A slow cooker makes it easy to prepare delicious and flavorful meals.
This kitchen appliance locks the flavors and aromas of the ingredients while cooking them to perfection.
The cooking method is slow and uses gentle heat.
Now, slow cookers have different settings, and if you are a novice, it can take a while to get used to it.
So, at what temperature should you operate your slow cooker?
Ideal Slow Cooker Temperature
Depending on the brand, a slow cooker has either two or four settings. They are “Low,” “Medium,” “High,” and “Keep Warm.” In the Low setting, the cooker operates at 190°F (88°C). The High setting is 300°F (149°C). Slow cookers should ideally operate in the Low mode at 190°F for best cooking results.
Meanwhile, the temperature is 140°F (74°C) in the Keep Warm mode.
Best Cooking Temperature for Different Ingredients
The cooking time and temperature for different ingredients differ in a slow cooker, just as it does on the stovetop or oven.
However, a slow cooker will always take much longer than cooking a dish on the stovetop or oven.
The main benefit of slow cooking is that it doesn’t need any supervision.
You can simply add all the ingredients to the cooker and leave them to cook.
Let’s look at some examples.
Cooking Meat in A Slow Cooker
Hard and tough meat cuts like beef brisket or pork take at least six to eight hours in a slow cooker on the Low setting.
They will need three to four hours on High.
Tender meat like fish and poultry cooks faster.
Fish is ready in less than four hours on Low but needs just two hours on High.
The cooking time varies depending on whether you use boneless chicken pieces like chicken breast or pieces with bone like drumsticks and wings.
Chicken breast takes six to seven hours on Low or three to four hours on High.
However, a whole chicken needs seven hours on Low and six hours on High to cook thoroughly.
Potatoes and beans take eight to ten hours to cook on Low and five hours on High.
Stuffed peppers and artichokes take slightly lesser time.
They are ready in six to eight hours on Low and three to four hours on High.
Other vegetables like carrots, onions, and leeks usually need two to four hours on Low.
Rice and lentils take nearly eight to nine hours on Low and three to four hours on High.
However, pre-soaking these ingredients reduces cooking time by nearly an hour.
The additional moisture softens them and makes them cook easily.
The cooking time for dishes like soups and casseroles depends on the ingredients used.
Common soup recipes usually take six to twelve hours from start to finish on the Low setting.
Keep Warm Temperature on Slow Cookers
Many slow cookers have a “Keep Warm” function. When the device is in this mode, no cooking takes place.
Most slow cookers automatically switch to Keep Warm after cooking to keep it safe for several hours.
If the cooker doesn’t automatically switch to this mode, you can manually toggle the switch on the cooker to enable this function.
The “Keep Warm” mode on a slow cooker has two main advantages.
The food doesn’t go cold.
The appliance will keep it warm and delicious for several hours after cooking, so you don’t have to reheat it while serving.
The other reason is related to food safety.
In the “Keep Warm” mode, the slow cooker will be at a temperature of 140°F, which is the minimum temperature to keep the food safe for consumption.
At temperatures below 140°F, bacteria that cause food spoilage multiply.
So, keeping food at a lower temperature for too long makes it unfit for consumption.
Why Are Slow Cooker Temperature Settings Important?
There is a learning curve when you start using a slow cooker.
Although it has only a few settings, it can take a while to understand how they work for different ingredients.
To get a better idea of how to set the right temperature, let’s look at how a slow cooker works.
How Does a Slow Cooker Work?
The heating element of a slow cooker is in its base.
The cooking pot containing the ingredients is placed on the base.
It’s usually made of heavy metal or stoneware that conducts and distributes the heat evenly.
There will also be a lid to cover this vessel.
The cooking process begins when you connect the slow cooker to the power supply.
The heating element turns on, and the base starts to heat.
The heat generated will slowly move up the sides and start cooking the food.
As the food heats, it releases steam. The lid of the slow cooker traps this steam.
It creates a seal, and the temperature remains constant.
Since the moisture from the food can’t escape, it remains in the cooker, making the food tender and moist.
The slow cooking process allows the flavors to intensify and the ingredients to cook thoroughly.
Now, the important thing to understand is that you can vary the cooking time by choosing the right temperature setting.
Adjusting the Temperature and Cooking Time of A Slow Cooker
All slow cookers have two temperature settings—High and Low.
Some may additionally have “Medium” and “Keep Warm” options.
The temperature setting of a slow cooker is important because it determines the cooking time.
You can cook most dishes on either the Low or High setting.
However, the setting you choose will decide how long it takes the dish to complete.
In the High setting, slow cookers reach temperatures up to 300°F.
However, the maximum temperature is 190°F in the Low setting.
Hence, it takes longer for the same recipe on the Low setting than on the High setting.
So, is it better to choose the High or Low setting on a slow cooker?
It depends on various factors. The Low setting allows the flavors of ingredients to concentrate.
The texture of meat or vegetables is also much softer when you cook them on Low.
However, the Low setting needs nearly double the cooking time for most dishes.
In most cases, two hours on Low equals one hour on High when using the slow cooker.
So a recipe that takes four hours on the Low setting will take only two hours when you choose High.
If you aren’t cooking meat or hard vegetables, you can speed up the process and achieve similar results by choosing High.
But if you can wait for a few extra hours to let the flavors intensify, we recommend choosing Low.
For some ingredients, like tough cuts of meat, we always recommend the Low setting.
While smaller cuts of meat will cook thoroughly on the High setting, large pieces need longer to cook.
By choosing the Low setting, you can ensure that they cook well.
Some slow cookers also have a medium setting. In this setting, the temperature will be more than the Low setting but less than the High setting.
So the cooking time will increase slightly but be less than when you choose the Low setting.