When cooking with a slow cooker, people often wonder whether there is actually an important difference between the high and low temperature settings. Is there any distinctive benefit for using either setting? The article below will help you understand the differences between slow cooker high vs low temperature settings along with their distinctive benefits.
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What is a Slow Cooker?
According to Wikipedia, a slow cooker is an electrical cooking appliance that is used to simmer the food at a low temperature. It is sometimes called a crock-pot, a term that is actually a trademark of a home appliance company Sunbeam Products, but this term has been used generically across the United States and several other countries.
Simmering is a cooking technique which heats the food in a hot liquid just under water’s boiling temperature, but higher than the poaching temperature. This can be done manually by boiling the liquid first then reducing the heat in order to maintain the temperature. Simmering is preferred because it is gentler than boiling, as it prevents the food from breaking or toughening while extracting more flavors. See also: Pressure Cooker vs Airfryer.
In general, slow cookers cook the food at a lower temperature than other cooking methods including frying, boiling, and baking. This allows unattended cooking for long hours. If you are a busy person, a slow cooker can be very convenient – just leave the slow cooker cooking overnight and have your foods ready by the morning. A slow cooker can cook many dishes (especially the ones that are normally boiled such as soups, stews, and pot roasts), desserts, dips, and beverages.
How a Slow Cooker Works
To cook with a slow cooker, you just put the food and a liquid according to the recipe into the container. You can use water, stock, or wine. The liquid should be enough to cover the food. Close the lid and turn it on. Most slow cookers can switch automatically from cooking to warming after a fixed amount of time or after an internal temperature is reached.
The heating element in the slow cooker maintains a steady temperature. The vapor that is formed in the container condenses under the lid and returns as liquid to the food, hence giving back any water-soluble vitamins that get carried by the vapor. The liquid functions to distribute heat and flavor. Basic models need to be turned off manually, but more advanced models usually have timers that enable you to program the operations.
Temperature and Cooking Time
Now, slow cookers usually have two temperature settings, which are high and low. They are quite self-explanatory. The high setting cooks the food at a higher temperature, whereas the low setting cooks at a lower temperature.
Some people think that the temperatures simply decide the cooking time; you use the high setting to cook more quickly, the low setting to cook more slowly. Well, that is true, but that is only half of the bigger picture. Remember that simmering over a long period of time can extract more of those subtle flavors, among other things. So, you should not always intend to cut your preparation time by using the high setting instead of the low setting.
Both high and low settings stabilize at the same temperature. However, the high setting reaches the simmer point much more quickly than the low setting. Once the food has reached the simmer point, the total cooking time depends on the cut and weight of the food. This may affect the flavor and texture potential.
The simmer point is the temperature just under the boiling point, generally around 209 degrees Fahrenheit. On the high setting, it takes about 3 – 4 hours to reach the simmer point. On the low setting, it takes about 7 – 8 hours.
How They Affect Foods
Slow cookers are appealing because they can cook unattended. They can also blend flavors and melt connective tissues without burning any part. The slower you cook with it, the more the flavors blend and the tissues melt. This is the difference between slow cooker high vs low settings.
If you cook a meat with the high setting, it will be faster and hotter. It will still get cooked properly, but the meat won’t be as tender as if you use the low setting. Nevertheless, if the meat comes in small pieces, the difference won’t be very noticeable – ground meat will be the same regardless of the cooking time.
The temperature settings become more significant when cooking beans. In general, you need about 4 hours to soften soaked beans. Undercooked beans will remain pretty hard, and they are not fun to eat. When cooking beans, you may want to stick with the low setting or as directed by the recipe.
If you want to get the best flavors, using the low setting is generally more recommended. Flavors benefit from a longer cooking time. The food will absorb more flavors from the herbs and spices, and the flavors will meld. Chili and onion can balance well through the sauce. If you use the high setting to hasten the cooking time, the flavors will not be as great.
Converting between High and Low
Most foods that can be cooked by a slow cooker can use both the high and low settings, with the results having those differences explained above. It is generally better to stick with what the recipe directs. However, sometimes, you don’t have much time and need to have your dishes ready more quickly. Or, you have plenty of time and want to convert to the low setting for the best flavor and texture.
In general, a food that requires the high setting can be cooked using the low setting with four additional hours. For example, if a recipe requires cooking in the high setting for six hours, you can use the low setting for ten hours.Note that it is not recommended to convert recipes that require cooking for 3 – 4 hours on the high setting.
Vice versa, a food that requires the low setting can be cooked using the high setting by subtracting four hours from the duration. For example, if a recipe requires cooking in the low setting for nine hours, you can use the high setting for five hours. Note that it is not recommended to convert recipes that require cooking for 7 – 8 hours on the low setting.
Slow Cooker High vs Low
|High Setting||Low Setting|
|- Much faster cooking time||- Longer cooking time|
|- The flavor is less rich||- Can extract and blend more flavors|
|- The texture won’t be very tender||- Gives more tender texture|
|- Suitable for small meat pieces and ground meat||- Best for thick meats and beans|
Now, you know the differences of slow cooker high vs low settings. Using the high setting can cook the food more quickly, but the texture won’t be very tender and the flavor will be less rich. Using the low setting is generally better because it will extract more flavors and create a more tender texture.