Wondering about slow cooker temperatures? This article will walk you through everything you need to know about cooking food with your slow cooker.
A slow cooker is a versatile and convenient kitchen appliance. It’s great for busy home cooks who don’t have hours to stand over the stove top. But there is a learning curve to using a slow cooker.
You may be wondering, what’s the best temperature to use for slow cooking? What’s the recommended time for cooking food? How long can you keep your food in the crock pot?
In this article, I’ve answered those questions and more. Find out the difference between slow cooker settings, the best temperature at which to cook food, how long to cook food, and general tips for using your slow cooker.
You’ll be ready to slow-cook your next meal in no time!
Ready to get started? Read on to learn more.
How Do Slow Cookers Work?
Slow cookers cook food gradually while maintaining a low, consistent temperature. They essentially work as an electric Dutch oven.
When you plug in a crock pot, the electric base produces heat that rises up the sides of the pot. As the heat rises, it slowly cooks food.
When the temperature inside reaches a boiling point, it creates steam. The lid traps the steam, which turns into condensation that helps baste the food. Adding liquid to the pot helps add moisture, as well.
Because the heating element never comes into direct contact with the cooking pot, you get more even results. And since the temperature is low and consistent, the liquid doesn’t evaporate or concentrate.
The result? Delicious, evenly-cooked, tender food.
Most slow cookers have three settings– high, low, and warm. The low and high settings are specifically designed for cooking. The keep warm setting is strictly for keeping food warm and preventing bacteria growth. Hot foods should be kept at 140°F (60°C) or higher, according to the FDA.
Most slow cookers do not offer temperature control. When you choose a heat setting, you’re choosing how long it takes for the crock pot to reach the preset final temperature.
Cooking food on the high setting takes less time to reach the final temperature than cooking food on the low setting. Makes sense, right?
But what is the final temperature of slow cookers? That depends on the brand, model, and amount of food inside the pot.
The best way to find out your slow cooker’s preset final temperature is to check the user manual or product description.
For example, the slow cooker brand, Crock Pot, has a final temperature of 209°F (98°C). It takes 3-4 hours on high to bring the water to a simmer point of 209°F, while it takes 7-8 hours on a low temperature setting.
Is a Slow Cooker Different from a Crock Pot?
There is no difference between a slow cooker and a crockpot. The terms are used interchangeably.
The Crock Pot brand was the original company to make slow cookers with a heavy ceramic insert. So some people might use the term “crockpot” to refer to a heavy ceramic pot.
Nowadays, however, you can find cook pots in a variety of materials, including stainless steel and aluminum.
Is a Slow Cooker Different from a Pressure Cooker?
Yes. Pressure cookers cook food more quickly using high heat, steam, and pressure. Some multi-cookers, like the Instant Pot, have a separate pressure cooker and slow cooker function.
Are Slow Cookers Safe to Use?
The short answer is yes. When used properly, slow cookers are safe to use.
Crock pots are designed to cook food slowly at low temperatures that are high enough to destroy bacteria. The USDA recommends cooking on the high setting for the first hour, if possible, and then switching to whatever setting your recipe recommends.
However, you can safely cook on the low setting for the entire cooking time.
What Are Some Tips for Slow Cooker Food Safety?
According to the USDA, there are several tips you can follow to maintain proper food safety when using a slow cooker:
- Ensure that your slow cooker and cooking utensils are clean.
- Keep perishable food refrigerated until adding them to the crock pot. Bacteria multiply rapidly at room temperature.
- Always defrost meat or poultry before putting it in the slow cooker. Defrosting food will prevent harmful bacteria growth and will ensure your meal is evenly cooked.
- Divide larger cuts of meat into smaller pieces before adding them to the slow cooker. Make sure to only fill your slow cooker half to two-thirds full.
- If there is a power outage while your crock pot is slow cooking and you are not at home, throw away the food. Even if it looks cooked, food could contain harmful bacteria.
If you are at home, finish cooking the food by alternate means (outdoor grill, gas stove, etc.). Cooked food can sit at room temperature for up to 2 hours. After that, it should be thrown away.
