The Biggest Crock-Pot Mystery Finally Solved!

Crock-pot settings

Has this ever happened to you? You have all the ingredients (and the best intentions) for preparing a delicious dinner in your Crock-Pot when, all of a sudden, you realize you were supposed to get cookin' three hours ago? If you're like me, you've probably wondered, "Instead of eight hours on low, can I just set it for four on high? Is there a difference?" 

Crock-Pot guru and author of the soon-to-be released OATrageous Oatmeals Kathy Hester shares her insight into the mysteries of the slow cooker's high versus low settings.

"In a modern slow cooker, if a general recipe says to cook for eight hours on low, you can usually cook it four hours on high instead if the timing works better for you," she explains.

Good to know, but is that really all there is to it? Not so fast, Hester says. 


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"The exception in this would be pastas, baking, and other things that call to cook on high -- you should not change them to low and double the time," Hester says. "Why? If you are baking in your slow cooker, something like my Vegan Herb Pound Cake from my blog, it will not rise and be a mushy mess if you cook it on low. Trust me on this one -- I’ve tried it!"

Complicating matters is the fact that much like snowflakes, no two Crock-Pots are the same, according to the slow cooker connoisseur. 

"Know your slow cooker -- that’s the best piece of advice I can give, Hester says. "I've had maybe 30 to 35 slow cookers and I can guarantee that if you were to go to Target and purchase two slow cookers -- same brand, same model -- they will each cook a little differently."

If you've replaced your Crock-Pot recently and thought you noticed a difference in temperature, you're not imagining it. 

"The high temp on a modern slow cooker is about twice as hot as low," Hester says. "The high setting is not as high on an older model." 

Why? Food safety requirements have changed over the years, she notes.

Once you've got your heat levels sorted out, Hester says it's important to remember that not all ingredients cook at the same speed. 

She offers the following suggestions: 

Ingredients Require Different Cooking Times. Add long-cooking vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, potatoes, and celery in the morning as they can cook all day.

Quicker-cooking veggies such as green beans, fresh peas, and herbs can go in about 30 minutes before serving. Add them any sooner and you run the risk of turning them to mush.  

Size Matters. Make sure your slow cooker is the size that's called for in the recipe.

"You can almost always double or triple a stew or soup recipe if the recipe was developed for a four-quart slow cooker and you have a six-quart," Hester notes. "Remember, it doesn't hurt to add more liquid. The worst that can happen is that you'll have to put it on the stove and cook off some of the extra liquid. But if you didn't add extra liquid and used a much larger slow cooker without doubling or tripling, your food will burn. No one likes to come home to a burnt dinner!"

Safety First. Always place your slow cookers on a trivet, just in case it gets a little too hot. It's rare for this to happen, Hester says, but why not take the precaution? Keep plastics or any meltables at least 6 inches away from the sides of the cooker. If you have any kids or pets, keep the cooker and its cords out of reach.

"It's really fine to leave the house with your slow cooker on as long as you know it really well," Hester says.

Do you experiment with the setting on your Crock-Pot when you're pressed for time?  

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