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

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

  1. Hi, 4 hours on low seems like not enough time to both cook the meat and make it tender. I would cook for at least 6 hours. Plan to start the cooker on high for the first hour or two. That gets the meat going a bit quicker and is a safer choice than the entire time on low.

  2. I was told to sear the meat first in a Dutch oven I agree 4 hours does sound very fast so I am doing your water test today to see what temp the water gets to in 8 hours so I know. It is a new slow cooker so I am not sure and the blade roast is 6.2 pounds

  3. How long to cook 5.5 pound boneless porkloin in crockpot – low or high? vs in regular oven?

  4. Thanks so much for this info and advice. I just bought a Black and Decker for which the manual gives virtually no info on cooking with it, like a timetable or temps. The manual has 8 pages for dummies and only tries to protect the company from liability: do not immerse the element in water, do not get your finger caught in the fastener, etc.

  5. Hi, it will take longer to cook in the crock pot and it will need to be immersed in liquid to cook in the crock pot. I would say it would need to cook 6-8 hours in the crock pot. It will take a much shorter time in the oven. More like 2.5 hours in a 325 degree oven. In the crock pot we would say start on high for the first hour or two and then reduce to low. Enjoy.

  6. I HAVE A NEW 5 IN 1 CROCKPOT AND I WANT TO COOK A 10 LB PORK SHOULDER ROAST FOR PULLED PORK. WHAT IS THE RULE OF THUMB ON TIME. I WANT TO COOK LOW AND SLOW. I WAS TOLD THAT 45 MIN PER 1.5 LBS OF MEAT. TELL ME YOUR THOUGHTS PLEASE. I READ ON ANOTHER SITE THAT 14 HOURS ON LOW. THANKS FOR YOUR ADVISE

  7. Hi Robin, the crock pot website has some information on cooking larger cuts of meat. It appears closer to an hour per pound for larger cuts and longer if cooked on low the entire time (after a 1-2 hour time on high to begin). I think that the 14 hours would be about right. Cooking longer will make the roast even more tender and easier to shred.

  8. A recipe for a beef roast calls for 8 hours at low. However, if I use the low auto “probe”(temperature) setting, 145 deg., the target temp per the cooker’s manual, is reached in about three hours and the slow cooker automatically sets to “warm”. I’m confused. I have a Hamilton Beach Programmable unit.

  9. Bill, the cut of meat makes a difference in the “doneness” of meat. Less tender cuts of beef require a longer cooking time (with moisture) to dissolve the connective tissue that causes “toughness” in the meat. Those less tender cuts will reach 145 and be cooked enough to be safe but likely not long enough to also be tender. Can you make this recipe without using the probe?

  10. My crockpot gets so hot and cooks fast. Can I cook a whole chicken (not cut up) on warm for five hours and then low for four and a half. Hours. Will it result in any food poisoning.

  11. If I have an 11 lb sirloin tip beef roast, and I’m cooking it in the crock pot… what would be the best way to do this. How long and hi or low temp? Can I leave it as a full roast or do I have to cut it up? Would rather leave it big, but if it’s not doable I’m open to suggestion. Help!

  12. Hi, you can start your crock pot on high for the first hour and then reduce it to low for the remaining time. I would not cook on the warm setting. Reserve that setting for food that is being held after cooking.

  13. I bought a crock pot at thrift store that has an auto setting. I understand the starts at high then switch to low, how long does it stay at High? Please reply directly to my email as I do not check this site and I will never see the answer here. Thank you

  14. Hi, you can cook it without cutting the roast into smaller pieces. I would start the roast on high for the first two hours and then turn it to low for another 10 hours or so.

  15. How long would you cook a 15 pound top sirloin roast in an oven? Could it be cooked in a crock pot and if so, for how long?

  16. Hi Chris, probably about 5.5 – 6 hours in the oven at 325 degrees. It could be cooked in a slow cooker, but you would need to have a really large one. Remember that when cooking in a slow cooker, liquid is required. You may be happier with the roast if cooked in the oven.

  17. Hi, you can use anywhere between 2-4 cups of liquid in the slow cooker. After you have the roast in the cooker, begin to add water. You want to have the slow cooker no more than 3/4 full.

  18. I have a 16 lb pork shoulder that I want to cook in a slow cooker. Was wondering how long to cook itfor and how much liquid to put in the slow cooker

  19. Hi, start the cooker on high for the first two hours. You will need to cook on low for an additional 6-8 hours or perhaps a bit longer. After you place the meat in the cooker, add enough liquid to fill the cooker 3/4 full. Enjoy.

  20. How long and on what setting should I cook a full beef tenderloin in a crock pot? Thanks for the advice.

  21. Hi Michelle, you can cook on high for the first 2 hours and then reduce to low (or stay on high if your time is limited). If you reduce to low add an additional 6-8 hours of cook time. If you stay on high, add an additional 5-6 hours of cook time. Be sure to add some liquid to the cooker–after you have added the beef, add several cups of liquid. It can be water or broth.

  22. I have a 7 pound beef roast in slow cooker on low. How many hours should I leave it in?

  23. using crock pot for first time. making chili & want to cut recipe in half. is the cook time also cut in half?

  24. Silly question. My friend got a crock pot for Xmas. On the dial it has 1,2,and 3 waves but doesn’t say which one is high low or warm. It doesn’t tell you in the manual. Can u help

  25. Hi, you can easily determine which number corresponds with the temperature setting by filling the pot half full of water and turning it to setting 1 and recording the temperature after an hour. Then lower/raise the temperature to the next setting and record. Wait about an hour in between recording. Finally check out the third number and check that temperature.

  26. the recipe called for cooking 3 lb roast on low for 22 hours ,,, at 12 hours it was at the meat temp so it was cooked thru then ,,,is there a benefit for cooking 10 more hours ?

  27. Hi, the longer cook time will continue to tenderize the roast. If you cooked a roast that long, I’d expect you would need a slotted spoon to remove the roast from the cooker. If you were planning to make pulled pork, then the roast would already be in shreds. That is the only advantage that I could see from that long of a cook time.

  28. Hi, start the loins on high for one or two hours and then cook for an additional 6-8 hours. They should be well done and very tender by that time.

  29. I have 1.17 lbs of pork shoulder steaks bone in completely thawed. This is my first time ever using a crock pot or cooking this meat. How long does it need to cook on high?

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