What Do The High And Low Settings Actually Mean On A Slow Cooker?

As any working mom might tell you, a slow cooker is the culinary gods' gift to those with mouths to feed, but no time to spare. And if you've never used one before, know that the device, which was first invented as a bean pot and hit the market in 1971, has likely exceeded its inventor's expectation (via NPR). A slow cooker can make soups and stews, and coax chunky, potentially tough cuts of pork or beef into tender, saucy submission. It can even take the stress out of cooking casseroles, per The Spruce Eats. Not bad for a device that predates the Instant Pot by more than a few decades.

A slow cooker usually has three parts — a glass cover, a vessel, which is normally made with a heavy material like ceramic or stoneware, and the heating element which sits at the bottom. Jessica Gavin compares the way a slow cooker works to the way a pot on a stove does — heat is produced at the bottom of the device and then makes its way up through the sides, before eventually making its way into the ingredients. Because the temperature in a slow cooker is nice and steady, and it traps much of the steam the ingredients produce as it cooks, food is kept moist until it is ready to be consumed.

Low and high mean different things to different slow cookers

But as with most cooking devices, using a slow cooker takes some practice and a bit of know-how to get things right, and that means paying attention to how it should be used. While a slow cooker usually has three settings — low, high, as well as a "keep warm" function — The Spruce Eats warns that a dish's final outcome rests on which setting you choose to cook it with. This means you need to consider what setting you want to use to cook your food with care. 

For some slow cookers, a low setting is set to 190 degrees Fahrenheit and a high at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Iowa State University. While other slow cookers swing between 165 degrees Fahrenheit to 175 degrees Fahrenheit on low, and between 175 degrees Fahrenheit to 215 degrees Fahrenheit on high, per Jessica Gavin. With factors like temperature variance as well as the size of the cooking pot to consider, The Spruce Eats suggests giving any new or unfamiliar slow cooker a test run first, to ensure you get the best out of your ingredients. It also suggests making use of recipes that have been written with the slow cooker in mind to take as much guesswork out of your meal prep as possible.