Slow cookers are one of the most convenient kitchen appliances. I love my Crock-Pot so much I have 2 of them! But it’s not uncommon to wonder can I leave food in a slow cooker overnight on warm?
Here’s what I know from using mine for years:
Yes, it’s totally fine to leave a Crock-Pot on overnight. In fact, prepping the next day’s dinner the night before, allowing it to cook (on low or high) overnight, and then switching it to warm is a great way to plan ahead, especially for large meals and gatherings.
At the same time, with it being an electric appliance, worrywarts may start wondering how long you can keep the cooker on safely. We’ve always heard that you can cook overnight in them, but is it really safe? And will it affect the flavor and texture of the food?
We are going to address your concerns. Here we will talk about how long a slow cooker can be left on, what happens if you overcook your food, and what that warming function is good for.
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— Liz Hunter, Realtor (@real_lizhunter) January 18, 2020
Can I leave a slow cooker on for 24 hours?
The short answer is yes.
Most slow cookers can safely be kept on for 24 hours as long as they are not ancient and do not have any damaged parts.
In fact, most programmable slow cookers will have an auto shut off feature that kicks in after a 24-hour cycle.
However, there is very little reason to leave the slow cooker on for a full 24 hours. Unless you know you will have a busy day, you will likely only need to keep it on for 12 hours at the maximum.
There may be some cases where you know you will have a busy day and need to get things started pretty far in advance. After all, you don’t want to be chopping vegetables and prepping meats at 5 in the morning before work.
In these cases, you may want to prep the night before, allowing your meal to cook overnight and then keep it on warm throughout the day so that it is ready for dinner. This may add up to a total of just under 24 hours for your slow cooker to be on.
Most meals, however, only require about 6 to 8 hours of cooking, so there is little need to keep it on for 24 hours straight.
Can you overcook in a slow cooker?
While some dishes will benefit from cooking longer, such as pulled pork or even some roasts, there are certainly some ingredients or whole dishes that may suffer from overcooking.
Because meals made in slow cookers typically require quite a bit of liquid, it is easy to overcook some things to the point where they are mushy.
Vegetables you need to be particularly careful with. You want them to retain some of their texture, so cooking longer may leave them soft and flavorless.
You also need to be careful with beans and noodles. Unless you are making refried beans, you don’t want to cook bean dishes, like chili, longer than necessary, even if doing so may enhance the overall flavor.
Some soups are okay to cook longer since the flavors will come together more as you allow them to sit.
However, if your soup requires noodles, you will want to cook the broth or liquid base completely before adding the noodles so they don’t end up too mushy.
I also like to add things like fresh herbs towards the end of the cooking.
Slow Cooker Overnight Breakfast Casserole is a simple recipe bursting with Italian flavors! A spin on the classic all-America breakfast casserole frees up your morning by letting the crockpot do all the work for you. https://t.co/sCqPMvLdQS? pic.twitter.com/9sgUbCzSiC
— Jamielyn Nye (@iheartnaptime) April 30, 2019
Does meat get more tender the longer it cooks in a slow cooker?
It really depends on the type of meat you are cooking.
Yes, cooking over a longer period rather than slapping a piece of meat on the grill or baking it uncovered in the oven for 20-30 minutes will help it to become more tender.
With fattier meats, like lamb shank, brisket and other beef roasts, and pork shoulder, you don’t need to worry too much about overcooking. The fat in these meats helps them to tenderize and maintain flavor.
And no one really complains if their pork shoulder or pork butt is falling apart due to tenderness.
However, some meats will not benefit from longer cooking when it comes to tenderness.
Leaner meats can dry out or become stringy and rubbery when cooked for too long. Chicken breast is particularly known for this.
To avoid overcooking your meat, ruining its texture and flavor, make sure you stick to the recommended cooking times. Some slow cookers even have timer settings that will switch from “cook” to “warm” after the time is up.
Here’s a chart showing slow cooker times for different cuts of beef, chicken, and pork to avoid overcooking:
|Type of Meat||Weight||Cook time on high||Cook time on low||Internal Temp When Done|
|Beef roast||3-4 lbs||5.75 hours||8 hours||145° F|
|Brisket||5-6 lbs||not recommended||9-10 hours||145° F|
|Beef chunks for stew||3 lbs||4.75 hours||6 hours||145° F|
|Pork butt or shoulder||6-7 lbs||7.5 hours||9.5 hours||145° F|
|Bone-in chicken breast or thigh||2-2.5 lbs||4 hours (may be a little dry)||6 hours||165° F|
|Boneless chicken breast or thigh||1-2 lbs||2 hours (may be a little dry)||3 hours||165° F|
|Whole chicken||6 lbs||6.25 hours||7.5 hours||165° F|
Proper cooking time is just one of the tips for avoiding bland slow-cooker food.
