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The Slow Cooker Safety Tips You Need to Know

Get peace of mind while your meal cooks low and slow. We've broken down the must-know slow cooker safety tips.

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An overhead view of vegetarian chili with a spoon in a slow cooker.sdominick/iStock/Getty Images Plus

The slow cooker is by far one of our favorite kitchen appliances. What’s not to love? With so many easy recipes—like our best slow-cooker chili—you can simply set it and forget it. But like any electric cookware, there are few safety concerns to be aware of. If you’re wondering if your Crockpot is safe to use, we’re here to teach you the right steps to keep cooking stress-free.

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Sliced peppers visible inside of a red slow cookerTaste of Home

How a slow cooker works

New cooks may raise an eyebrow at slow-cooked dishes. Is it really safe to let dishes like this slow-cooker beef stew sit out cooking for hours at a time? Why does the food not spoil? Well, temperature plays a big role in food safety. Dangerous bacteria spreads when perishable food is anywhere from 40° and 140°F. Slow cookers are designed to heat food up to temps between 165 and 200°F which kills bad bacteria and results in tender, flavorful foods like the ones found in our most-shared slow cooker recipes.

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Close up of a slow cooker working on kitchen shelfDevrim PINAR/Shutterstock

Is it safe to leave a slow cooker on overnight?

Absolutely. Slow cookers are designed for countertop cooking over long periods of time. While you might not step away from an over or stove-top while in use, it’s okay to leave a slow cooker be—especially when you’re cooking 8-hour recipes like our slow-cooker red beans and sausage. Most modern slow cookers have an automatic shut off feature after 24-hours.

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preparing ahead of time makes hearty slow cooker meals are a favorite for fall and winter cookingsherwood/Shutterstock

Can I leave the house with my slow cooker on?

If leaving the house, make sure that the appliance is set to low, placed away from walls and set on a heatproof surface. This will help you sleep soundly if you follow these steps and plug it in overnight, too. Need to take your meal with you? We’ve compiled our favorite slow cooker travel bags in our guide to the best slow cooker accessories.

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Row of vintage Crock-Pots on table.liveslow/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Is my vintage slow cooker safe to use?

If you’re still using your vintage Crockpot from the ’70s, it’s time to give it a check-up. Make sure the slow cooker’s cords are in good condition. If the cord is frayed or not perfectly intact from the appliance to the plug, you should not use it. Additionally, if it starts to emit a weird smell, get rid of it.

When in doubt about older appliances, we recommend treating yourself to an upgrade. Recently, our Test Kitchen team tried out all of the top brands on the market and found the best slow cooker for your kitchen. You might be surprised by our #1 pick.

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Frozen berries and vegetables in bags in freezer close up; Shutterstock ID 666765940Yuliia Mazurkevych/Shutterstock

Is it safe to cook frozen food in the slow cooker?

Although it’s tempting to throw a frozen meal directly into the slow cooker, don’t. According to the FDA’s Slow Cooker and Food Safety guidelines, it’s much safer to let your frozen meat thaw before you cook. If using a prepared frozen package, make sure to follow its specific thawing instructions.

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Country style: the chicken broth and the ingredients on the table.AS Food studio/Shutterstock

Can you cook in a slow cooker without liquid?

You should always have a bit of liquid at the base of your slow cooker recipe. This keeps the ingredients from getting too hot, sticking to the bottom of the dish and potentially burning. Great liquids to add are broth, water and even barbecue sauce. Liquids like broth can add great flavor to soups like veggie lentil, and can also help keep your meal moist and tender.

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Volumetric measuring cup; Shutterstock ID 188866007wanphen chawarung/Shutterstock

How much food can I put in my slow cooker?

Though it’s tempting to fill your slow cooker up to the brim, we recommend that it should never be more than two-thirds full. Overfilling can lead to spills, messes and potentially undercooked food. Consult your appliance’s manual for maximum volume capacity before using.

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Person cutting the tip off their chicken wingTaste of Home

Is it safe to cook a whole chicken?

Though it’s not unsafe to cook large pieces of meat, (like in this slow cooker roast chicken recipe) cutting your meat into smaller sections can lessen the cook time and make it easier to fit more ingredients into the dish. Consult the instructions in your slow cooker’s instruction manual for further recommendations.

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Slow cookerLighttraveler/Shutterstock

Do I need to use the lid of my slow cooker?

Though it’s certainly tempting, resist peeking into the pot as it cooks. If the lid is removed, it lets out heat that’s been building up inside the dish. This can slow down the cooking process.

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Plugging in appliancepixfly/Shutterstock

Can I leave my slow cooker plugged in?

Fire departments recommend keeping your appliances unplugged when they aren’t in use, as an extra precaution. The “off” switch isn’t enough—so next time you finish using your slow cooker, unplug it and store it somewhere safe.