Do you enjoy cooking with a crock-pot? They’re great for setting and forgetting and leaving the food to cook while you’re busy elsewhere. Imagine getting up for breakfast with the food already cooked. So, what about leaving it run overnight with the food cooking or left on warm, or just food sitting in the pot while it’s turned off?
Crock-Pot is technically a brand name, with the original Crock-Pot a slow cooker with a ceramic inner pot. Here, I use the word ‘crockpot’ (or crock-pot) interchangeably with ‘slow cooker’ just like most people today.
So, on to ‘can you leave food in a slow cooker overnight’…
Is it safe to leave food in a Crock Pot overnight (while on)?
Crock pots are low wattage appliances and so they have a low risk of starting kitchen fires. While leaving food in a crock pot overnight is safe, whether you choose to do so and the end result will depend on what you’re cooking.
Here’s what to know…
- What not to cook in a crock pot overnight
- The types of meals that fare best in a crock pot and why
- Tips on what to do if your overnight crock-pot recipe goes wrong
- How to be safe if you’re going to leave them on overnight
What not to cook in a crock pot overnight
The crockpot style of cooking is slow and gradual. Foods not to cook in a crock pot or slow cooker include grains or starchy ingredients.
Starchy ingredients to avoid cooking in a crock pot overnight:
These foods tend to expand and get overly soft when left to cook slowly in liquid. If you’re wanting perfectly cooked fluffy rice, don’t use a slow cooker left on overnight, as the meal will turn to mush and then dry out before the night is done.
If you really need to add these, cook them separately or add them to the slow cooker in the last 30 minutes of cooking time.
This is the thing… ‘overnight’ means roughly 7–8 hours for most people. You may want rice to be ‘mushy’ e.g. for a rice pudding, but in an 7-8 hour time frame you risk the food drying out and spoiling.
- Other foods not to cook overnight in a slow cooker: foods that have a short cooking time, e.g. fish and cocktail franks.
Foods like this include cocktail franks and other appetisers or foods that take 1–3 hours.
Dips! If you’ve never made a slow-cooker dip, you’re missing out. But, forget about overnight cooking of cheesy dips as cheese curdles.
So apart from starchy foods, others to forget about cooking in a crockpot overnight are those that take relatively little time to cook. Otherwise, the goods will end up overcooked, dry and unappetising.
Unless of course, you can set your crockpot to turn off and keep the food warm for the remainder of the time. But you shouldn’t leave the food on ‘warm’ for hours.
Can I leave a crockpot on warm overnight?
You can, but it’s not wise for food-safety reasons to leave food on warm for many hours. Apart from drying out, it can spoil because of nasty bacteria. It’s best to follow the instructions of your slow cooker for advice on how long food should stay on ‘keep warm’ but 1–4 hours might pull it up depending on the temperature.
Can I leave cooked food sit in a crockpot overnight (while turned off)?
Leaving food sit overnight at room temperature — this means food sitting in a crockpot (turned off) — is not a good idea if you intend eating it.
You risk getting quite ill and even reheating the food at high temperatures won’t kill the nasty bacteria that potentially grow and produce toxins that can make you incredibly sick.
A window of 2 hours is what authorities advise for cooked food to be consumed within or otherwise stored in refrigeration of 40 ºF (4 ºC) or less to avoid the growth of nasty bacteria, such as staphylococcus (staph) and Bacillus cereus.1
The types of meals that fare best in a slow cooker
What are the best things to cook in a slow cooker – overnight? There are tons of options as overnight recipes for your slow cooker. A popular one right now is bone broth and using a slow cooker on low overnight works excellent for this.
Foods that are okay to cook overnight in a slow cooker:
- Red meats, e.g. lamb shanks, meat casseroles
- Osso Bucco
- Mince dishes
- Bone broths
- Some soups
Use the low setting if you are cooking overnight.
Most slow cookers have ‘low’ and ‘high’ settings. Foods will cook much faster on high than low. Depending on the make and model, the difference will vary from a couple of hours up to half the time.
Guide to cooking times
You really need to check out the instructions for your particular make and model, but the following is a guide indicating cooking times*…
When can you leave food in a slow cooker overnight to cook?
