Slow cooker

Avoid Slow Cooking: The Safety Mistake You Might be Making

The slow cooker is your friend on those busy work weeks when you want to cook dinner, but are short on time. Whether you are making a crockpot coq au vin or a slow cooker chicken tinga, just put your ingredients into this small appliance before you leave for your meetings and Zooms, and eight hours later, dinner is ready and there is nothing for you to do but serve it. However, if you are new to the slow cooker scene and don’t understand the settings, you could make a big mistake by starting it on the warm setting to cook your food.

Your slow cooker has three settings: high, low, and warm. But you don’t want to begin the cooking process by placing it on warm because your cooker simply doesn’t get hot enough at this setting. The temperature for warming generally hovers around 165 degrees Fahrenheit, which is what the USDA recommends as a minimum temperature to keep bacteria at bay if you are making chicken dishes. Ham and beef are a little lower at 145 degrees.  

Slow cookers typically cook food at between 170 and 280 degrees Fahrenheit. To achieve this temperature range and destroy any harmful bacteria in the process, your slow cooker uses direct heat and steam, coupled with the length of time it is set to cook, which generally ranges from between two and eight hours.


Woman stirring food in slow cooker

When do you use the warm setting? This button is used to keep food warm after it has been cooked. Some slow cookers automatically default to this setting once your meal has been cooked for its set amount of time. Other times, you may want to hit the warm setting if everyone hasn’t arrived for dinner and you don’t want the meal to get cold. 

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What is the safest way to cook with your slow cooker? You want to preheat your appliance just as you would preheat your oven to avoid food being in that temperature danger zone for bacteria growth. The USDA suggests that whenever possible, cook your food at the high setting for at least an hour and then turn it back to low. However, the agency also notes that it is perfectly safe to use the low setting and cook the meal at this temperature all day if needed.

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