What Temperature is Low Heat on a Slow Cooker?
Most slow cookers have a low temperature setting of 190-200°F (88-93°C). Most slow cooker recipes will have a cook time of 7-8 hours to reach a simmer or boiling point.
Many slow cookers will have a keep-warm setting that should run between 145°-165°F (63°-74°C). You can safely keep your food warm for up to 2 hours. After that, you’ll need to refrigerate it or toss it.
What Temperature is High Heat on a Slow Cooker?
Most slow cookers have a high temperature setting at 300°F (150°C). Many recipes call for at least 3-4 hours on a high temperature setting to reach a simmer point.
Can I Change Between Low and High Settings?
Yes, you can slow-cook food on a low or high setting. Use the conversion chart below to help you determine the appropriate cooking time.
Generally, 1 hour on high equals approximately 2 hours on a low setting.
So for instance, if you had a recipe that called for 4 hours on high, you could change the heat setting to low and cook the food for 8 hours. Alternatively, if your recipe calls for a cook time of 7 hours on low, you could cook the food on high for 3 hours.
Is It Better to Slow Cook on Low or High?
You might think the difference between low and high settings is temperature, but it actually has more to do with the cooking time.
A slow cooker will maintain a consistent temperature until the interior reaches a simmer point. This can take a minimum of 3-4 hours on high temperature settings or 7-8 hours on low temperature settings.
It’s best to slow cook at the temperature setting that has the most convenient cook time. It depends on your schedule, the recipe, and your cooking habits.
For instance, if you leave your home during the day, it’s better to cook unattended food on a low setting. “Low and slow” is better for all-day cooking. It brings out maximum flavor and adds more moisture to the food.
However, if your slow cooker automatically switches to a keep-warm setting after the cooking process is complete, you might prefer to slow cook on a high setting.
The good news is that both low and high settings can meet the minimum food-safe temperature to kill most bacteria and germs in food.
Slow cookers will preserve most of the nutrients and vitamins, as well. Although nutrient loss is more prevalent in vegetables than other foods.
How Do I Convert My Favorite Recipe to the Crock Pot?
It’s fairly simple to convert a recipe from a traditional oven to a crock pot. Use the chart below to convert the cooking time.
|Conventional Oven Cooking Time (350°F/180°C)
|Slow Cooker Low Setting (200°F/93°C)
|Slow Cooker High Setting (300°F/150°C)
Remember that vegetables take longer to cook, so add those to the crockpot first before adding the other ingredients in the recipe.
How To Test Your Slow Cooker Temperature
As with any electrical appliance, it’s possible for a slow cooker to lose efficiency or become uncalibrated. If you’re worried about your slow cooker’s temperature accuracy, you can test it by following these simple steps:
- Gather your supplies. All you need is water, your slow cooker, and a thermometer.
- Fill your slow cooker between one-half to three-fourths full of water.
- Set the slow cooker to low and cook for 8 hours.
- Measure the water temperature quickly with the thermometer.
- Repeat the procedure. This time, set the slow cooker to high and heat for 4 hours.
Whether you test on the low or high setting, the water temperature should read at least 185°F (85°C).
If the water temperature is higher than that, it’s not a huge deal. You might have to adjust the cook time of certain recipes to avoid drying out the food. This is especially true with foods like chicken breast or dry beans.
If the water temperature is less than 185°F however, I would strongly consider tossing the appliance.
It’s a good idea to test your crockpot annually to make sure the appliance is functioning properly. It’s worth the small amount of time and effort to ensure slow cooker safety.
What Factors Can Affect the Slow Cooker Temperature?
Many factors can affect the slow cooker temperature. Here are some of the most common:
- If the slow cooker fill level is low, the food will heat faster. Be sure not to overfill your slow cooker. Keep it at half to two-thirds full.
- The location of the heating element plays a role in the slow cooker temperature. If the slow cooker has built-in heating elements in the sides, it will cook food more quickly.
