Slow cookers are known for their ability to slowly and steadily cook dinner. They’re also known for being hot.
The temperature of a slow cooker can range from low (200–300 degrees Fahrenheit) to high (300–400 degrees Fahrenheit).
Any setting above medium should be considered high heat; if you want to brown your meat or finish any other prep work, you’ll want a high setting.
If you’ve ever made soup in a slow cooker, you know that they tend to get very hot on the low setting, which is why recipes often recommend that you place the lid slightly askew so the steam can escape and prevent boil-overs.
The heat of the slow cooker impacts three things: the cooking time of your meal, the texture of its final product, and its flavor profile.
Let’s take a look at how changing these settings will affect your finished meal:
High heat: 300–400 degrees
The high-temperature setting on a slow cooker is great for quickly and efficiently cooking ground meat, searing seafood, and browning large pieces of meat.
The high heat will help your meat reach 140 degrees F before the slow cooker has even started to work its magic, so you’ll want to use this setting only if you want to transform your ingredients with heat alone.
If you’re making a stew or a braised dish, a high-heat setting will cook your ingredients quickly and tenderly, but not as thoroughly as a slow and low process.
This is because a slow cooker is a moist cooking method (see below).
It’s great for foods that need lots of moisture, like whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables, but it’s not ideal for a few meat dishes, which need the heat to come from an outside source.
Low heat: 200–300 degrees
The low-temperature setting on a slow cooker is best for recipes that need time to cook.
Stews and braises, whole grains, beans, and root vegetables like potatoes and carrots all do better in the slow cooker when cooked on low.
Fast-cooking proteins, like chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, or very thin cuts of beef, will get tough and rubbery if cooked on low.
These proteins do best when cooked in a high-temperature environment. In general, slow cookers are used for moist cooking methods, because they hold a lot of moisture in the pot.
This is great for grains and legumes, but it’s not ideal for meat, which needs to sear and brown as it cooks.
Different slow cooker temperatures
Low-temperature slow cooking is great for grains, stews, and braises, which need long periods of time to break down and become tender.
High-temperature slow cooking is great for cooking tough meats (like short ribs or pork shoulder) and other select ingredients that need to reach an internal temperature of at least 140 degrees F before the slow cooker has even begun to work its magic.
How Long Does It Take To Cook Food In A Slow Cooker?
The handy chart below shows you how long it takes to cook a selection of foods in a slow cooker at different temperatures.
The numbers in the chart are approximate and depend on the type of slow cooker you have, the size of your ingredients, and how hot your stovetop is.
Be sure to adjust your cooking times for each type of food as needed.
White rice 1 hour 10 minutes
Cornmeal mush (1 cup) 1 hour 15 minutes
Chicken thighs with skin (bone-in) 2 hours 20 minutes
Ground beef (1 lb.) 2 hours 40 minutes
Cornbread (1 slice) 2 hours 45 minutes
Macaroni & Cheese 3 hours 30 minutes
Brown beans 3 hours 35 minutes
Asparagus 4 hours 50 minutes
Creamy tomato soup 4 hours 55 minutes
Pork chops 5 hours 10 min.
Whole chicken 6 hours 20 min.
Ground turkey 7+ hours 40+ min.
Beef stew 8+ hrs 45+ min.
Corn tortillas 9+ hrs 60+ min.
Black beans 10+ hrs 70+ min.
Pinto beans 11+ hrs 90+ min.
Low-temperature cooking is ideal for long, moist cooking methods like grains and stews and braises that need an extended period to break down into tenderness.
High-temperature cooking is best for tough meats or other ingredients that need to reach an internal temperature of at least 140 degrees F before the slow cooker has even begun to work.
What Is The Difference Between A Crockpot And A Slow Cooker?
A crock pot is a slow cooker that uses an electric heating element, while a slow cooker uses the heat of ambient air to cook food. Crock pots are more commonly used in the United States than in Canada or Europe, but they’re more expensive than their “slow cook” counterparts.
A crock pot is a 2-door countertop appliance that has been around for decades and has been widely used since the 1970s.
It’s designed to operate on low or high settings and runs on electricity, but some models use an internal thermostat and can be set to do so automatically.
It’s designed to run for 8 hours on low and then automatically switch over to warm for another 8 hours, leaving you with 3 hours of controlled cooking time each day without having to babysit it or turn it on again once you’ve finished with your meal.
Slow cookers are definitely a multi-functional kitchen appliance. It cooks food slowly, which is great for those after-work meals when you don’t have time to slave over the stove.
And it’s great if you want to make a big batch of something that you can then freeze and have ready to go in a few hours when you’re too tired to cook again.
But that’s not all the slow cooker has to offer: it can be used as a pressure cooker, a roaster, and even a table-warmer.
Whatever you’re making in your slow cooker, you’ll probably want to start on a high setting to sear and brown your meat first.
Then reduce the temperature to low, put the lid on (lightly), and cook away.