After all, bland boring food is sometimes of the biggest criticisms of Crock-Pots. Luckily, there are some easy ways around this. Check out all my best tips for avoiding bland slow-cooker food in this recent article.
Just click that link to read it on my site.
What happens if you slow cook too long?
Slow cookers are meant to cook over a long period, but there are some dishes and ingredients that can be cooked for too long.
The end result of overcooking will vary depending on the ingredient itself.
We already talked briefly about a few foods that need a minimal amount of time in the slow cooker, including most vegetables and noodles. These can get too mushy or soggy if left in the slow cooker for longer than the recipe calls for.
Lean meats, like chicken breast, can get very tough if overcooked in the slow cooker, especially if there is not enough liquid in the pot with it.
This will leave your meat with a stringy and somewhat rubbery texture.
Some dishes can easily be overcooked if you don’t add the right amount of liquid to the pot or include ingredients that don’t release enough liquid of their own. A lack of liquid can not only change the overall texture of your dish, but it can also result in scorched and burnt food.
And of course, there are some foods that you should avoid putting in the slow cooker altogether.
The following don’t hold up well and won’t maintain their nutrient level and consistency. I cover these in greater detail in a recent article. But I even get into what foods don’t need much, if any liquid when cooked in a Crock-Pot.
Just click that link to see it on my site.
Make a delicious fruit cobbler without the oven. You’ll avoid heating up the kitchen and still be able to enjoy a delicious desert! It’s a win-win. This sweet treat can be prepared in the microwave, the grill, the slow cooker, or even in a campfire. #nom #hungry #food #foodie pic.twitter.com/zCgAWuRd62
— Spring Power and Gas (@springpowergas) July 30, 2018
But avoid cooking the following in a slow cooker:
How long can you leave a crockpot on warm?
Before getting into this question, the first thing you need to realize is that the warm setting is NOT meant to cook. It simply maintains the temperature.
So, before you can even consider leaving your crockpot on warm all day, you will need to ensure that your food – particularly meat – is cooked all the way before switching it to warm.
That being said, let’s look at WHY you would want to leave your crockpot on warm all day if it doesn’t actually cook the food.
Some may choose to cook their meal nearly 24 hours in advance so they don’t need to worry about it on a busy day. This isn’t necessarily the most recommended method of cooking, but it is possible.
In this case, you can cook for 8 hours or so overnight then switch the Crock-Pot to warm and keep it running until dinnertime. Nothing is worse than having to reheat the meal that you took time to prepare because you couldn’t get to it right away when it was still warm.
These Slow Cooker Beef Tips and Rice are amazing. It is seriously a no fail recipe. Put the ingredients in a slow cooker and that’s it! https://t.co/nJFX30TEVr #sixsistersstuff #slowocooker #beeftips #rice #nofailrecipe pic.twitter.com/LkixXZshie
— Six Sisters Stuff (@SixSistersStuff) October 31, 2019
The best way to take advantage of your crockpot’s warm setting is by using one that comes with a built-in timer.
You can set the cook timer for however long you may need and it will switch over to warm automatically when the cooking time is up. This will allow you to cook throughout your workday and know that your food will still be warm when you get home.
My favorite slow cooker with a timer is not from Crock-Pot, but actually the Hamilton Beach 6-Quart Slow Cooker (click to see it on Amazon).
Thousands of awesome reviews, an Amazon’s Choice product, locking lid, programable, and it comes with a built-in thermometer so you always know exactly when your meat is done!
But sometimes when we aren’t careful, our slow cooker can crack!
That not only leaves us without dinner, but it makes a huge mess. And you also have to buy a new one! Make sure you know the different mistakes that can lead to a Crock-Pot cracking. I detail all of them in this recent article.
Just click that link to read it on my site.
Did I cover all you wanted to know about whether it’s OK to leave a slow cooker on warm overnight?
We hope this has answered all of your questions about leaving your slow cooker on warm overnight.
Most modern slow cookers are perfectly safe to be left on for extended periods, either cooking or just keeping your food warm. However, there is very little need to leave your slow cooker on for more than 12 hours or so at a time.
Leaving it on to cook for too long can ruin both the flavor and texture of your dish. Be sure to follow the recipe for the best result and your slow cooker’s instruction manual to ensure you are always using it safely.