You can put meat in your slow cooker for overnight cooking on the low setting. Popular slow-cooker meals that involve meat are pulled pork and beef stew. For the best stew flavor, make sure to sear the meat on all sides.
And finally—breakfast could be the number one reason to have a crock pot on overnight. Imagine waking up to a breakfast casserole with eggs and bacon or sausage. Or, what about a yummy slow cooker breakfast baked beans.
Remember to use the ‘low’ setting when cooking overnight.
I messed up, what now?
If you left one of the no-no foods in your slow cooker overnight, then you’re out of luck, unfortunately. There is no saving mushy pasta or messed-up veggies.
Sometimes, when you leave a crock pot turned on overnight, food burns to the bottom. I cover how to deal with this in my article on how to clean a crock pot (along with removing problem stains and white residue). But, simply, your best bet is to fill the pot with water to just above the crusty residue, add a good squirt of dish soap and leave to soak until the crust softens and then remove with hand washing.
To prevent that from happening again, you could buy crock pot liners from just about any store. They’ll cover the bottom and the sides of the pot. When you’re done cooking, you can discard them. There are reusable options, too, if you’d like to cut down on plastic waste! I wrote about the pros and cons of slow cooker liners and alternatives in my article on slow cooker liners.
How to feel safe leaving crockpot on overnight
Getting to the crux of ‘is it safe to leave food in a crock pot overnight’, involves the safety of using an electrical appliance unattended.
Any electrical appliance has the potential to catch fire, including a crock pot. The risk is extremely low with regard to a crock pot and close to negligible when taking some necessary precautions.
- Always check the cord of the slow cooker before you start using it. Look for any signs of fraying or exposed wires. Concentrate your search near the bases where the cord plugs into the wall and attaches to the slow cooker because that’s where the fraying will begin before it advances further down the cord. If you see any exposed wires, throw the while crock pot away immediately. Do not try to play electrician with your fancy black tape. It will only make matters worse.
- When you’re done using the appliance, always make sure to unplug it. That makes it impossible for something to go wrong. That goes for the rest of your electrical appliances, too. Unplugging them might seem a bit tedious, at least until the first time you look over at your slow cooker in the morning and realize that the cat had knocked it from “off” to “high” in the middle of the night.
- Make sure you have a working smoke detector. If you do leave your slow cooker on overnight, then the shrill beeping will probably wake you before the smell of smoke will. It’s recommended that you change the batteries at least one time per year, just to be cautious. Even if you don’t plan on leaving your slow cooker on when you’re asleep, you should always maintain your smoke detectors.
Cooking meat in a crockpot
Ideally, if you put raw meat in your cooker, sear or cook it first. This will enhance the flavor. So, before you put that chuck roast or chicken breast in the slow cooker, it is best to sear it first.
Putting dairy in slow cooker meals
In most cases, putting dairy into a slow cooker meal before the food is nearly finished is a no-no. Dairy, when left to cook for long hours, will curdle and spoil the appeal of your food without fail every time.
The best way to add dairy, whether it’s cream or cheese, to slow-cooker meals is to add it in after and stir. That way, it still makes its way in, but it doesn’t have enough time to curdle.
The exception to this, of course, is if you are using your slow cooker to make desserts in which case the dairy is mixed with other ingredients before cooking.
Adding extra fat during cooking
You don’t want to put extra fat in your slow-cooker. When there’s an excess of fat, the rendered-down fat floats to the top. You’ll get a layer of fat over your dish, and you’ll need to delicately scope this off to serve a meal that looks appetizing.
If you don’t think you have time for a slow cooker, you can always just get a pressure cooker instead. They’ll cook the food in less than half the time. In addition, most pressure cookers also have a rice setting, even for brown rice, that makes the rice without the mush.
Following the tips provided will not only make your crock pot life easier, but it’ll be tastier, too. Spending an entire night with something in the slow cooker only to have it turn out awful is heartbreaking. Avoiding that at all costs will decrease your stress later when you would’ve been scrambling to get something on the table.
- Food Safety Myths – Washington State Health