Why It Pays To Preheat Your Slow Cooker Before Adding Chicken

Ah, the good ol' slow cooker. A handy countertop appliance that was popular in the 1970s, according to the BBC, the slow cooker began a second ascent around 2015 — which, if you think about it, totally makes sense. The world seems to keep speeding up, taking even those of us who love to cook away from the kitchen to attend to other tasks — but with a slow cooker, you barely even need to be in the kitchen to craft a deeply delicious meal.

As anyone who has cooked with the appliance knows, a slow cooker works by slowly (of course) heating an element located within the base of the appliance; as the heat spreads up the sides and to the glass lid, the steam generated by the food inside the appliance creates a vacuum seal — gently, and safely, cooking anything from oatmeal to al pastor pork in an airtight environment that remains between the temperatures of 175 and 215 degrees Fahrenheit (via Jessica Gavin).

The slow cooker is pretty darn easy to use, basically a "set it and forget it" type appliance. But before you "forget" your delicious dish, make sure to preheat the appliance before getting to work — especially when you'll be adding chicken to it.

Preheating a slow cooker helps keep food in a safe temperature zone

When baking a tray of cookies or a pork tenderloin roast, we're well-accustomed to preheating the oven when we start the recipe. But did you know that slow cookers should be preheated, too? According to the University of Minnesota, it's a food safety issue: Ensuring that the appliance is already maintaining a steady temperature, as opposed to slowly heating up, is key to keeping food out of the "temperature danger zone," which refers to temps below 140 degrees Fahrenheit, in which bacteria can still replicate. In the case of raw chicken, which contains the potentially dangerous bacteria Salmonella and Campylobacter (via CDC), you're going to want to make sure the poultry enters a hot — not warm — environment.

As pointed out by Kitchn, slow cooker recipes for stews and roasts featuring meat often call for giving the protein a sear in a skillet on the stovetop before transferring it to the slow cooker, as the meat wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to brown in the stovetop appliance. So although chicken thighs, for example, might look browned and nicely cooked on the outside post-sear and pre-slow cooker, they're actually still raw inside, and it's a safer bet to transfer them to an already-heated appliance.

To preheat the slow cooker, Recipe Tips recommends placing the slow cooker insert into the base, covering it, turning the appliance to high, and waiting 20 minutes before proceeding with your recipe.