Monica's favorite gear for
making Caramel Sauce
It's easy to use and programmable. I love the automatic warm setting. #1 pick of Cooks Illustrated.
These bowls are heat proof and fit inside my slow cooker. The medium and large sizes are both big enough for this caramel sauce recipe.
This adds a silky smoothness to the caramel sauce.
This has two ingredients (concentrated organic milk & sugar) with no additives or thickeners.
One batch of caramel sauce fills two of these jars. They're a convenient size for the caramel sauce. You can reheat these jars of sauce in the microwave or in a pot of hot water.
One batch of caramel sauce fills four of these jars. They're a great size for gifts.
These full size sheets work with both laser and ink-jet printers. Print a sheet of labels, cut them apart, and adhere them to jars for a polished finishing touch.
You can also print sheets of the labels on this heavy card stock, cut them apart, punch a hole in the corner, and hang them around the neck of the jars with string, ribbon, or a rubber band.
These 6-oz bottles come with caps. They are an easy, tidy way to drizzle the syrup.
This gets a lot of use in my kitchen. I used it to combine the caramel sauce ingredients. I also use it to whisk dry & wet ingredients, smooth frosting, gravy, and sauces, and for scrambling eggs.
The middle size bowl in this set fits inside my Slow Cooker for double boiling.

Slow Cooker Caramel Sauce

For dipping apple slices, drizzling on desserts, or stirring into coffee, this gooey sauce is as easy as it gets. Great for gifts, too.

Sometimes new recipes come easily and I get them right the first time. Sometimes not. Making caramel sauce in a slow cooker turned out to take a lot of experimenting. I had two crock pots going for several days trying to perfect a new recipe. After 10 batches (not kidding!), I've got a recipe that is going to have caramel lovers doing a happy dance. It's easy, velvety smooth, and awesomely gooey and delicious.

Caramel Sauce

I've shared my slow cooker recipe for Dulce de Leche in a previous post. I love the stuff and it has lots of uses. Although dulce de leche is yummy and similar to caramel, it's not caramel.

Today's recipe is the real thing: gooey, smooth, buttery caramel sauce. Yum.

Stove top caramel sauce can be tricky. It's not hard once you get the hang of it, but it cooks at high heat very fast and can go from perfect to burnt in a matter of seconds. That can cause some serious anxiety in the kitchen, and it was my main motivation for trying to figure out a slow cooker method. 

It would take hours of cooking to ruin a batch of caramel sauce in the slow cooker. I had delicious caramel sauce after 5 hours of cooking and up to 11 hours. That gives you lots of flexibility with when and how long you cook this recipe. No need to stress. Yay. 

I encountered three main challenges in making caramel sauce in the slow cooker:

  • How to adjust for the high heat used in stove top caramel sauce. By definition, slow cookers cook low and slow. I wasn't even sure it was possible to create caramel without high heat. I finally got it figured out after multiple batches of adjusting the ingredients. I concluded that I just couldn't get it right without using corn syrup (in addition to sugar) and butter.
  • How to prevent crystallization. This is an issue in making stove-top caramel, too. My first 4 batches completely failed--they had sugar crystals that I couldn't cook out or stir out. I almost gave up.  Then I checked Cooks Illustrated (one of my favorite recipe sources), because they do so much testing and often explain the science behind their recipes. Turns out that they shared a simple tip for preventing sugar crystals from forming in caramel--lemon juice. Really? I couldn't add much without making the caramel taste lemony. I timidly added a smidgeon of lemon juice to my next batch, and found it hard to believe that it could possibly make a difference. But, it worked! Smooth, silky, caramel sauce without crystals. Problem solved. Whew.
  • How to prevent the caramel sauce from scorching on the bottom during long hours of cooking. Most slow cookers have hots spots, where delicate sauces are likely to burn. The answer to this problem is simple--I set up a double boiler in my slow cooker. The caramel ingredients are mixed in a bowl that is set inside the slow cooker and surrounded with water as it cooks. The caramel cooks gently and evenly so it never burns on the bottom. This method works beautifully.

Healthier substitutions? None that I can recommend. I often get questions about substituting healthier or alternative ingredients in my recipes. While I'm all in favor of making recipes as healthy as possible,  I don't know of a healthy way to make authentic buttery tasting caramel sauce. This  is one of those treats that I consider a splurge to enjoy occasionally. I don't eat it for it's health benefits; I eat it because it tastes amazing. If you are opposed to eating sugar, corn syrup, or butter, I'm afraid this just isn't the recipe for you. If you want to try healthier substitutions, sorry but I can't advise you on that. After 10 tries to get this recipe right, dealing with some tricky chemistry, and making numerous adjustments in the ingredients, I'm not confident about offering advice regarding substitutions without having tested them. (If you try variations on my recipe. Please let me know in the comments section if you figure out something else that works well. I'd love to know!)

