Slow cooker - Family Guide Central
| | |

Can I Use a Slow Cooker to Keep my Food Warm? (Answered!)

I thought of this more times than you can imagine. It’s especially apparent when I’ve got a bucket full of leftover food and I don’t know how to keep it warm for the next meal.

Sure you can throw it in the fridge, but what if it’s breakfast and you plan to eat it again in a few hours during lunch?

I’ve asked myself, can I use a slow cooker to keep my food warm?

You can use a slow cooker to keep your food warm. However, according to the FDA, you must make sure the food stays above 140° F (60° C). Studies have found that these temperatures can prevent bacterial growth. Heating foods at temperatures above 145° F will typically kill bacteria. Just be aware that keeping your food warm is one thing, overcooking it is another.

Let’s talk about all the questions you may have about using slow cookers to keep food warm.

What is a slow cooker?

Now, most households will have a slow cooker or sometimes branded as a Crock-Pot.

It’s essentially a countertop cooking appliance that uses low-grade temperatures to cook foods for a longer period of time.

Now, these are all different methods of cooking food. You can either cook food really fast and obtain that char on the outside, or cook food really slow and achieve a tenderness like no other.

Using devices like this do have their own setbacks. Such as the length of time it takes to actually complete a meal. When cooking at low-grade temperatures, you’re going to have to leave your food in the slow cooker for a longer period of time; most times, it could take hours.

A slow cooker consists of an oval or round cooking pot, usually made of ceramic or porcelain. The pot is fitted right into an electronic device that has a heating element at the very bottom.

This slow cooker is built to maintain warm temperatures likely in the range of 160 to 165° F (71 to 74° C). However, when you’re cooking with a slow cooker the temperatures can range between 174 to 199° F (79 to 93° C).

The cooking container itself, which is made out of porcelain or ceramic also helps retain the heat that is inside.

Use your slow cooker to keep food warm

You can actually use your slow cooker to keep your food warm as long as you keep the setting of the slow cooker above 140° F.

Normally, there would be an indicator or some type of dial where you can set your food to warm instead of cook.

How long can you leave food in a slow cooker to warm?

A slow cooker can safely be for as long as an entire day or 24 hours. Bear in mind though that the newer models can go far beyond.

Newer models will also have automatic sensors and programmable settings that will allow you to stop it from cooking and warming at a certain point.

However, I wouldn’t really recommend you leave a slow cooker on for a whole 24 hours. I would suggest that if you must, and you have no other options, you can leave your slow cooker on warm for as long as 12 hours.

If you know you’re going to have a busy schedule the next day, you should go ahead and prep the night before. You can cook the food overnight and program it to warm after a certain time.

When using a slow cooker, most meals will only require up to 8 hours of slow cooking before they are ready.

Is keeping your food warm in a slow cooker safe?

Generally yes, as long as you keep your slow cooker temperature settings above 140° F.

The main point of keeping your food temperature above 140° F consistently is because this is the temperature that inhibits bacterial growth.

In fact, if you were to dial it up to 145° F it would actually kill the bacteria. However, you would run the risk of actually over tenderizing the food in your slow cooker.

Keeping bacteria from growing in, or around the things we consume is perhaps one of the most important healthy habits of eating food.

How much liquid should I add to a slow cooker on warm?

There are a couple of major reasons why we must always add liquid to our crockpot that you may not be aware of.

The first one is likely to be pretty obvious. It’s to keep the food we have cooking inside moist. Even though the cooking process is very slow, there is still some that moisture is lost through heat.

Another reason why we use liquids or water inside our slow cooker is that water is a very effective source for heat transfer. Due to the rising temperatures, the water itself will become hot and gradually engulf the food inside the slow cooker, thus cooking it evenly.

Many manufacturers actually recommend that you put at least ½ to ¾ of the way up the ceramic pot with water depending on what you’re making.

What’s the difference between a slow cooker and an instant pot?

Slow cookers are used to cook foods at a constant low-grade temperature ranging between 140 and as high as 280° F for several hours at a time. Instant pots use pressure to cook foods using temperatures as high as 250° F at pressures as high as 11.6 PSI. 

Slow cookers are usually used for tenderizing, creating rich broths, and cooking foods at a fixed low-grade temperature for extremely long periods of time. The goal in mind for instant pots is to cook food as fast as possible using a combination of high pressure and heat extreme heat.

Can I leave a slow cooker on warm for more than a day?

Usually, it’s not recommended to leave your slow cooker on for more than 24 hours.

Most modern-day slow cookers are capable of warming for more than 24 hours but I would not highly recommend it.

In fact, these modern-day slow cookers even have a 24-hour cycle programmable button available for users. After that time limit, the slow cooker would automatically turn off.

How long can you leave a slow cooker on warm?

It is generally a rule of thumb that when you are using your slow cooker to warm food, you shouldn’t warm it for more than 4 hours.

After 4 hours, it is recommended to transfer it into a container, wait for it to cool down, and then place it inside the refrigerator for storage.

In the case of the slow cooker itself, it can last on warm as long as 24 hours before it automatically shuts off on itself. This time is also included in the preparation and the cooking phase.

Modern-day slow cookers will often automatically shut off on their own after it’s been on for 24 hours.

Can your slow cooker overcook your food?

