Slow cookers are just that; cookers that heat food slowly. If you’re looking for a quick meal, then a slow cooker is not going to be your best option; however, in terms of convenience, they rate very highly. You can throw your ingredients into the slow cooker in the morning and leave it to work its magic throughout the day, and then simply serve it up in the evening when you’re ready to eat. Slow cookers operate on two settings; low and high.
The length of time it takes your slow cooker to heat up will depend on which setting you choose. For the low setting, the slow cooker will reach a simmering point after 7 to 8 hours. On the high setting, the simmering point will be reached after 3 to 4 hours.
Do You Need to Preheat a Slow Cooker?
One of the many benefits of using a slow cooker is that you don’t need to preheat it. In fact, you can throw all of your ingredients right into the slow cooker dish before you even switch the appliance on, and it won’t make any difference to the taste and texture of your dish or the length of time it takes to cook.
How Hot Do Slow Cookers Get?
The maximum temperature a slow cooker gets to will depend on the make and model of the appliance you have, but on average, most slow cookers get to a maximum temperature of around 200°F. This can vary slightly between different slow cookers, with some reaching a high temperature of 170°F and others getting as hot as 280°F. Slow cookers don’t have temperature settings and instead simply have a ‘high’ and ‘low’ setting.
You might mistake these settings for referring to the temperature of the slow cooker, but actually, they have nothing to do with temperature at all. Both the low and high settings on a slow cooker will bring your food up to the same temperature, but the length of time they take to get there is what will be different.
On the low setting, a slow cooker will take between 7 and 8 hours to reach its maximum temperature, while on the high setting, it will reach the maximum temperature in 3 to 4 hours.
The temperature that most slow cookers reach is considered to be a ‘simmering point’. This is the temperature that liquid foods get to before they start to boil. The boiling point for water is 212°F, so a high temperature of around 200°F is ideal for simmering. This temperature is hot enough to ensure that any bacteria present in the food is destroyed, yet it is low enough to ensure the food does not become overcooked and chewy, and also low enough to be safe when left switched on unattended in the home.
How Long for Slow Cooker take to Simmer?
For most foods cooked in the slow cooker, the aim is to get a texture that is soft and juicy, or for meat, tender and flaky. The best way to achieve this is by cooking the foods at a low temperature for a long time. Typically this means simmering the food rather than boiling it, which can lead to food being overcooked or meats becoming tough and chewy.
Professional cooks recommend that the ‘low’ setting is used on the slow cooker for the vast majority of cooking in it. When used on this setting, the machine will usually take around 7 to 8 hours to reach a simmering point (anywhere between 185°F to 205°F). If you use the high setting on your slow cooker, it will take between 3 and 4 hours to get to a simmering temperature.
What Affects Slow Cooker Cooking Time?
The length of time you cook your meals in a slow cooker will be affected by the setting you choose, the type of food you are cooking, and whether or not you remove the lid during the cooking process.
High or low?
In most cases, the low setting is your best option for getting the most delicious results in your slow cooker. This is because most foods will have increased flavor and an improved texture when they are cooked for longer at a lower temperature.
The high setting will reach the maximum temperature in around half the time of the low setting, meaning your food will spend more time at the simmering point if you leave the slow cooker on all day.
Cooking time guide
If you’re following a conventional recipe where the food is cooked in an oven, you can follow these guidelines to figure out how long you should cook the meal in your slow cooker.
- Food which cooks in 15 – 30 minutes in a conventional oven will need 1 – 2 hours on a slow cooker high setting or 4 – 6 hours on a slow cooker low setting.
- Food which cooks in 30 mins – 1 hour in a conventional oven will need 2 – 3 hours on a slow cooker high setting or 5 – 7 hours on a slow cooker low setting.
- Food which cooks in 1 – 2 hours in a conventional oven will need 3 – 4 hours on a slow cooker high setting or 6 – 8 hours on a slow cooker low setting.
- Food which cooks in 2 – 4 hours in a conventional oven will need 4 – 6 hours on a slow cooker high setting or 8 – 12 hours on a slow cooker low setting.
Tips and hacks
- The element in a slow cooker is at the bottom, which means the base of a slow cooker pot gets the hottest. Layer your food with root vegetables and tough meats that need longer to cook at the bottom of the pot. More delicate foods, such as canned vegetables, can go on top. This will ensure everything cooks properly and the whole meal will be ready at the same time.
- Slow cookers should be kept with the lid firmly on for the duration of the cooking time. Lifting the lid to stir your food will let out a lot of hot air, meaning your cooking time is increased by 30 minutes each time you open the lid.
- Searing some foods before you put them in your slow cooker can help to reduce the cooking time and also give them a flavor boost. Foods that benefit from an initial searing in a frying pan include onions and cuts of meat.
- When using herbs, add dry herbs at the beginning of the cooking time and fresh herbs towards the end. Dried herbs really shine when cooked for a long time at low temperatures, whereas fresh herbs will wilt and become mushy if overcooked.
- Always ensure your slow cooker is filled to half or three-quarters full. If it isn’t, the cooker will heat up more quickly and result in overcooked food.
- Avoid reheating foods in the slow cooker to uphold food safety. When reheating food, a minimum temperature of 165°F needs to be reached within 2 hours. In a slow cooker, this is unlikely to happen, so food should instead be reheated in a microwave, conventional oven, or air fryer. You could then move the reheated food to the slow cooker if you want to keep it warm.