How Long Does a Crock-Pot Take to Heat Up Food?

by Charlie
Beef stew in crock-pot

The length of time that a Crock-Pot takes to heat up depends on the heat setting you use.

How long does a Crock-Pot take to heat up food? On “low” settings a Crock-Pot takes about eight hours to reach simmering. A Crock-Pot set to “high” should reach the same temperature in about four hours.

Crock-Pots use every second of the slow cooking process, so it is important to optimize your cooking by following a recipe exactly as it is stated. Read on to learn the difference between the different Crock-Pot settings, how to optimize your slow cooking time, and how to make sure your Crock-Pot is heating properly.

How Long Does a Crock-Pot Take to Heat Up Food?

The different Crock-Pot settings are defined by the amount of time it takes to get to the simmering point (about 185 to 205ºF). A Crock-Pot on “low” should be able to accomplish this in eight hours, while a Crock-Pot on “high” should get the job done in about four hours.

At the very least, a Crock-Pot must reach a temperature of 140ºF in less than four hours for the food to be considered safe to eat. External factors like power outages, adding cold food, or peeking in on the progress can prolong the heating period, so make sure you limit these variables as much as you can.

How to Optimize Heating Food in Your Crock-Pot

In order to optimize heating time in your Crock-Pot you should avoid these mistakes:

  • Cooking all recipes on high
  • Using frozen food
  • Not browning or sautéing food prior to adding it
  • Checking on the food

While you will probably still end up with consumable food at the end, making any of these mistakes can change the overall flavor of your dish. Here is why.

Cooking All Recipes on High

Cooking on high reduces the amount of time that flavors have to mingle. While this is an okay option if you forget to get everything into the pot earlier in the day, it is better to not make a habit out of it. Certain things like soft food or dry herbs thrive when they cook longer, and you will miss out.

Using Frozen Food

It is better to use thawed food in your Crock-Pot. Frozen food will have to thaw out before it can even start cooking, which interferes with the food-safe guideline of “140ºF in less than four hours”. The risk of harmful bacteria growth just is not worth the convenience of a freezer-to-Crock-Pot meal.

Not Browning or Sautéing Food

If a recipe calls for you to brown or sauté ingredients prior to adding them to the Crock-Pot you are better off following the recipe. Skipping this step usually means you will miss out on the intended flavors of the dish. You should also preheat your Crock-Pot during this time.

Checking On Food

The longer a dish cooks the better it smells. The better it smells, the more you have to fight the urge to peek in on it. But you must resist! Lifting that lid for just a second is like pulling at a loose thread and unraveling all the progress made. It is estimated that it takes up to 20 minutes for the dish to recover the lost heat.

How to Convert Traditional Recipes to Crock-Pot

All this being said, you can manipulate recipes to fit your schedule better. Just keep in mind that it will not taste the same. 

When converting traditional stovetop recipes to Crock-Pot time you can use this system:

  • 45 minutes traditional = 6-10 hours on low = 3-4 hours on high
  • 50/60 minutes traditional = 8-10 hours on low = 4-5 hours on high

If you are working with a slow cooker recipe but are pressed for time you can use this system for speeding things up:

  • 7 hours on low = 3 hours on high  
  • 8 hours on low = 4 hours on high  
  • 9 hours on low = 5 hours on high  
  • 10 hours on low = 6 hours on high  
  • 11 hours on low = 7 hours on high  

Remember that speeding up a recipe can dry it out, so try to avoid doing so as much as you can. Alternatively, making a dish cook slower can make it too soft. Proceed with caution.

What to Do if Crock-Pot Stops Heating

There are a number of reasons that your Crock-Pot may have interrupted heating, including power outages or someone accidentally unplugging the slow cooker.

As long as the heat was off for less than two hours you can resume cooking in the Crock-Pot. If you need to you can also resume cooking the dish on the stove or in the oven. 

Unfortunately, if the food sat while not cooking for more than two hours you will need to toss it. You should also throw out food if you are unsure how long it has been sitting. The risk for bacterial growth is too high at this point.

Testing Your Crock-Pot

Make sure the slow cooker you use has no gaps between the lid and the insert where precious heat can escape. If you find that the lid is warped or that it wobbles you might be losing enough heat for the food to become dangerous.

You can always test your Crock-Pot to make sure it is heating properly.

To do this, first fill it somewhere between ⅔ and ¾ of the way full with water. Make sure that the water you use is neither hot nor cold or you can skew your results.

Set the Crock-Pot to low, and then leave it alone for eight hours. At exactly eight hours check the temperature of the water using an instant-read thermometer. The temperature should be at least 185ºF. Any lower and your Crock-Pot is not heating well enough to trust the food from it.

Final Thoughts

Crock-Pots heat up the entire time they are cooking, so it is essential to optimize the time spent cooking. Following recipes, cooking temperature, and cooking time will help make sure that your dish comes out rich and full of flavor.

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