Slow cookers are fantastic cooking appliances that allow you to make mouth-watering meals without babysitting your food. You can even leave them on while you’re away at work. While they are super convenient, some people are reluctant to leave their slow cooker on for too long. Especially on its highest setting.
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 before automatically switching to a “warm” setting.
So why you wouldn’t want to leave your slow cooker on higher for more than six hours? How long you can safely leave it slow cooking 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 slow cooker recipe for dinner tonight: pot roast. You can toss those ingredients 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 setting.
Normally this wouldn’t be a problem. But you know you’ll be gone for anywhere from eight to ten or even as much as twelve hours today. Now, you’re asking yourself whether it is wise to leave your trusty crock pot 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, I’ve delved into each of these reasons with more detail. 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 culinary results is due to long cooking time. This helps to ensure that your food is cooked evenly all the way through. It allows the flavors to meld together beautifully in an airtight, moist cooking environment.
Oftentimes, the longer you cook food items, especially meats, 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. While they usually contain moisture to start, the longer they are left on, the more likely that moisture will evaporate. This leaves you with tough and/or dried out food.
It is very important not to open the lid. Once the 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 this is done, 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 temperature danger zone because they are more demanding 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 compelling 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 there are problems with the wiring or other issues, it could lead to an electrical spark and potentially start a fire.
Not only would this damage your slow cooker, but it would also be a dangerous situation for your home and the people or pets inside, especially if the appliance is left unattended.
While the chances of this happening are relatively low, they become even lower if you avoid using the high setting for long. Making sure to only leave it on for the necessary amount of time.
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.
I’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 theirs 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 it unattended for an extended period, or you are actually uncertain of how long you will be away, it is best to opt for the low setting just to be safe.
What Temp is slow cooker on high?
The temperature of the “high” setting on a slow cooker typically ranges from around 280°F to 300°F (138°C to 149°C). However, it’s important to note that the exact temperature can vary between different slow cooker models and brands.
Is 2 hours on high the same as 4 on low?
In general, slow cookers are designed to cook food at lower temperatures over a longer period of time, which helps to tenderize meats and develop flavors.
However, it’s important to note that the exact temperature settings can vary between different slow cookers. The “low” setting typically ranges from around 190°F to 210°F (88°C to 99°C), while the “high” setting usually ranges from around 280°F to 300°F (138°C to 149°C).
*These temperatures can also vary based on the specific model and brand of slow cooker*
2 hours on high heat in a slow cooker will generally produce similar results to 4 hours on low heat. The higher temperature on the “high” setting helps to accelerate the cooking process, so cooking for a shorter time on high heat can often achieve similar results to a longer cooking time on low heat.
Here’s a comparison table showing approximate cooking times for common slow cooker settings:
|Cooking Time||Low Setting||High Setting|
|2 hours||4 hours||2 hours|
|4 hours||8 hours||4 hours|
|6 hours||12 hours||6 hours|
|8 hours||16 hours||8 hours|
|10 hours||20 hours||10 hours|
|12 hours||24 hours||12 hours|
Please note that these times are approximate and can vary based on factors such as the specific slow cooker model, the size and type of ingredients, and the desired level of tenderness.
Can I cook a slow cooker on low instead of high?
Doubling the time is a general guideline that can be used as a starting point when converting a recipe from high to low heat. However, it’s important to note that it’s not a hard and fast rule. The cooking time can vary based on the specific recipe, ingredients, and personal preferences.
When adapting a recipe from high to low heat in a slow cooker, here are some steps you can follow:
- Determine the original cooking time for the recipe on high heat.
- Start by doubling the original cooking time. For example, if the recipe called for 4 hours on high heat, you would initially cook it for 8 hours on low heat.
- Keep in mind that the suggested cooking time is a starting point, and you may need to adjust it based on your specific slow cooker, the size and type of ingredients, and the desired tenderness.
- About halfway through the doubled cooking time, start checking the doneness and tenderness of your dish. You can use a meat thermometer to ensure meats are cooked to a safe internal temperature.
- If the dish is not yet cooked to your desired level of tenderness, continue cooking on low heat and check periodically until it reaches the desired doneness.
It’s important to remember that slow cooking is a flexible method, and there is some room for adjustment based on your preferences and the specific dish you’re preparing. Monitoring the cooking process, checking for doneness, and making adjustments as needed will help you achieve the best results.
Also, keep in mind that certain ingredients, such as vegetables or potatoes may not require as much additional cooking time when switching from high to low heat.
Is it Better to cook on Low or High?
Slow cooking on low heat is generally preferred when you have more time available for cooking or when you want to achieve a very tender result. The low heat allows the ingredients to slowly break down, resulting in enhanced flavors and a melt-in-your-mouth texture. It’s ideal for tougher cuts of meat, such as roasts or stews, as helps to tenderize them.
On the other hand, cooking on high heat in a slow cooker can be advantageous when you’re short on time or want to speed up the cooking process. The higher temperature on the high setting allows for faster cooking, which can be useful for dishes that don’t require extensive tenderizing or flavor development. It can work well for recipes like soups, sauces, broth or certain poultry dishes.
Ultimately, it’s a matter of finding the balance between time and desired results. If you have the time and want to maximize tenderness and flavor development, cooking on low heat is often the preferred choice. However, if you’re pressed for time or have a recipe that doesn’t require extended cooking for tenderness, using the high heat setting can be a suitable option.
It’s worth noting that some models also offer programmable settings that allow you to start cooking on high heat the first hour and then automatically switch to low heat after. This feature can provide flexibility and convenience for different recipes.
In the end, it’s recommended to experiment and find what works best for your specific dishes and preferences.
Can I Reheat Leftovers in my Slow Cooker?
I have done it so what can I say… Yes, you can use your slow cooker to reheat leftovers. It can be a convenient and efficient method, especially when dealing with a large quantity of leftovers.
To do so safely, ensure that your leftovers are stored properly in airtight containers or sealed bags in the refrigerator.
When ready to reheat, set the slow cooker to the low heat setting and aim to reach a safe simmering point throughout the leftovers, periodically checking with a food thermometer. I add a small amount of liquid prevent dryness.
Stir occasionally for even heating. Once the leftovers are thoroughly reheated, serve or transfer them promptly, avoiding leaving them at room temperature for extended periods to prevent bacteria growth.
But that’s me. You should prioritize food safety though and consider using a microwave instead.
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.
Potentially a pressure cooker could be a better option as it cooks much quicker and also makes delicious dishes with beef, pork, veggies, chicken thighs or chicken breasts and, especially, dried beans.
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.