Great for gifts. I've made some labels you can add to jars of caramel sauce to add a finishing touch and make them ready to have on hand for gifts. Who wouldn't love a jar of homemade caramel sauce? Look for my printable labels further down in the post. This sauce recipe is shelf stable at room temperature for a week and in the fridge for at least a month. So, you can make it ahead for gift giving.


Step-by-step photos for making
Slow Cooker Gooey Caramel Sauce


Step 1. Assemble the ingredients:

  • white & brown sugar
  • light corn syrup (this is not  the same thing as high fructose corn syrup; it's no better or worse for you than regular sugar)
  • vanilla
  • salt (the basic recipe has a small amount of salt; for a "salted" caramel sauce, simply add more salt)
  • sweetened condensed milk
  • butter
  • lemon juice

view on Amazon:  organic light corn syrup, organic sweetened condensed milk

Caramel Sauce

You need a slow cooker and a heat-tolerant bowl that will fit inside. This is so you can create a double boiler effect for gently cooking the caramel sauce. The bowls needs to hold at least 1-1/2 quarts, but a 2 to 2-12 quart bowl  is better because it has extra room for more easily mixing the ingredients. Make sure you'll be able to fit the slow cooker lid on after the bowl is inserted. Slow cookers come in so many shapes and sizes, that you'll need to experiment with different bowls to find the right fit. Below is a photo of my favorite slow cooker with two different bowls I have that will fit inside. 

view on Amazon:


  • A note about the variability  of slow cookers: All slow cookers are not created equal. Some operate hotter than others, some heat more unevenly. I have two crock pots and used them both to test this caramel sauce recipe. One took a couple of hours longer to get the same results as the other. Big difference! Although this recipe is very forgiving and allows you a wide range of cooking times to successfully make caramel sauce, producing exactly the color, flavor, and thickness you prefer is best determined by keeping an eye on your first batch. I recommend making this the first time when you'll be home and able to check on it periodically. Then you'll know exactly how long to cook it in the future. Fortunately, you can get a pretty good idea of when it's ready by looking through the glass lid and seeing the color of the caramel. Check my examples further down in this post to get an idea of what your caramel sauce should look like. Every time you lift the lid of your slow cooker, it adds 30 minutes to the cooking time. So, try not to lift the lid any more than is absolutely necessary.

Step 2. Melt the butter. I nuke mine in the microwave for 30-40 seconds. You can melt it on the stove-top, if you prefer. NOTE: I found in my experimenting that it is essential to melt the butter so that you can thoroughly mix it into the other ingredients before starting to cook them in the slow cooker.

Caramel Sauce

Step 3. Stir the wet ingredients together in the bowl you'll be placing inside your slow cooker. Next stir in the dry ingredients.  A whisk works most efficiently, but you can also use a big spoon or rubber spatula.

Caramel Sauce

Step 4. Place the bowl inside the crock pot & add hot tap water, pouring it around the outside of the bowl until the water level is approximately even with the contents of the bowl.

Caramel Sauce

Step 5. Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook on the high setting for a minimum of 5 hours and as long as 11 hours. The photos below show my mixture when I checked it after 4 hours--it was still too runny and light in color. It needs to be at least as thick as honey. (NOTE: in my other slow cooker, it was much thicker than this after 4 remember that you may need to adjust the time for your particular slow cooker.)

  • WARNING: Don't attempt to cook this on low for a longer time. Caramel requires the highest slow cooker heat setting.

Caramel Sauce

The batch below has cooked for 6 hours. When the lid is first removed, the sauce looks a little bit lumpy; give it a few stirs to smooth it out and check the consistency. This batch is nice and thick, a rich golden color, and is the way I like it. However, it's fine to cook it for a few more hours if you prefer a more intensely colored and flavored caramel sauce. The longer it cooks the thicker the consistency; so that may be part of what guides you in how long to let yours cook.

I love this about the slow cooker. You can keep cooking the caramel sauce for hours without burning it. Deep breath. No need to stress about it.

Caramel Sauce

Step 6. When the caramel is the color and consistency you want, remove the bowl from the slow cooker. The water level will be lower than when you started, because some of it cooks off. So there should be room to grab the bowl from the top on 2 opposite sides and pull it out. Use 2 hot pads or folded paper towels to protect your hands as you lift the bowl vertically up and out of the hot water.

 Whisk the hot caramel sauce (or stir rapidly) for 1 minute--this gives it a shiny, silky consistency. You may see little air bubbles in the mixture. No worries--that's normal.

