Slow cooker options

I’m dying to get a slow cooker. My problem is that I’m routinely away from home for 11+ hours.

I’ve been looking at the programmable cookers on the market that switch to warm mode once the cook time is reached. However, I’ve read reviews that “warm” is frequently too warm, causing the unit to overcook.

So here’s my idea:

Buy a cheapo cooker and purchase a programmable timer, like one of these. Then I could set the electricity to come on, say six hours or whatever before I’m due home.

Sure, the food will be sitting out for a few hours before cooking, but I’m thinking that wouldn’t matter. Right? Or is my idea stupid and this is the reason no one makes a slow cooker with an option to turn on at a certain time?

sounds like a recipe for food poisoning to me. Unless you’re cooking a large roast, and put it in frozen to thaw before cooking. Otherwise, you’re talking about leaving food out unrefrigerated for hours, then slowly bringing it up to temperature over even more hours, all while keeping it in the unsafe zone (50 - 140 degrees F) for the majority of the 11 hours you are away.

I get food poisoning quite easily, and am a bit paranoid about it, so add salt is needed. But I think it’s a bad idea.


Maybe I should buy one of those small refrigerators and put that on the timer, too. Then put the cooker in the fridge. Fridge shuts off when cooker turns on!

I don’t think leaving things out for a couple hours is too much of a problem; it’s changes in temp that are a problem (i.e., hot, cold, hot, cold, etc.). I do have a programmable timer for my slow cooker, and it worked fine for me. It starts the cooking immediately and them goes to warm, and I never found it to be too warm.

But you’re right – most slow cooker recipes are set for the olden days, when someone was home and just didn’t want to fuss with cooking. They’re not made for how we all live our lives now, being gone for 12 hours a day. I actually used my slow cooker most on weekends, when I was there to monitor it, and then reheated leftovers from it during the week.

I’m not sure how you can “overcook” something that’s going into a slow cooker anyway, unless it’s a rather specific and fiddly recipe. For general slow cookery (brown* tough meat, dump into cooker with broth, spices and chopped vegetables, simmer for hours) the longer you cook it the more unctuous and tender the meat will be. Holding it for a few hours on “warm” shouldn’t overcook it.

  • Browning the meat before adding it to the cooker makes the final result WAY better, especially if you deglaze the pan with whatever liquid will ultimately go into the cooker. This step can be done the night before if you’re in a hurry in the morning. But don’t skip this step.

Cooks Illustrated did a review of slow cookers, it is well worth the money for a months membership to read it.

It can be done. My wife left my pheasant in the Crock Pot on warm for hours after it was already done with the idea that I would come home to a hot dinner. It was ruined. It had long since gone past fall off the bone and into shredded dry meat mush territory.

I do like adding deglaze into the crock, but after lots of tests, I’ve never noticed a difference between browned roasts and those just thrown in.

OK, so how about reducing the cook time so that it switches to “warm” sooner? Instead of “cook” for 8 hours and “warm” for 4 hours, you only cook for 4 hours and “warm” for 8 hours, or something like that.

Or is “warm” too warm for even that?

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crock pot (as in a Rival brand Crock Pot) that turns on as soon as it gets power. When the timer clicks on, the crock pot is just going to sit there in standby mode, not start cooking.

Depending on what you’re planning to make, there are plenty of recipes that would be fine if you left them in for 11 hours on low (or the longest time on low and then switching to warm). Something like a roast should do just fine like that.