Slow cookers produce really low heat to cook your food for an extended period of time. However, it’s still very much possible to overcook food if you were to either set the temperature too high or leave it in the slow cooker for too long.

Bear in mind that most slow cookers will take 8 to 12 hours to cook if the temperature is left on low. Or it can take 6 hours on high.

What happens to food when it’s been warming in a slow cooker for too long?

If you’ve accidentally overcooked your food in a slow cooker, there’s a likely chance that your food will shrink as well as become very tough to eat. This is because the longer you keep your food cooked, the more the food becomes denatured. The vitamins and the nutrients inside wither away.

The food becomes all mushy, and at the same time, it gets dry and tough with all the liquid leaving the food itself.

Slow cooker safety for warming food

  • Always clean your hands, utensils, and the slow cooker pot thoroughly.
  • Make sure you thaw any meat or poultry before putting it in the slow cooker. Placing frozen foods inside a slow cooker may unwittingly take much longer to cook than usual.
  • When using a slow cooker it is recommended to start off with the highest temperature for at least an hour. Then, dial it down to a lower steady temperature. This will speed up the cooking process.
  • You can prevent bacteria by either keeping food below 40° F or above 140° F. Generally, if your food falls anywhere in between these two temperatures, then it falls into the food danger zone. At this point, if it’s in the danger zone for more than 2 hours, it is recommended to throw out the food.
  • You may want to put your vegetables in first because they cook the slowest. It’s also possible to place them on the bottom or sides touching the ceramic pot, so they can make direct contact with the heat.
  • Try to leave the slow cooker alone for as long as you can. Opening the lid will set free the hot vapors. This can actually lower the internal temperature by 10° F. It could even delay the cooking process by up to 30 minutes every time the vapors are released.
  • Use a thermometer to check that the slow cooker is working. If you are warming food above 140° F then you are safe to eat it.
  • It’s also wise not to let food cool inside the ceramic pot. In most cases, the pot naturally has a non-stick enamel coating. However, the age of the pot and the type of food you prepare may reduce the effectiveness of the non-stick surface.
  • I recommend also not to reheat leftover food in a slow cooker. It’s best to reheat it with a microwave or oven and then using the slow cooker to keep it warm.

The bottom line

Slow cookers are great for cooking foods at steady temperatures for really long periods of time.

Slow cooker stuffed with food - Family Guide Central
Slow cooker stuffed with food

However, what many people don’t know is that you could even use a slow cooker to keep food warm.

The idea is simple, just keep the cooking temperature right above 140° F if you need to keep your food warm. This discourages bacteria from growing on the food and keeps it safe for you to consume.


How should I seal my slow cooker when warming it for a long time?

It’s best just to use the lid that the slow cooker came in.

Keeping your food warm doesn’t require any special types of covers.

If you don’t actually have the lid, then it’s acceptable to use aluminum foil to cover the top of the ceramic pot.

Can you reheat food in a slow cooker?

It’s recommended not to reheat food in a slow cooker.

This is because it may take longer than you would initially expect and that eating food that is not properly cooked can cause serious sickness.

The most effective approach to this would be to reheat your leftover food in either a microwave, stovetop, or oven. Once you’re done, you can transfer the food over into the slow cooker and keep the slow cooker on the warm right above 140° F.

Can slow cookers be used to keep tortillas warm?

If you want to keep your tortillas warm inside a slow cooker it’s best to wrap them in aluminum foil first.

This will keep the moisture from the tortillas from exiting and drying the tortillas.

Cover the lid so that the steam does not escape and lower the temperature.

Can you use the Ninja Foodi as a slow cooker?

The Ninja Foodie is a popular appliance that does have the ability to slowly cook your food at a constant rate and temperature for a very long period of time.

Use your pressure cooking lid that comes with the device and keep the vent open. You simply must keep the temperature low and you can continue to cook your food for hours.

Can I sous vide a steak in a slow cooker?

It is entirely possible to sous vide a steak in a slow cooker as long as you have the right equipment. You will need a thermometer to constantly check the temperature of the water in your slow cooker pot.

The difference between a slow cooker and dedicated sous vide kitchen appliance is that the slow cooker isn’t always temperature consistent. There may be some fluctuations.

You have to continue monitoring your sous vide with your thermometer. For example, if you want medium rare sous vide you’ll have to keep the water in the slow cooker in the range of 125° F to 135° F.

How do I keep rice warm overnight in a slow cooker?

You certainly can, however, you might want to take into account how easy it is to dry out your rice.

You may have to add a little bit of water to the rice to keep it from drying up and hardening.

Your slow cooker should be kept warm at a temperature of approximately 150° F (65° F).

What are the benefits of a slow cooker?

Cooking something for a long period of time will produce tastier stews and richer liquids.

It’s also almost impossible to burn food in a slow cooker even if the food was left in there for too long. The worst that could happen is your food becomes very dry and raggy.

Slow cookers are relatively safe to be left alone for a longer period of time.

What are the disadvantages of a slow cooker?

Cooking foods in a slow cooker for such a long period of time has been found to destroy some of the trace nutrients found in vegetables.

It can become a little tricky especially if you are cooking with several different ingredients. Different types of foods require different lengths of time in a slow cooker to come out just right.

You’ll also have to manage the amount of water and moisture inside a slow cooker because moisture loss is meant to be kept to a minimum.

Other related articles: