Avoid stopping and then restarting a slow cooker part way through the cooking process. If the slow cooker is stopped the temperature of the food can drop below 140 degree Fahrenehit. This puts the food at risk of growing harmful bacteria.
Slow cookers work best when left on for at least 6 hours or on the low setting up to 12 hours.
Choose a slow cooker with a ‘keep warm’ function to keep it at a safe temperature after cooking if you plan on eating 1-2 hours after it has stopped the full cooking process.
Why you should not stop and restart a slow cooker
Here are the top reasons not to stop and restart a slow cooker at home.
1. Bacterial growth
Stopping a slow cooker will allow the temperature to drop into the zone where bacteria can reproduce in your food. Temperatures below 140 degrees Fahrenheit put the food at risk of growing bacteria which will not be killed off when the slow cooker is re-started.
Allowing the slow cooker to stay at the high or low cooking which are both above 140 degrees Fahrenheit will keep the food safe and ready to eat when the timer is done.
It is better to allow the slow cooker to keep cooking for longer rather than turning it off. Another hour of cooking won’t make too much difference to a meal that was designed for slow cooking and has been heated for more than 6 hours.
Check out this quick video for some easy slow cooker hacks.
2. Temperature risk
Turning a slow cooker off and then on again puts the food at risk of dropping to a temperature that will allow bacteria growth. Chicken needs to be heated to a temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill off the bacteria.
Beef needs to be heated to 145 degrees Fahrenheit which will also happen when the slow cooker is set to a high or low setting. Turning it off will drop the temperature putting the meat at risk, especially if it has not reached this minimum temperature to begin with.
Slow cookers will heat on low up to around 200 degrees Fahrenheit and on high will reach 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Turning them off can allow chicken to drop below this temperature putting the whole dish at risk.
How to avoid stopping and restarting a slow cooker
There are ways to avoid stopping and restarting a slow cooker that keeps your food at a safe cooking temperature. Check out these easy kitchen hacks.
Choose a slow cooker with a warm function
Choose a slow cooker or an all-in-one pot with an automatic warm function. Once the machine has finished the slow cooking process, they can be set to go to an automatic warm function which will keep the food at a safe temperature until you turn it off.
Keep in mind that if you plan to keep your food in the slow cooker for extra time, add a little bit more liquid to allow for the extra moisture that will be lost through steam. Slow cookers must stay above 140 degrees Fahrenheit to keep the food hot and prevent bacterial growth.
Once my slow cooker has finished cooking will turn on to a keep warm mode. I usually leave it on for an extra hour or two because we will often have our dinner later than expected.
Adding a few tablespoons of water to a curry or casserole keeps it moist and stops the edges from drying out.
Leave the slow cooker on for longer
Instead of switching the slow cooker off part way through or at the end just leave it on the low setting. If you need to stop it in the middle of the cook, instead just leave it on and let it complete its cycle.
You might have your meal ready early, but the keep warm setting will keep it ready for eating later.
To work out how much energy your slow cooker uses and how much they cost to run per year, check out my calculator.
Reheat the food in the microwave or stove
Another method to avoid switching a slow cooker off part way through is to allow the full cooking cycle and then storing the food in the fridge until you are ready. Transfer the cooked food to a glass Pyrex container, seal the lid and put it in the fridge for later.
There should not be much steam from a slow cooked meal as it won’t be at a super high temperature. Allow some steam to escape and then place it in the fridge straight away so it cools down quickly.
Take the slow cooked meal out and reheat it in the microwave or on the stove. You can separate the food into single serves and heat up as much as you need. This is a much safer method than stopping the slow cooker.
Can you stop cooking meat halfway through in a slow cooker?
It is best to avoid turning off a slow cooker half way through. Allow the slow cooker to cook completely from 6 hours all the way up to 12 hours on low. If the cooking process is stopped halfway through it can reduce in temperature of the meat, putting it at risk of bacterial growth which will not be killed off when the slow cooker is restarted.
Can I leave food in slow cooker overnight?
Food can be left in the slow cooker overnight if it is set to the desired cooking setting and then programed to switch to ‘keep warm’ when it is finished. You will have a meal ready in the morning, ready to pack for lunch or put in the fridge for dinner.
Make sure the slow cooker is not under a bench while it is turned on. This will avoid steam or any small splashes coming out the steam hole from getting on your cupboards.
Can you put meat back in a slow cooker?
Meat can be grilled in a pan and placed in the slow cooker to finish the cooking process. This is a great way to brown the meat, increase the temperature and make your slow cooked meal taste great. Add liquid into the slow cooker and turn it on high to heat it all up quickly.
Turn the slow cooker on to preheat if you are planning to add hot meat or liquid.
Avoid putting boiling or very hot water into a cold slow cooker as the high heat can cause thermic shock and cause the ceramic dish to crack. Preheat the slow cooker so that when you add hot meat and liquids it will not crack.
I always like to brown my meat, onions and garlic first and the liquid can be heated in the same pan to be added to the slow cooker.
Make sure the liquid covers the meat to keep it at a safe temperature.
Do not add frozen meat to the slow cooker because it can take too long to heat up and it may not reach a safe cooking temperature quick enough.
Can you open slow cooker while cooking?
It is best not to open a slow cooker while cooking as you will allow extra steam to escape which can dry out the food and prevent the cooker from reaching the required temperature to kill off the bacteria.
Keep the lid on the slow cooker and the steam in to keep it hot, moist and to make sure it is ready at the set time.
Can you reheat in a slow cooker?
Do not reheat food in a slow cooker as it will take too long to bring to food back up to temperature. Instead reheat it on a stove or in a microwave to rapidly bring it up to a steaming hot temperature of at least 165 degree Fahrenheit (1).
Can you stop and restart a slow cooker? | Summary
Avoid stopping and restarting a slow cooker part way through the cooking process as this could put the food at risk of dropping to a temperature where harmful bacteria can grow. It is better to allow the full cooking process to finish, and then leave the slow cooker on the ‘warm’ function for an extra hour or two.
If your slow cooker does not have warm function, transfer the food to a glass Pyrex container and put it in the fridge for later.
(1) Department of Health: Cooling and Reheating Food, Revised June 2016, Accessed 29/8/21, https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/indoors/food_safety/coolheat.htm
I am an accredited practicing dietitian, experienced gardener and a dedicated cook. I love writing and sharing my experience so you can learn from my successes and mistakes.