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

  1. I am looking for a rule of thumb to use with slow cookers when using “general recipes” If a recipe says cook 3 lbs of meat for 8 hours on low, what impact does it have ON LENGTH OF COOKING TIME, if I use a 2 lb piece of meat instead? General question is what is the relationship between meat weight and recommended cooking time from a recipe. The recipe says cook “x” pounds of meat for 8 hours on low … but what happens if I use more or less than their recipe recommendation? Question two is a variation of the first … in the first, I am assuming that only thing in slow cooker is a certain weight of meat alone or with some sauce; what happens if I change the meat weight when potatoes and/or hard veggies are part of the process (eg, stews)? I appreciate any help you can offer … two recent examples, which produced flavorful but dry meat … recipe 1 says cook 3 lb baby back ribs for 8 hrs on low — I cooked a 2 lb rack for 8 hrs and it was a tad bit dry. Second recipe says cook 3 lb brisket for 8 hrs on low; I used a 2.0-2.5 piece for 8 hours and it was dry but flavoful. Thanks

  2. My recipe says cook 4 chicken breast cut up in bite size pieces for 1.5hrs on medium, then drain fluid & pour on sauce & cook for 1.5 hrs more on med. but my Crock-Pot only has low and high settings. How should I cook this?m

  3. Hi, there is not a formula to know exactly how long to cook a particular weight of meat in the crock pot. All foods cooked in the crock pot should include some liquid–as this is the medium for heat transfer in the crock pot. Less tender cuts of meat require a longer cooking time than a tender cut. Perhaps compare pork shoulder (less tender) vs. pork tenderloin (tender cut). Also, vegetables actually require a longer cooking time than the meat in a recipe. Those vegetables should be placed on the bottom and then meat on top of that. Liquid to cover, or mostly cover the rest of the food. Always start the pot on high for the first hour or two and then you can reduce to low. Also, never use frozen foods in the crock pot. I hope that this answers your question but if you have further questions, remember that you can always calls us at AnwerLine. 515-296-5883.

  4. I’m using a 20 quart roaster oven as a crock pot to cook 20 pounds of pork tenderloin for a crowd (hopefully). To save time serving I was thinking of slicing the tenderloin into pork chops ahead of time and freezing it back in the log shape (as if not cut), then putting it in the roaster oven frozen to cook. Will slicing it ahead of time end up with ready-to-serve pork chops or a big pulled pork-ish mess? Is it ok to put the meat in frozen? I’m guessing that will increase the cooking time?

  5. Hi, your meat that is cut into slices will resemble pork chops but may be drier if pre-sliced than if sliced after cooking. The refreezing would not be an issue (as in refreezing into a log). The meat should be thawed before placing in the roaster oven (or crock pot if used) as frozen meat will remain in the danger zone for too long in the slow cooker. Danger zone refers to temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. In that zone, bacteria multiply exponentially and may not all be killed during the cooking process.

  6. Help I have a 3 lb. Sirloin tender roast.i have onion, carrots and potatoes.what and how long do you cook and when do you add vegetable’s?

  7. Hi Sherri, actually in the crock pot the vegetables take as long as the meat to cook. Generally speaking, the vegetables are placed on the bottom of the crock and the meat on top. Add liquid and cook on high for an hour or two and then turn it to low for the remainder of the cooking time.

  8. Hi Denise, typically you will cook food for 4-6 hours in the crock pot. Be sure to add liquid for the most efficient use of the crock pot. Enjoy

  9. Hi Jonnie, usually roasts are placed with the fat on top so that during cooking time so that the fat can drip down and in effect baste the roast.

  10. Dear Liz,
    Your instructions were very helpful and thanks to you I won’t burn dinner and now know how to cook with my Crock-Pot. I had lost my instructions and recipes for it and you’re very helpful. God bless and happy cooking!
    I would like to thank you with all my heart and send you lots of love and light.

  11. We have 13.25 pounds of pork shoulder and a 6 quart crock pot. If it fits, is it safe to cook such a large roast in this size pan?

  12. How long would I cook a 1 and 1/2 lb pork loin and sauerkraut in a crock pot on high for to be finished

  13. Hi, you will probably want to cook the roast for at least 4 hours. Remember to start for the first hour at least on high and then you can turn it down to low.

  14. Hi Liz
    I’m used to cooking 5 lb eye round roasts in my crockpot on low. I bought a 2-3 pound eye round
    and put it in the crock pot but have no idea how long to cook it. I too, misplaced my crockpot timing
    instructions. I’m thinking 4 hours on low??? Am I right?

  15. Hi Liz
    How long do I cook a 2-3 eye roast in my crock pot? I’m guessing 4 hours on low??
    Am I right?
    Thank you so much!
    Cathy

  16. we have a 5 lb. 5 os. pork tenderloin – how long would it take in a slow cooker, thank you

  17. I’m wanting to cook a 2.5 lb pork shoulder butt roast in crock pot for pulled pork sandwiches. How long on high or low?

  18. How long and at what temperature should I slow cook a5 kg boneless turkey crown,
    to e servewdcol?

  19. I don’t eat meat but my husband does, so often I have to adjust recipes because it’s only meat for one (and he rarely eats leftovers *rolls eyes*. I found a recipe for a steak in the slow cooker, but the cook time is 5 hours for 2lbs. How much time just for 1lb? And do you have any suggestions for how to navigate cook time for “halving” meat recipes in a slow cooker? All the times I find are for large family amounts and I’m just starting out with using a slow cooker. Thanks!

  20. Hi Tonya, due to the slow cooking process in the crock pot, I’d drop off only an hour or hour and a half when cutting things down like the 2 pound steak to the 1 pound steak. In general, maybe cut 1/4 to 1/3 of the cooking time when halving recipes. Thanks

  21. I have a ham and potato recipe that says to cook for 8 to 10 hours on low or 4 hours on high. If I cook on high for 2 hours and reduce to low, how long should I cook on low to be done. Thank you.

  22. My recipe says cook for 4 hrs on high for a 2-1/2 pound pork loin. Mine is only 1.25 pounds. Should I still cook it 4 hrs?

  23. If I have a 6 lb pork butt roast how long should I cook it in the slow cooker for and should I cook it on high or should I cook it on low for best results

  24. I often cook in my slow cooker without liquid. Why is it necessary to cook with liquid? I’m always open to improving my meals.

    S

  25. Hi Seann, you should always use liquid in your slow cooker to produce a safe product. Air is not a good conductor of heat; water is much more efficient. If you think about it, you would never place your hand in a pot of boiling water (212 degrees) while you would think nothing of putting your hand into a 350 degree oven to take a pan of cookies or a roast out of the hot oven. Since slow cookers use such a low heat to cook, you want to get the benefit of all that heat. Additionally, if the food is left at a much lower temperature, bacteria could multiply during the early part of the cooking time and it is possible that the level of bacteria may be too high to be killed later in the cooking time. I hope that this helps. Thanks

  26. Hi, I have a chicken breast recipe that calls for cooking 5-6 hours on low but my crockpot only has the high setting for 4 and 6 hours and the low setting for 8 and 10 hours. How would you suggest I cook it? Thanks!

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