Slow Cookers – Times, Temperatures and Techniques

Crock Pot
Slow Cooker

Winter – long, cold, busy days demand easy,nutritious meals ready and waiting for us when we get home from work. This is the perfect time of the year to use our slow cooker. I have mine out almost on a weekly basis, not only enjoying the convenience of this great piece of equipment but also the delicious results of a long slow cooking method.  I have already made Beef Short Ribs in a Stout Sauce; Curried Pumpkin Chicken Soup and Steel Cut Oat Porridge with Dried Cherries, to mention just a few recipes used within the last month.

There are many different types of slow cookers on the market today, making it a good idea to read the instruction manual when you first get yours. The setting temperatures and times may vary according to manufacturer. To qualify as a safe slow cooker the appliance must be able to cook slow enough for unattended cooking yet fast enough to keep food above the danger zone.

In general, Low setting on a slow cooker = 190 degrees F and High setting = 300 degrees F.

When using a slow cooker, follow these guidelines.

  1. Start with fresh or thawed meat–not frozen.
  2. Use chunks rather than large cuts or roasts. Use pieces of poultry–not a whole chicken.
  3. Cook meat on high for 1 hour and then turn cooker to low–rather than cooking on low for the entire length of time.
  4. Only use recipes that include a liquid. Cooker should be ½ to ¾ full for best results.
  5. Check internal temperature to make sure food reaches 160°F.
  6. Do not delay starting time.
  7. Do not reheat foods in slow cooker.
  8. Keep the lid on.

We sometimes would like to turn one of our oven recipes into a recipe that will work in the slow cooker. A general conversion chart would be:

Oven Times                           Slow Cooker Times and Settings

15-30 minutes                      1 ½ – 2 ½ hours on High or 4 – 8 hours on Low

35-45 minutes                      3 – 4 hours on High or 6 – 10 hours on Low

50 minutes – 3 hours          4 – 6 hours on High or 8 – 18 hours on Low

We sometimes have callers concerned about the safety of their slow cookers. To determine if a slow cooker will heat food to a safe temperature, fill the cooker with 2 quarts of water. Heat on Low for 8 hours or the desired cooking time. Check the water temperature with an accurate thermometer (quickly because the temperature drops 10 to 15 degrees when the lid is removed).  – The temperature of the water should be 185° to 200°F. Temperatures above this would indicate that a product cooked for 8 hours without stirring would be overdone. Temperatures below this may indicate the cooker does not heat food high enough or fast enough to avoid potential food safety problems.

REF: Patricia Redlinger 1993; Pm-1523

Below is a conversion chart to illustrate comparative cook times for High and Low:

High Low
3 hours 7 hours
4 8
5 9
6 10
7 11
8 12

Typical slow cooker food loads and their respective cooking times:

Meat Cut Meat Weight Low cook time High cook time
Large pork roast 6-7 lbs 9 ½ hours 7 1/3 hours
Pork Loin 3-4 lbs 6 hours 5 hours
Poultry 6 lbs 7 1/2 hours 6 ¼ hours
Beef Roast 3-4 lbs 8 hours 5 ¾ hours
Stew meat 3 lbs 6 hours 4 ¾ hours
Fish 2 lbs 3 ½ hours 1 1/2 hours

All cook times are approximate. Appropriate cook time varies according to specific meat characteristics for fat content and connective tissue as well as other ingredients added to dish including liquid, size of meat cubes, type of vegetable, size of vegetable dice, how slow cooker is filled, etc.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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595 thoughts on “Slow Cookers – Times, Temperatures and Techniques

  1. Allison, the time it takes for anything to come to temperature in a slow cooker depends upon many things beginning with the manufacturer who sets the wattage that the cooker will draw at a high or low setting. Other factors are the size of the slow cooker, amount of food in the cooker, temperature of the food going into the cooker, portion/size of items in the cooker, and room temperature. Getting to know your appliance is key.

