Is It Safe to Leave Food in a Crock Pot Overnight?

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Crock-pot meals are an easy and usually inexpensive way to feed your family. However, unlike pressure cooker recipes, crock-pot recipes can take many hours to fully cook. You can basically set and forget a crockpot when you need to leave food cooking during the day, but what about at night?

Is it safe to leave food in a Crock Pot overnight (while on)?

While crock pots are low wattage and relatively low risk in terms of kitchen fires, they can still burn your food or turn it to mush overnight if you’re not around to watch it. While leaving food in a crock pot overnight is safe, whether you choose to do so depends on what you’re cooking.

In this article, you’ll find out why it’s best to research your meal beforehand and the dangers of leaving the wrong meal in a crock pot overnight. I cover the types of meals that fare best in a crock pot and why. I also offer tips on what to do if your overnight crock-pot recipe goes wrong. Lastly, I recommend ways on how to be safe with your electrical appliances, especially if you’re going to leave them on overnight. 

Crock Pots vs slow cookers

Crock pots and slow cookers are basically the same. Crock-Pot is a brand of slow cookers, just like Reynold’s Wrap is a brand of aluminum foil. The original Crock-Pot is a slow cooker with a ceramic inner pot.

The brand name for these slow cookers just stuck with people, and for many, has replaced the term altogether. It will be used interchangeably, so noting that they are, in fact, the same will help ensure you don’t get confused. 

So, on to ‘can you leave food in a slow cooker overnight’…

What kinds of meals work best?

Slow cookers cook food gradually, and there are simply some foods that aren’t best when cooked like that, especially overnight. Most of these foods are starchy, like pasta, couscous, quinoa, and rice. If left in liquid for too long, these foods tend to get soggy and expand, sometimes beyond recognition. That’s fine if you are wanting rice pudding. But, if you are wanting perfectly cooked fluffy rice, for instance, you wouldn’t use a slow cooker, especially overnight, as the meal will turn to mush before the night is done. 

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.

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.

Lastly, 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.

What can you put in a slow cooker overnight?

What are the best things to cook in a slow cooker – overnight? There are tons of options for your slow cooker. For example, soups. You can absolutely cook incredible chicken soup in your slow cooker overnight. For the best results, though, buy bone-in chicken. Cook the pasta separately and add it in with the veggies the next day to be good to go. 

When can you leave food in a slow cooker overnight to cook?

You can put meat in your slow cooker for overnight cooking. The most sought after slow-cooker meals that involve meat are pulled pork and beef stew. Both of those are excellent (and inexpensive) cuts of meat.  For the best stew flavor, make sure to sear the meat on all sides. 

Dips! If you’ve never made a slow-cooker dip, you’re missing out. Leaving a nice dip in your slow cooker overnight will make sure you have the best snack at the party. If it’s a cheesy dip, though, you won’t need to cook it overnight, and you shouldn’t because cheese curdles. However, you can make bean dip or salsa to die for overnight with no problem. 

And finally—breakfast.  That would probably be reason number one to have a crock pot on overnight.  Imagine waking up to a breakfast casserole with pulled pork and biscuits or some Coconut-Cinnamon buns.  Check out The Today Show’s selection of Slow-Cooker Breakfasts You’ll Dream About All Night.

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 on overnight, food burns to the bottom. In that situation, your best course of action is to put water in the pot just above the line of the crusty residue with a good squirt of dish soap and leave it on low heat to soak for about fifteen minutes or until the crust softens, before you scrape it out. This trick also works for regular pots and pans when things get too messy. It’s a lifesaver. For cleaning of nonstick cookware see my full guide to using and caring for nonstick pans.

is it safe to leave food in a crock pot overnight, you may need to soak it to clean it
Soaking slow cooker in soapy water on low heat – kitchen hack

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.

The best fire prevention methods

Another aspect to ‘is it safe to leave food in a crock pot overnight’, is the safety issue around using an electrical appliance unattended.

Any electrical appliance has the potential to catch fire, including a crock pot.  However, the risk is extremely low.  Taking some necessary precautions will keep those risks negligible. Luckily, there are a few tricks that make it easy to check on the status of your slow cooker to make sure it hasn’t gone awry. 

  • 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.

Final thoughts

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. 

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