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My pot roast recipe says to cook on high for 6-8 hours or low for 3-4 hours. However, the instructions for my new Crockpot say that the low setting is just for warming, and should never be used for cooking. Many recipes I've found online do give instructions for cooking on low. Many people seem to think that the low setting produces more tender meat...but I don't want to do anything unsafe. Can I safely cook on low?

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I think those two are mixed up... surely it must be low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours? Anyway, I think most Crockpots have both a "low" and a "warm" setting, does yours have only "high" and "low"? –  Aaronut Sep 15 '13 at 18:04
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If the recipe has a large amount of liquid, they often can't heat up the liquid to a safe temperature on 'low'. You might have to start it on high to get it up to temperature, and then back it down. Or heat it through some other means then pour it in the slow cooker. –  Joe Sep 16 '13 at 15:06

3 Answers 3

Without any other information, it sounds like you have to assume that your slow cooker has only a warm setting (labeled "low") and a high setting, and use high for cooking. (Usually they have warm, low, and high.)

But it's possible that they're just being overly paranoid in the manual. I would personally try heating something on low (possibly just water, as a test), and seeing whether it boils or at least reaches and maintains a decent temperature.

The thing you're trying to avoid is the food spending too long in the "danger zone", below 140F (60C). If the low setting only just brings it above that, then it's going to take forever to heat up past it, and your food will be unsafe because all that time it wasn't hot enough. But on most slow cookers, the low setting brings it up to at least around 180F and on many, it even very slowly boils. If your heats that well, you can certainly use it for cooking. The one thing to keep in mind is that if it still takes a long time to come up to temperature, you may want to start it on high to get it all heated, and then switch to low for the rest of the cooking time.

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With mine, "low" is what you'd use for a long slow overnight/all day style boston butt or pot roast. It runs around 200F degrees. "High" is more what you'd use for cooking in the day time, where you can come home at lunch and turn it on. It runs closer to 300F,

There will be a certain amount of warming time with the "low" setting: this is always the case when you're cooking around 200F degrees. Some people recommend starting it on "high" and then turning it down to low once it's warmed up. I don't think it really matters unless you're working with something that has already had time to build up some bacterial colonies.

One thing to remember with a slow cooker is that they tend to fail over time. If you turn it on and it heats very slowly and doesn't get very hot, it's likely your heating element has crapped out, and you need to replace your slow cooker. There is really no way to tell other than sticking a thermometer in it every now and again, but you can usually get a sense of it if you're used to using them.

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The other two answers do a pretty good job of covering the pertinent issues, but here is a succinct answer:

As long as the internal temperature of your roast reaches at least 140°F within the first two hours and then stays at least that temperature for the remainder of the cooking, you are fine. The only way to test that is to use a thermometer. The longer it cooks at the lower a temperature the more collagen extraction (i.e., tenderness) you are going to get.

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