipe, subbing seasoned salt and kosher salt mix in for the rub. Let it go for around 7hrs on high (until it hit 185f internal), then an additional 1-2hrs on low. It turned out great, felt like I was cheating on my smoker though!
posted by DarlingBri at 10:38 AM on February 19, 2014

PS: Can you PLEASE report back on if this is fabulous? Because I am now giving serious consideration to making pulled pork sandwiches with this recipe for a family party on Friday!
posted by DarlingBri at 10:50 AM on February 19, 2014

Long, slow cooking melts the connective tissues, making tough, tasty, meat into tender, tasty, meat. If you know you'll have less time, start it on high to get it up to temp faster. Otherwise, fast cooking will not generally be an improvement.
posted by theora55 at 10:53 AM on February 19, 2014

DarlingBri, based on the comments from the recipe and how good her other recipes are, it will be. I do have the Hawaiian salt it calls for, and inspired by oceanjesse's suggestion, I sprinkled on a bit of coconut sugar. I'm also going with the couple hour blast on high and will then turn it down to low for the remainder of the time I have available. The smell is divine. If I could figure out a way to give you all a taste, I would! I'll let you know how it turns out.
posted by ms_rasclark at 10:59 AM on February 19, 2014

I have made this recipe, subbing out half the Hawaiian salt for Salish smoked salt in absence of liquid smoke. I used a 7 lb pork shoulder that was still frozen solid in the middle, I cooked it in the oven for 9 hours at 250 degrees, and it was falling-apart to the point where I could serve it with a wooden spoon and *ridiculously* delicious. I used one tablespoon each of the two different salts, in recognition of how much larger my piece of meat was. I would not have believed that a dish with just meat and salt in it could be so amazingly good. I think 11.5 hours will be fine.
posted by KathrynT at 11:35 AM on February 19, 2014

something that will help on the cooking time is to pull apart the shoulder as soon as you can, it will let the heat get into the interior much quicker. By this I mean about every hour so take a couple of forks and try to pull it apart a little. some parts will peel right off, especially away from bones and between the muscles. Don't force or rip the meat apart, just gently pull apart like you are shredding it and don't try to do the whole thing, just a little bit at a time.

I have yet to have to cook one longer than about 10 hours myself. And lower heat is always better. You get better gelatin formation and the meat doesn't dry out as much.
posted by bartonlong at 12:37 PM on February 19, 2014

something else that will help on the cooking time is just cutting the roast in half and leaving both halves in the slow cooker. i believe this is preferable to cooking it on high.
posted by bruce at 12:55 PM on February 19, 2014

11 1/2 hours on low is probably fine. In general, I've found that slow cooker recipes don't really need a specific amount of time, and "prepare it before you go to work and it will be ready to eat when you get home" is often sufficient (I have a full time job, and a 2 1/2 hour round-trip commute, so that means 10 1/2 hours). I think they just put a time in because either they have to put something, or "16 hours" takes up less space than "prep it in the morning and it will be ready by dinnertime."
posted by tckma at 1:00 PM on February 19, 2014

I came in to say what rabbitrabbit said. I also heard recently that low and high reach the same temp -- but high reaches it more quickly.
posted by vitabellosi at 1:24 PM on February 19, 2014

I also heard recently that low and high reach the same temp -- but high reaches it more quickly.

Yeah, according to Cook's Illustrated's slow cooker test (subscription required for that link to work, I think), this is pretty much true:
[M]ost slow cookers hit roughly the same maximums (within 5 degrees)...[t]he difference was the time they took to get there. On high, most slow cookers heated up in two to three hours; on low, they took five to seven hours. Frankly, we think it would be much clearer if the buttons were labeled “fast” and “slow.”
posted by bcwinters at 2:56 PM on February 19, 2014

Okay, the verdict, since you asked...the pork was incredible. The bacon provided the smokiness, the garlic and salt were perfect. I think cooking it the perscribed 16 hours would have made it too dry, but that's probably because of the heat blast I did in the middle of the cooking time. Next time, and there will be a next time, I will start it the night before and cook it on low for the whole 16 hours. I served it on top of this cole slaw recipe, then topped it all with chopped avocado. Just make it.
posted by ms_rasclark at 9:58 PM on February 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've made that recipe many times, and have had the best luck when I've started it the night before.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:15 AM on February 21, 2014

In case you're just checking back to see how it came out, I'll add that I used it again last night in a saute with onions, zucchini, sweet potato, mushrooms, and spinach. 15 minute dinner. It was SO incredibly delicious I heated up the leftovers this morning for breakfast. 1 minute breakfast. And there's STILL pork some left for another meal. Lucky me.
posted by ms_rasclark at 12:28 PM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

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