We all know that slow cookers are ideal for the busy person, but if you are leaving the house at 7:00 a.m. and not returning for 12 hours, this long, slow cooking method may not work for you, since most recipes call for cooking times of eight hours at the most. So, is the solution to use a delayed start timer with your crockpot?
Actually, no. Using a delayed timer with your slow cooker is considered dangerous and not safe for your food.
This is why slow cooker manufacturers do not include delayed-start timers among the cooker's features.
One main reason you won't find delayed timers on a slow cooker is a matter of food safety. If you have food sitting on your countertop for hours before the cooker turns on, you have created the ideal breeding ground for bacteria that could lead to food-borne illness, particularly if you've got raw meat in the cooker. Raw meat can sit out for a maximum of two hours, so if you have a 12-hour day and want dinner ready when you walk in the door, your ingredients will be exposed to the potential for bacteria for at least four hours, possibly more than double the time recommended. It is also not safe for the cooked food to sit on the counter for hours afterword, either.
You may use delayed timers for certain things around your house such as lamps, but in general, electricians don't recommend these units be used for something that contains a heating element, like a slow cooker.
The electrical load placed on the delayed timer could be too much and cause the circuit to shut off, which means any other appliances, lights, or outlets on the same circuit will shut off as well. And if you're not home, you won't be aware of this until you walk in the door from work expecting dinner to be ready, only to find it ruined (as well as appliances and lights not working!).
Just because you can't use a delayed timer with your crockpot doesn't mean a slow cooker can't work for you. Since stewy slow-cooked meals freeze beautifully, try doing your cooking on the weekends when you'll be home. Cool the food completely and package it in a vacuum-seal bag or a freezer-safe container. Freeze or refrigerate the meal until you're ready to eat it, then you can quickly heat it on the stove or in the microwave when you get home.
Another option that might work for you is a slow cooker that has a timer where the cooker switches to a "keep warm" setting once the cooking time is reached. This will keep your food at a safe heat level for another hour or two until it's time for dinner. There are several on the market—one option to try is the Crock-Pot eLume Slow Cooker.