Slow-cooker-on-high

Slow cookers are fantastic cooking appliances that allow you to make mouthwatering meals without babysitting your food. You can even leave them on while you’re away at work. But how long can you leave a slow cooker on high?

While they are nearly unmatched regarding convenience, some people are reluctant to leave them on for too long. Especially on its highest setting. This is an understandable concern that can be reduced by knowing how long it is safe to leave it on. Trying to avoid a risk to the machine and your home. 

How long you can safely leave a slow cooker on high will vary. Typically, it is not recommended to leave it on high for more than 4-6 hours. Thankfully, most slow cookers will only stay on high for the duration of the cook time you selected. Then, they’ll automatically be switching to a “warm” setting. 

Slow-cooker-black on high

Let’s see why you wouldn’t want to leave your slow cooker unattended for too long. And how long you can safely leave it on its lower cook settings, such as low and warm. 

Why You Shouldn’t Leave Your Slow Cooker On High For Over 6 Hours

Picture this: you’ve found the perfect recipe for dinner tonight that you can toss together in minutes that morning and reward yourself with after a long day at work. However, you realize that the recipe recommends you cook this meal on high in a slow cooker

Normally this wouldn’t be a problem. But you know you’ll be gone for anywhere from 8 to 10 hours. Or even as much as 12!. Now, you’re wondering whether it is wise to leave your trusty slow cooker on the highest setting that entire time. Or if you should rethink your dinner plans. The answer, in our opinion, would be to alter your plans, and here’s why.

Leaving your slow cooker on high for more than six hours at a time isn’t ideal because it will:

  • Reduce food quality
  • Increase risk of component damage
  • Increase risk of short-circuiting and fire hazards

Below, we’ve delved into each of these reasons with more detail. Let’s fully look into why you might want to reconsider using your slow cooker’s highest setting for extended periods. Even while you’re home.

Reduces Food Quality

One of the reasons why slow cookers yield amazing results is because they gradually cook your food over extended periods of time. This helps to ensure that your food is cooked evenly all the way through and allows the flavors to meld together beautifully in an airtight, moist cooking environment.

Oftentimes, the longer you cook food items, especially meats, in this appliance, the better the results. But this is not always the case with every slow cooker temperature setting.

Cooking foods for extended periods (ex. over 6-8 hours), increases the chances of it drying out. Or, in extreme cases, burning.

Burnt-Pork-Belly

While slow cookers usually contain ample amounts of moisture to start, the longer they are left on, the more likely that moisture will evaporate. Leaving you with tough and/or dried out food. 

Once that moisture is gone, the risk of burning your food increases substantially.

And since most “high” temperature settings on slow cookers is about 300 degrees Fahrenheit, this process occurs much faster than lower settings. 

Increases Risk of Component Damage

Slow cookers are generally tough kitchen appliances that are specially designed to operate for several hours every day. That being said, the longer they are left on (and the more frequently), the more strain you’re placing on its internal components. 

Another factor that will expedite your slow cooker’s wear and tear is running it at its highest temperature settings. This is because they are more demanding for your appliance to reach and maintain.

Leaving your slow cooker on high for 10 hours once or twice probably won’t ruin it. But it will certainly take a toll and shorten its overall longevity. Versus if you opted for a lower temperature setting instead.

Increases Risk of Short-Circuiting and Fire Hazards

Another reason to avoid leaving your slow cooker unattended on high for prolonged periods is the potential fire hazard it poses. 

As with any cooking appliance that uses electricity, there’s always a risk of short-circuiting if it’s not used properly. While this is more likely to occur if you’re using a lower-quality slow cooker or one that’s past its prime, it can still happen with newer models too. 

If the electrical current running through your slow cooker isn’t able to flow properly because of a loose wire connection or another issue, it could cause a spark and potentially start a fire.

This relates to our previous point that running your slow cooker on high temperatures is very demanding. And it increases the risk of component damage that would result in short-circuiting and a potential fire.

microwave-can-catch-fire

Not only would this mean that your slow cooker is most likely ruined. But the fire it starts would pose a severe safety risk to your home and any pets or people inside.

The situation is even more dire if you’ve left this appliance on while you were away from home. 

Although the overall chances of this occurring are relatively small, they grow even smaller when you decide to refrain from using the high setting and/or ensure your slow cooker is never left on longer than absolutely necessary. 

How Long Can a Slow Cooker Be Left on Low and Warm Settings?

After reading some of the risks listed above, you might be wary to use the high setting on your slow cooker at all. We’ll admit that, while this setting has its uses for quickly warming up food or cooking a meal in under four hours, it is often best for the sake of safety, food quality, and appliance longevity to use it as little as possible. 

So, how long can you safely use the slow cooker on its lower settings then? Again, this answer will vary by machine, but generally, it is safe to leave your slow cooker on low or warm for up to 8-12 hours

You can undeniably leave your slow cooker on its lower settings for longer than its highest. Some people will even leave their slow cookers on low overnight while they sleep if it suits their work schedule or lifestyle best (of course, this should be done cautiously). 

Therefore, if you know you are about to leave your slow cooker unattended for an extended period, or you are actually uncertain of how long you will be away, it is best to opt for the lowest setting possible just to be safe. 

Final Thoughts

Slow cookers are exceptionally convenient cooking appliances, but you never want this convenience to outweigh food quality and general safety. If you have a recipe that requires the high setting, we recommend only using it when you are around to supervise your slow cooker and prevent accidents or when you are certain you will only be away for 3-5 hours.

Otherwise, we recommend that you double to high cook time and opt for a lower temperature setting instead. This might even yield superior results and will usually be the safer choice all around.

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