Caramel Sauce

It's done! Easy, right? Just let the mixture cool a bit and pour it into jars or whatever containers you like. It will thicken as it cools. 

The jars below illustrate the wide range of color that the caramel can be and still taste fantastic. You can taste your first batch as you go along to decide when it's caramelized the amount that you like. I personally like the darker, more intense flavor. But, honestly, they all taste amazing. The sauce consistency thickens as it cooks longer. So, if you want a thinner sauce, choose a shorter cooking time. 

caramel sauce

Slow cooker cleaning tip. Depending on the hardness of your water, you may end up with a white water deposit ring mark on the inside of your slow cooker (and on the outside of the bowl you used). It's easy to clean without any scrubbing required. Add 1/4 cup distilled vinegar and a squirt of liquid dish detergent to your slow cooker. Fill it with hot water. Insert the bowl inside. Let it soak for 15 minutes. Wipe it with a sponge or dish cloth. Rinse, dry, and both the slow cooker and bowl should be clean as a whistle.

cleaning slow cooker

Use the caramel sauce as a dip. Apple slices and pretzels are particularly tasty dipped in this caramel sauce. If your sauce thickens too much once it's cooled, you can heat it briefly in the microwave (I put a jar in the microwave for 40-60 seconds & stir) or gently on the stove top (you can set the jar in hot water and let it warm gradually). If you want to thin it even more, you can reheat the sauce and stir in some milk or water a tablespoon at a time until it's the consistency you want.

caramel sauce

Drizzle it on ice cream, brownies, cheesecake....cardboard....I'll eat anything that's been drizzled with this caramel sauce. It's also great to stir into coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.

Caramel Sauce

Mason jars are perfect for storing, heating, serving, and giving caramel sauce.

Caramel Sauce

Plastic squeeze bottles are a convenient, tidy way to dispense the sauce.

caramel sauce

How to store it and for how long. Jars of caramel sauce are fine left at room temperature for up to a week. Beyond that, it should be refrigerated where it will keep for at least a month, maybe longer. Although, I can't imagine it being around that long!

Give it as a gift, and you are sure to be loved. 

Caramel Sauce

Download printable jar labels/tags. Print a sheet of these for adding the finishing touch to your jars for personal use or to give as gifts.

  • Print these on card stock, cut them out with scissors, punch a hole in the corner, and hang them from the jar neck with a ribbon, string, or rubber band. 
  • Print them on sticker paper and stick them to your jar. Or, stick them on with tape.

If you don't have a printer or specialty papers, you can have a store with printing services download and print them for you (Kinkos, Office Depot, Staples, etc.)

Click on the image below to download & print a full sheet of labels/tags.


Who wouldn't love receiving a jar of this gooey delight? Whether you make it for yourself or to give away, this recipe makes it easy.

Now that is a spoon that is screaming to be licked!


Make it a Yummy day!


You might also enjoy these recipes:
Easy Caramel Apples with A Gourmet Flair
caramel apples

Slow Cooker Melted Chocolate
melted chocolate 

Link directly to this recipe Print this recipe
Caramel Sauce in A Slow Cooker
By Monica              Servings: makes 4 cups
  • 1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt*
Select a heat tolerant bowl (minimum 1.5 quarts) that will fit inside your slow cooker.  Make sure the lid of the slow cooker will fit securely with the bowl inside.

Add sweetened condensed milk, melted butter, corn syrup, vanilla and lemon juice  to glass bowl, stir to combine until uniformly mixed. Add white and brown sugar and salt; stir until completely mixed.

*For a "SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE" increase the salt up to 1 tablespoon.

Insert bowl into slow cooker. Add hot tap water to the slow cooker filling the area outside of the glass bowl until the water level is approximately even with the contents of the bowl. Cover slow cooker and cook on high. (Do not cook on a low setting; caramel requires the highest heat setting.)

These are approximate cooking times (slow cooker temperatures and time required may vary). Caramel sauce should be cooked until it is at least the thickness of honey and is smooth when whisked:
--For a thinner, lighter caramel sauce cook for 4-5 hours.
--For a slightly thicker, medium colored sauce cook 6-7 hours.
--For a thick, darker sauce & more intense caramel flavor, cook for 9-10 hours.

Remove bowl of hot caramel sauce from slow cooker. Whisk (or stir rapidly) for 1 minute until silky and smooth.

For a thinner consistency, while sauce is hot, stir in milk or water a tablespoon at a time until desired consistency.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cool, cover, and store at room temperature for up to 1 week. May be stored in refrigerator for at least 1 month.

Mason jars are convenient for storing, heating, serving, and gift giving.
Print this Recipe   Share this Recipe

Posted on Sunday, October 20th, 2013

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