A Crockpot slow cooker is the go-to kitchen tool for many home cooks. It allows you to effortlessly produce flavor-intensive meals over the course of several hours with only a few minutes of preparation time. What’s not to love?
In fact, the only cooking skills you really need to use a Crockpot are the ability to prepare your ingredients and knowing what temperature and time to set the slow cooker up for.
The latter of those skills is what we’re here to help you out with today. Once you’ve read through this guide on Crockpot temperature settings, you’ll be able to make meals for the rest of your life without having to look up a recipe!
The majority of slow cookers out there will have a series of 3-5 fairly vague temperature settings, often ranging from low heat to high heat.
These labels don’t exactly give you a precise idea of what temperature each setting means for your cooker, so let’s take a look at what they really mean.
The lowest setting on most slow cookers is around 190°F (88°C) and the highest setting will get to roughly 300°F (149°C).
Of course, just like with any cooking method, different temperatures on your slow cooker will have different effects on your food, its flavor, and its texture.
There’s no simple solution to say that cooking your food at a higher or lower temperature is best because it entirely depends on a number of important factors.
Before we get into those, let’s take a closer look at exactly how a slow cooker works.
Most slow cookers are made of three key components: a base that provides the main source of heat, a vessel to put your food into, and a lid that is usually made of glass.
As you might expect, the base is the most important of these components when it comes to determining what the temperature inside the vessel will be.
The base is often made of heavy stoneware which holds heat well and keeps the vessel at a consistent temperature.
The vessel is usually made with a glazed ceramic or porcelain material, which is similarly effective at holding and dispersing heat evenly throughout the interior.
When you turn on your slow cooker, the base creates a source of heat that travels throughout the vessel and heats up the interior, creating a hot enough environment to cook food.
Once steam has been produced inside the vessel, it creates a vacuum seal for the lid which stops moisture from evaporating and leaving the food. This makes for a much more intensely flavored and moist dish, overall.
This might seem like a pretty silly question because the main difference is obviously the temperature that the slow cooker will reach while cooking.
Essentially, the difference between the high and low settings is that ‘high’ will take 4 hours to bring your food to a simmering point and ‘low’ will take around 8 hours.
(It should be noted that this difference isn’t always a 1:2 ratio for the time taken for high and low settings but it’s a good way to roughly estimate the cooking times).
It might seem like high settings would always be the way to go to cut down on total cooking time but it’s also important to consider the different effects that each setting will have on the quality of your food.
For example, the effect of the vacuum seal on the lid is that your food will develop more complexity in its flavor.
This effect strengthens over time, therefore food that cooks for longer in a slow cooker will generally have a more complex flavor.
If you’re following a recipe written by someone else that specifically requests the use of a slow cooker, the author will often mention which setting you should use and how long you should cook the dish.
In these cases, you should ALWAYS follow exactly what the recipe suggests. The author will have worked out what the best balance is between cooking time and flavor so you’ll be left with the best possible tasting food.
However, if your recipe doesn’t specify the temperature settings or cooking times, you’ll have to think about a few different things to work it out yourself.
The first thing you should think about is what time you want to serve your dish and eat it.
For example, if you start cooking at 2 PM and want to eat at 6 PM, there’s no point setting the cooker at a low temperature that will take around 8 hours to cook properly.
In this case, a high setting is more appropriate, simply because it will be more convenient (though the flavor complexity of your dish may suffer as a result).
That’s why, whenever you use a slow cooker, you should plan when you want to start cooking in advance and avoid any confusion about how long you have before serving.
Another thing that you might not have considered is thinking about other things you need to do.
Of course, we mainly mean other things in the kitchen but this also applies to people who have other chores and activities they need to carry out while the slow cooker is cooking.
If you want to leave yourself plenty of time to do other things while waiting for your food to cook, use the lower settings to make your life easier.
However, with this consideration, you should mainly be thinking about other kitchen activities you need to carry out.
For example, if you’re preparing a big meal in which the slower cooker is only needed for one component, think about all the other things you need to prepare and cook in the meantime.
If you are particularly busy with other preparation tasks, you’re probably better off using a low setting to give yourself more time, even if the flavor complexity will be reduced somewhat.
Many slow cookers from a variety of brands will offer a range of temperature settings, including one that just says ‘keep warm’.
This setting will often keep food at around 140°F (74°C) because this is within the optimal window for serving food.
It’s safe to say you should never use this setting to try and cook your food all the way through as a much higher temperature is needed for that.
Therefore, you should only ever be using the ‘keep warm’ setting for hot hold food that has already been fully cooked and you need to wait a little longer before serving it up.
In general, slow cookers are designed to be user-friendly and super difficult to mess up. However, that doesn’t mean everybody will get it right every time!
As long as you follow these simple pointers, you shouldn’t have any issues with your slow-cooked dishes.
The first thing to note is all about what kind of meat you should use for a slow cooker. Whilst there’s no right or wrong type of meat to slow cook, the different ways you can prepare it will make all the difference.
For example, you should never use frozen meat in a slow cooker and always make sure it is thawed out before adding it.
Even on the low setting, there’s no guarantee that your meat will be completely defrosted and even if it does, you’ll be left with inconsistently cooked meat.
Similarly, it’s important to have your meat portioned into equally sized pieces to ensure consistent cooking across the whole dish.
In some cases, you might want to cook the entire cut of meat whole, but if you’re making a stew or casserole, you should have your meat cut into small chunks.
Slow cookers will only be effective for cooking your meals if there’s plenty of liquid in the pot.
With too little liquid, you’ll be left with some parts of your dish dried out and flavorless while other parts are nice and moist.
In general, your slow cooker should always be between half and three-quarters full to ensure everything is properly submerged in the liquid.
However, you may still need to stir the pot occasionally to get everything covered while cooking.
Of course, you can touch the lid while your food is cooking but you shouldn’t lift it off of the pot too often.
Every time you remove the lid of a slow cooker, the internal temperature can drop by around 15°F, which can mess up the cooking process and make the whole dish take longer to be ready.
You shouldn’t really need to remove the lid to stir your food more than once or twice while cooking unless your recipe states otherwise.
The best way to ensure your food is cooked all the way through (especially meat) is to use a food thermometer.
These are a lifesaver in the kitchen and can give you accurate readings of exactly how well cooked the inside of your food is.
You can pick them up pretty cheaply online, though some of the more advanced devices might cost a little extra.
As a general rule, you should make sure any meat is at least 167°F (75°C) before you eat or serve it to make sure any dangerous bacteria have been eliminated from the food.
This isn’t something you should play around with too much if you’re new to using a slow cooker but it’s something that you can try out with a lot of meat-based dishes.
The idea is that you cook meat dishes at a high temperature for about an hour and then lower the slow cooker to a cooler setting.
This will ensure the meat gets a nice texture on its exterior while still maintaining an adequate internal temperature.
Overall, the temperatures that all slow cooker settings will reach are pretty much the same across all brands and retailers.
Most will get to the lowest setting of around 190°F and a maximum temperature of roughly 300°F.
Hopefully, you've learned a few new tricks about how to use your slow cooker effectively and as long as you follow all the steps in our guide, you’ll be whipping up delicious meals all the time!
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