  2. I must thank you for the efforts you have
    put in penning this site. I am hoping to view the same high-grade blog posts by you in the future as
    well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to
    get my own, personal website now 😉

  3. Muoi, we appreciate your positive feedback. Best of luck with your website. How will you be using it? You can find all the AnswerLine blog posts at . By using the archive or category boxes you can find all kinds of information from various authors over the years.

  4. I have an “electric casserole”, it’s max temp temp is 400 degrees min 176 degrees. Could this be used in place of a slow cooker for preparing food?
    Thank you. Jan

  5. Janet, yes, the electric casseroles can be used like a slow cooker. I have one made by CrockPot and it works very well for ‘casserole’ type foods that could be made in a slow cooker but don’t present as well. Some of my favorite ways to use it–tater tot casserole, enchiladas, green bean casserole, egg breakfast casserole, scalloped potatoes, to name a few. It also makes great apple crisp.

  6. I want to buy a new slow cooker is there one that can be programmed to go from high to low on its own?

  7. Betty, thank you for your inquiry. If I understand your question correctly, you are looking for a cooker that is automatic. I can find no information that supports that as a feature. The digital programmable units switch from high to low or vise versa via preprogramming by the user. They also switch to warm when the programed time is reached. Other units have a temperature probe that switches to warm when the desired temperature is reached. There are several online reviews of slow cookers which you may find of interest as you look for a new slow cooker.

  8. Greetings! as an herbalist I am interested in making herbal infusions that need to sit in oil only up to 100 degrees F…. Does anybody know of a brand of slow cooker whose lowest heat is around this temp? Thank you in advance !
    Judy

  9. Judy, thank you for your inquiry. Unfortunately, we do not know of a slow cooker or any other appliance whose lowest temperature is 100 degrees F or slightly lower. On the slow cooker warm setting, the temperature range is 145 to 165 F which is not an exact temperature as it is more of an indication of wattage being drawn. Yogurt makers commonly run with a temperature of 110-115 F. Lukewarm temperatures provide the perfect climate for microorganisms to grow so would be an undesirable appliance feature where food is concerned.

  10. My oldest Crockpot has a mode that starts on high and switches to low after about two hours. This feature was available for years, so you might find one at a garage sale or a thrift store. Mine must be 30 or 40 years old and it’s still cooking right along, as it is very simple and sturdy

  11. Hello Liz
    I’m cooking a 2.12 lb brisket in a slow cooker. How long should that stay in the cooker.
    Thank you

  12. Hi Ron, Liz has retired from AnswerLine but I will send along your greeting to her. Thanks for your inquiry. A brisket that size will likely take 6-7 hrs on the LOW setting. Enjoy!

  13. Judy, look for an Instant Pot that lets you control the temperature, like the Ultra model. I own a the 3 quart model and it lets me dial the temperature easily for the yogourt fermentation I choose (42 to 45 C), and 82 to:85 C for boiling the milk.

  14. I am panicking. I have a 14 lb bottom round roast and I know it should be slowly cooked. Can I cook it on low in a roaster and if so how long will I need to cook?

  15. Bobbi, I hope I am not too late to reply to your query. And to be completely honest I have no experience preparing a roast of that size nor can I find any specific information for that weight. I was hoping the Iowa Beef Council would be able to help out, but their website did not provide either. Therefore, the best I can find for roasting is to allow the roast to warm at room temperature for a short time. Preheat the oven to 325F. Place the roast in roasting pan. Insert meat thermometer into the center of the roast. Roast for about 20 minutes a pound or until the thermometer shows 125°F for rare meat or 160°F for well done or desired doneness. Remove from the roaster and cover with foil. Allow the roast to sit for about 15-20 minutes before slicing. Bear in mind, that while the roast sits to reabsorb liquid, the temperature will continue to climb too, so removing it from the oven slightly under temperature may be advisable. Thanks for contacting AnswerLine and I hope that this will procedure will work for you.

  16. Bobbi, some additional thoughts or specifics that I failed to mention in the first reply: use a Dutch oven method to help create a moisture roasting environment and choose a finished temperature of medium or less as the roast will be too tough if you cook it beyond medium.

