The Unexpected Way You Can Use Your Slow Cooker on Thanksgiving

It's not just for weeknight dinners.

Crockpot Slow Cooker
Photo: Crockpot

When it comes to preparing the Thanksgiving meal, making sure every dish is warm when you're ready to serve can be one of the trickier feats of a successful gathering. Between the turkey, the dressing, the mac and cheese, and more, there may not always be enough space in your oven to keep every dish warm. Luckily, this is where your trusty slow cooker comes in.

Use Your Slow Cooker Like a Warming Oven

While the countertop appliance is known for making weeknight dinners a breeze, it can also lend a helping hand when you're getting ready to serve a holiday meal. Whether it be mashed potatoes, collard greens, or another side, the warm setting on your slow cooker can help take care of keeping one of your Thanksgiving side dishes warm to free up some space in your oven. The experts at Crockpot share, "Sides dishes, buns, dessert and more can be kept warm at your ideal temperature until it is ready to be served."

How the Warm Setting Works

The temperature of the warm setting on a slow cooker is 165 F, which is meant to keep pre-heated food hot, but not cook it. As many slow cookers manuals warn, do not use the warm setting to cook food—165 F is the USDA's recommended minimum food safety temperature needed to kill bacteria for casseroles and poultry, 145 F to 160 F for roasts, and anything below 140 F enters the "danger zone" for foodborne illness.

Slow cooker models vary on how long the warm setting stays on, from a few hours to even up to six hours. However, you may only want to use the setting for a shorter period of time because certain dishes may not hold up well to the longer warming times. "Food safety is not affected, but quality of some types of food will continue to decrease the longer the food is 'kept warm,'" explains Hamilton Beach's slow cooker guide.

Only Use the Warm Setting With Preheated Foods

While a slow cooker can keep dishes warm, it is not recommended to reheat food in a slow cooker. If you prepare a recipe ahead of time, it will need to be reheated before you add it to the crock of your slow cooker. According to the USDA, food should be brought to steaming using the stove or a microwave oven before it's placed in the slow cooker. The slow cooker should be preheated, and you can use a thermometer to ensure that food is kept at 140 F before serving.

Slow Cooker Cleaning Tips

If you've put your slow cooker to good use during the holidays, there's always the inevitable clean-up, which can vary in degree depending on what was prepared. Whether sticky sauces or baked on cheese, our slow cooker cleaning guide shows you a self-cleaning hack making less work for you.

To avoid cleaning altogether, slow cooker liners can be a real time-saver, and the BPA-free, nylon-blended liner holds up to the crock's heat. Southern Living Lifestyle Editor Patricia Shannon swears by them: "All you need to do is gently pull the liner from the pot and toss it in the trash. Voila. Kitchen cleanup? Done."

Now that you know you'll be able to free up a little bit of oven space on Thanksgiving Day this year, you can add another recipe or two to your menu. We'd recommend Homemade Green Bean Casserole and Tee's Corn Pudding.

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