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How do you cool down stews?

I usually make a large pot of stew so that it lasts a few days. Before putting the finished stew into the fridge, however, I usually wait a few hours for it to cool down to a temperature that is low enough that it won't wreck havoc with the fridge (I'm more concerned about the other items in the fridge than overworking the compressor). Given the problems with leaving food at room temp, what are some ways to speed up the cooling down period?

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  1. The only thing that comes to mind is dividing it up into smaller containers which will cool to room temp more quickly than one humongous pot.

    1. You can fill the sink with ice water and set the pot in it, being careful to keep the water level below the lid. Stir occasionally. Soon the stew and the pot will be cool enough to put into the refrigerator.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Joebob

        That's what I do and what I was going to suggest..I use if for de-greasing, as well. An engineer friend has improved on it but making a copper pipe jacket for his stew pot and he runs water through it--stir the ingredients regularly using wither methid otherwise the outer edge will be cooled but ti will take years before the heat transfers from the center.

        1. re: Joebob

          Should you worry about thermal shock in either ceramic or cast iron pots?

          1. re: Joebob

            I set my pot of stew into the sink with ice water today and it worked great. Thanks for the tip!

            1. re: Joebob

              This is one of the few things that I use my second smaller bowl for in my double bowl sink

            2. I have this nice wide pasta bowl, and that's exactly what I do. Cool water with ice.

              1. If the stew is at the boiling point and covered so that the entire interior of the covered pot is that hot, it will be sterile, and cooling at room temperature for a few hours will be quite safe. Dividing into smaller containers to cool it faster is also good. Leaving it out overnight is not good.

                1 Reply
                1. re: therealdoctorlew

                  I always leave it to cool for a few hours just on the stove with the heat off. Haven't been poisoned yet!

                2. The two rules I learned long ago in culinary school were to

                  break the mass (divide into smaller containers), and

                  use an ice bath.

                  1. More often than not, there are too many dishes in my sink to allow for the cold-water bath method of cooling. So I filled a Rubbermaid container with water, covered, and froze it. When I need to cool a pot of something I put the frozen container right in the middle. Later, with the outside washed off, it goes back into the freezer for the next time.

                    Setting the pot on a metal cooling rack also helps, since the heat dissipates through the wire mesh with the air circulating on all sides.

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: greygarious

                      That sounds like a great idea. I may try that next time.

                      1. re: parabolicaer

                        That's brilliant! I'll definately do that in the summer. In the winter, since I live in Boston, I just use my front porch.

                      2. re: greygarious

                        I neglected to mention that I also dip my frozen container into the layer of fat atop cooling stock and stew to congeal and remove it.

                        1. re: greygarious

                          This is along what Alton Brown recommends, too, only w/ water bottles. He first divides it into smaller pots.

                          1. re: chowser

                            Very similar to what we do in professional kitchens. Plastic tubes that get filled with water and frozen. This is a brilliant idea for the home cook. In most cases there is no need to divide into smaller containers first. That gets impractical at home very quick.

                            1. re: Fritter

                              Two thoughts.

                              First, I often divide into smaller containers, usually quart size, for direct freezing after cooled.

                              Second, i agree with greygarious and Friter with the frozen tube method. I do not know why, but the commercial vessel designed specifically for this cooling method is crazy expensive.....somewhere between $50-100 USD depending on size. Instead, I use a old water or soda bottle filled with water, kept frozen for future use in my freezer. From my recollection, this idea was sent in to Cook's Illustrated by a reader under useful tips and hints.

                              * I also remember suggesting this idea here on chowhound in the past.....which created a whole new dispute about chemicals being released from the bottles melting in the hot liquids. Use this idea at your own risk......:-)

                              1. re: fourunder

                                That's why I use a Rubbermaid container - at least it's supposed to be food-safe enough for both cold food and microwave heating.

                                1. re: fourunder

                                  The Rapi-Cool ice paddles seem a bit large for even a large stockpot by home standards (say up to 20 quarts), not to mention a typical home freezer. They have fins for even more rapid cooling, and they probably have to be heavier to be durable for commercial use and to hold as much frozen water as they do.

                                  I keep a 1 quart bottle of saltwater in the freezer for this purpose.

                                  1. re: David A. Goldfarb

                                    Agree with David. The Rapi-cool product is just not for home use. They are very large unless you plan on cooling 5 gallon buckets daily and running them through commercial dish machines. As far as releasing chemicals from a plastic bottle I suppose it's possible but then we should probably not breath the air because it's polluted. Some of the Chicken Little stuff gets a bit carried away IMO.

                            2. re: greygarious

                              greygarious, aren't you clever?!! great idea!

                            3. I will sometimes use a ice chest with ice in the bottom. Does it quickly. I also use same method of cooling off ribs when I cook them 80% done the day before I need them. Cool off quick and then refrigerate. Makes for a quick cook the next day.

                              1. Since stews and soups are something that I usually make in the winter... The snow bank at my side door with -ÂșC temps cools it down fast.

                                In milder weather I use an ice bath in the sink.


                                1. baking pan+water = evaporation+ heatsinking. even a slightly wet cookie sheet will do.

                                  1. I use the ice bath method for smaller quantities, like six quarts or less. For larger quantities, usually of things like stock, I'll use an ice bath plus I'll stir it with a frozen bottle of salt water. I can usually get about 12 quarts of hot liquid down to a safe temperature in 20-30 minutes this way.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: David A. Goldfarb

                                      Why do you use salt water? Salt lowers the freezing temp of the water, but why does that make a difference in this application, if it's frozen anyway? In fact it could be a drawback if you add enough salt that it doesn't freeze at all, since most of the heat absorption takes place during the phase change from solid to liquid anyway. Or am I missing something? Not trying to be a smartass, just curious.

                                      1. re: Bat Guano

                                        It freezes, and lowering the freezing point makes it colder, so I figure it should cool the hot liquid faster and more effectively without taking up as much freezer space as, say, two bottles of ice. If you want to freeze something rapidly, as when making ice cream or chilling beer, adding salt to the ice speeds up the process, so I figure that using saltwater probably helps, and it certainly doesn't hurt, since it doesn't prevent the water in the bottle from freezing.

                                        1. re: David A. Goldfarb

                                          No, it won't be colder just because it has a lower freezing point; it'll be at whatever temperature your freezer is set to. I don't think it'll make a difference in how much heat it can absorb per unit of water/salt water. The reason salt added to ice in the ice cream freezer speeds the process is because it melts the ice faster, and creates colder salt water to chill the custard... from my probably primitive understanding of thermodynamics...bottom line, I don't see how it makes a difference. But I could be wrong.