  17. Hey. I have a 6lbs pot roast with veggies…how long do i cook it on low for? I’m planning to add the veggies 1 hour after starting the meat.
    Thanks

  18. Kathryn, thanks for contacting AnswerLine. It should take somewhere between 8 and 9 hrs on a low setting. Best!

  19. Hi & Shalom – If possible – please be as kind as to inform the temperature of the ‘Auto’ Dial on an old Kenwood CrocPot – Thank You Luci

  20. Hi Luci, thank you for contacting AnswerLine. Individual manufacturers determine the thermostat settings for their slow cooker appliances on wattage so while temperatures are a measure, they fluctuate by manufacturer. The auto function combines high and low settings for cooking with the purpose of minimal supervision for the consumer. I was not able to find any specs for the Kenwood slow cooker that revealed wattages being used for the various settings.

  21. Wonderful blog you have here but I was curious about if you
    knew of any message boards that cover the
    same topics talked about here? I’d really love to be a part of
    group where I can get advice from other knowledgeable people
    that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know.

    Bless you!

  22. Thank you so much for the positive feedback. There are any number of slow cooker groups including some Facebook groups. AnswerLine cannot recommend any in particular. However a quick search will reveal many; use your discretion on choosing what make sense to you and your lifestyle. Joining a Facebook group probably offers the easiest and fastest way to share and seek or get advice. Bear in mind, that the these sites offer opinions/suggestions, not always science or fact.

  23. Hi Fiona, thank you for contacting AnswerLine. It will take 8-10 hours on the low setting of the slow cooker to cook the brisket to tender.

  24. Hi Michael, that is a lot of pork butt for most slow cookers! Be sure that you have adequate space in the crock for plenty of liquid as that is most important for slow cooking. It might even be better to split the butt to speed up cooking. The estimate for cooking that amount of meat is 15-16 hrs on low and 8-10 hours on high. If timing does not allow for cooking on low for as long as required, the slow cooker can be turned up to high and the cooking time reduced. Convert cooking time by using a ratio of 2 hours of cooking on low as being equal to 1 hour of cooking on high. And remember that these are only estimates as each cooker is different.

  25. The recipe calls for 2 lbs of bone in pork chops to cook on low for Six to eight hours. I only want to cook one pork chop, much less than two pounds. Should a cook it for less time?

  26. Hi Wendy, thank you for contacting AnswerLine. Cooking time in a slow cooker is not dependent on weight alone. So while it would make sense that with less weight, the time might be less, that may not be entirely true. Likely there will be liquid and perhaps other ingredients with the chop and all play a part in the cooking time. Further, time varies with slower cookers as well. The goal is to breakdown the collagen. When you cook meat, collagen begins to melt at about 160F and turns to a rich liquid, gelatin. This gives meat a lot of flavor and a wonderful silky texture. When slow cooking, it is important to liquify collagen. Denaturation of the collagen molecule is a kinetic process, and hence a function of both temperature and duration of heating. Cooking at low temperatures require long periods of time to liquify collagen. Because pork chops are a more tender cut of meat, denaturation naturally takes less time. I would shoot for the lesser time, six hours on low, and check after 4 hrs to see where the chop is in the denaturation process. You may want to use a meat thermometer to check the temperature of the chop to determine the internal temperature.

  27. This is very helpful information. I was wondering if cook times depend on size of roast. For example, your chart above says to cook a 3-4 lb beef roast on low for 8-9 hrs. If your roast is only 2 lbs would you reduce cooking time to 4-4.5 hrs?

  28. Hi Brennan, While it would seem that a roast of less weight would require less cooking time, that is not always the case. Much depends upon the slow cooking unit along with the amount of moisture (liquid) and other ingredients in addition to the cut of meat and the amount of collagen in the cut. The tougher the cut, the great the amount of collagen, and the longer time needed to break it down regardless of size. The object in slow cooking meat is to melt or liquify the collagen which starts at 160F when it turns to a liquid gelatin giving meat a lot of flavor and silky texture. So while the 2 lb roast may take less time, it may not. It is more important that you approach any ‘first time’ slow cooking adventure knowing what the expected cooking time may be and check halfway through cooking to see how the process is going and how much time is involved to reach the kind of tenderness you desire. Then note your experience on your recipe so that in the future, you have the unique answer that fits your slow cooker, meat and recipe.