- The type of food will influence the temperature, as well. The amount of water, the fat content, and any connective tissue will factor in.
- Slow cookers come with a glass lid. This lid is responsible for keeping in heat and moisture. The more often you open the lid, the more heat will escape. If you want food to cook properly, avoid opening the lid.
- If there’s a power outage, obviously the internal temperature of the slow cooker will fall rapidly. Throw out any uncooked food that has been unattended during a power outage.
What Meat Cuts Are Suitable for Slow Cooking?
Generally, meat of any type is suited for slow cooking. But leaner meat such as prime beef, lamb, fillet, and pork are better for the stove, grill, or oven.
Tougher cuts of meat or anything with plenty of connective tissue will perform better in a slow cooker. Cuts like short loin, sirloin, chuck steak, brisket, round, lamb shanks, and chicken thighs.
The good news? That tougher meat is often less expensive, allowing you to save money while preparing delicious meals.
So how does a slow cooker work its magic? Here’s how it works:
When meat is cooked at a low temperature, a process called protein coagulation occurs. This is when the protein molecules break up and lose moisture. Protein coagulation happens above 140°F (60°C).
The more water proteins lose, the dryer and harder a piece of meat becomes. This is why cooking at a higher temperature can dry out certain types of meat. A slow cooker maintains the perfect temperature for preventing dried-out meat.
At around 160°F (70°C), the collagen turns into gelatin. Collagen is the main protein of connective tissue. Furthermore, lost moisture is trapped by the lid and recirculated back into the meat. So that tough, chewy cut becomes tender and juicy.
If you want to eat like a king on a pauper’s budget, a slow cooker is the way to go! Grab that “low-quality” cut of meat and let the slow cooker do the rest.
What’s the Minimum Internal Temperature for Food Safety?
Slow cooker safety should be the first priority. Use the chart below to find the minimum food-safe temperatures for a variety of foods. To learn more, visit Food Safety, an H.H.S. resource.
|Internal Temperature (F°)
|Beef, bison, veal, lamb
|145° (Rest time: 3 minutes)
|Chicken, turkey, & other poultry
|145° (Rest time: 3 minutes)
|Pork chops, pork roast
|145° (Rest time: 3 minutes)
|Ground pork, pork sausage
|Rabbit or venison
|145° or cook until flesh is no longer translucent and separates easily with a fork
|Shrimp, lobster, scallops
|Cook until flesh is pearly white and opaque
|Clams, oysters, mussels
|Cook until the shell opens during the cooking process
I recommend investing in a food thermometer to verify that the food has reached a safe temperature. If you want the best results, you might want to get an instant-read thermometer, like this one.
Where Can I Find Slow Cooker Recipes?
Slow cooker recipes are everywhere. There are so many crockpot recipes, it can be downright overwhelming! If you need some help deciding what to cook with your slow cooker, never fear. Here are a few of my favorite recipes to get you started:
Slow Cooker Pot Roast– Hot, juicy, tender pot roast is the perfect food for a family dinner. This was a Sunday staple in my house growing up.
This recipe requires little prep and uses easy-to-find ingredients. With instructions for cooking on a low or high setting, you’ll be able to enjoy pot roast on your schedule.
Slow Cooker Chili– Warm, hearty chili is the quintessential comfort food. This recipe calls for three kinds of beans, ground beef, and plenty of broth and spices for protein-packed goodness.
This chili is high on flavor and low on prep, with options for hot-and-spicy, keto, or vegetarian variations.
Crock Pot Chicken and Rice– This recipe is designed for busy home cooks. Using chicken breast, rice, canned soup, spices, broth, and cheese, this is sure to be a kid-friendly dinner option. The rice is nice and fluffy, while the chicken adds protein to complete the meal.
Slow Cooker Temperature: Wrap-Up
When used properly, slow cookers are safe to use. They’re great for preparing healthy recipes while saving time and energy. Basically, slow cooking is a win-win. You’ll be ready the next time you want to cook a delicious meal without having to spend hours in the kitchen.