  29. I have West Bend “Slo Cooker Plus”…over 20 years old but still works. Want to cook a corn beef brisket in it. The slow cooker has 5 numerical settings..
    1 is white; 2- yellow; 3- orange; 4- light red and 5- full red. I am assuming that white is warm; and yellow is low. The recipe calls for cooking on low. Feedback

  30. Hi Andrea, thank you for contacting AnswerLine. The 5 settings on the West Bend Slo Cooker should be used in this way:
    Use setting 1 (warm #1) only to warm rolls and muffins. At 140 degrees Fahrenheit, this setting should not be used for cooking.
    Use setting 2 (warm #2) to keep cooked foods warm until they’re ready to be served.
    Use settings 3, 4 and 5 (low, medium high) for cooking. The setting you choose determines the length of time the food will cook. A typical meal with meat and vegetables needs 7 to 10 hours to cook at the low or #3 setting, 4 to 6 hours at the medium or #4 setting, and 2 to 3 hours at the high or #5 setting. According to a West Bend customer service representative, all West Bend slow cooker models eventually simmer at the boiling point, or 212 degrees. The setting simply determines how quickly the cooker will reach that temperature.

  31. Kathy, Generally, a slow cooker on high takes 3-6 hrs to cook most meats regardless of weight. Several factors come into play–slow cooker, liquid, and other ingredients. While the weight of the corned beef is small, it would stand to reason that less time is needed. However, that may or may not be the case. Corned beef is usually made from the brisket which is a very tough piece of meat. Tough cuts of meat contain large amounts of collagen which require long cooking times to breakdown. Collagen begins to melt at 160F and turn to a rich liquid, gelatin. This gives meat a lot of flavor and a silky texture so it is important to cook the meat long and slow to liquify collagen. Further, the meat should be covered with liquid to aid in the process. I would suggest that you check at the minimum time and go from there. If it is done ahead of time, it can be held until meal time rather than waiting for it to get done.

  32. Thank you Marlene. I will be cooking the corned beef with the following vegetables, carrots, turnip, potatoes and onions. I’ll add cabbage for the last three hours if I cook on high for six hours or should I cook it earlier.

  33. Hi Kathy, three hours should be more than enough for the cabbage. So much depends on volume and power of the slow cooker. I’m experimenting a little with the same today. Happy St Paddy’s Day!

  34. How long and what temp. do I cook a 3.1 lb pork shoulder picnic roast for pulled pork sandwiches?

  35. Hi Victoria, thank you for contacting AnswerLine. It is always difficult to precisely advise on food prepared in a slow cooker which I assume you are asking about since your comment is linked to the slow cooker blog. The reason is that the slow cooker units vary somewhat in temperature as it is up to each manufacturer to set the parameters for their units. It also depends upon the other ingredients used along with the meat. Therefore, generally, for a roast this size, it should take 4-5 hrs on high and 7-8 hrs on low but could be as much as 5-6 hrs on high and 10-12 hrs on low. The time can be sped up by cutting the pork into chunks or cubes. For pulled pork, the goal is to cook the meat until it falls apart tender. My recommendation is to keep track of the weight used and the time it takes and note that on the recipe so that in the future you have a reference for what works well with your slow cooker and that particular recipe.

  36. I am using my crock pot today for the first time in a long time. I have it on low but the light indicator is showing on the right… The high side. If on low should the light show on the left side? Or is this quite normal?

  37. Hi Hugh, Please give more information on the make and model of slow cooker you have. They all work slightly different so it is not possible to make a blanket statement.

  38. How do l know if my slow cooker is set high or low, and more so how do l pput it on keep warm

  39. Crock pots have a knob that moves from high to low setting. Some have a keep warm button but others do not. If your crock pot doesn’t have this knob there is no way to control the heat and is on a high heat all the time. Many times these are very small in size as well. You can contact the manufacturer of the slow cooker to see what temperature it is cooking at but there would be no way to put it on keep warm.

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