Oct 18

Homemade Caramel Sauce in Your Slow Cooker

Caramel Recipe

You are simply not going to believe how simple this caramel sauce recipe is! Granted it's not as simple as opening a bottle of store bought caramel sauce, but I took a look at the ingredients on one of those bottles recently and found no less than 20 ingredients, including more high fructose corn syrup and sugar than milk, along with a myriad of dyes and preservatives. Blech!

In contrast, this homemade caramel sauce (also knows as dulce de leche) requires only sweetened condensed milk! I was happy to see that the brand that I chose lists only milk and sugar as the ingredients, so that's a far cry from store bought caramel sauce.

Homemade Caramel Sauce Recipe

But the very best part about this caramel recipe is that it doesn't require you to stand over the stove for long periods of time, stirring and watching, or repeatedly microwaving until your desired level of caramelization occurs. I make it right in my slow cooker, which allows it to cook at a low temperature for a long period of time, so there's virtually no chance of burning it.

While we're on the topic of slow cookers, have you seen these adorable patterned Crock-Pot Slow Cookers at Walmart? They caught my eye when I was picking up another box of jelly jars for this recipe. As much as I love my basic stainless steel slow cooker, I've been seriously considering picking one of these cuties up to brighten up my kitchen.

Homemade Caramel Recipe

Some of you may have made homemade caramel sauce in the past using a similar method where you boiled an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk on the stovetop. Please, I beg you, don't do this again! Not only is it very difficult to tell when the caramel is finished cooking, but it's also extremely dangerous because the cans can explode. Not to mention there are surely numerous chemicals leaching from the can into your cooked caramel...

Instead, transfer the sweetened condensed milk into a clean jelly jar, place a lid on it and tighten the band down well. I filled my jars up to the 6-oz. line to allow for expansion during cooking. As these jars are made to withstand the home canning process, they're much safer, and they allow you to visually check the caramel for doneness.

Place the jars in your slow cooker and then fill the slow cooker up with water to about one inch above the top of the lids. Place the lid on your slow cooker and cook on low for 7.5-8 hours, making sure not to let the water drop below the lid level. I didn't need to add water at any point, but I'd still recommend checking for safety's sake.

After the caramel sauce has cooked for about 7 hours, you'll want to check it periodically to see if its reached your desired doneness. You should be able to do this just by looking through the slow cooker lid so that you don't let the heat escape. When it's done, remove the jars from the water and allow them to cool for about 20 minutes.

Note that you may hear the lids sealing themselves as the caramel cools, but they are not sufficiently processed for long term shelf storage.

Homemade Caramel Sauce

You may notice that the caramel seems a little chunky at this point. No worries -- it's absolutely delicious and I have no problem scarfing it down with some of the beautiful seasonal apples available right now. But if you want a silky smooth homemade caramel sauce, simply whisk it briskly until any lumps are gone.

Caramel Sauce Recipe

Store leftover caramel in the refrigerator -- that is if there is any! Bring it to room temperature before serving or heat until warm, about 30 seconds at a time in the microwave, whisking between each heating.

Homemade Caramel Sauce

Yield: 5 (6-oz.) jars

Homemade Caramel Sauce


  • 3 (14-oz.) cans sweetened condensed milk
  • 5 (8-oz.) jelly jars
  • water


  1. Fill each jelly jar up to the 6-oz. line with the sweetened condensed milk. Three cans of sweetened condensed milk should fill about 5 jars. Place a lid on each jar and tighten the band down well.
  2. Place the jars inside the slow cooker and pour water in to about 1" above the top of the jars.
  3. Cover and cook on low for 7.5-8 hours, checking occasionally to see if more water needs to be added. Do not let the water drop below the lid level.
  4. Carefully remove the jars from the slow cooker and enjoy! The caramel may be a tad chunky and is perfectly delicious as is, but if you prefer a creamier caramel, simple whisk it until it's silky smooth.
  5. Store in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature or heat until warm before serving.


Another option for using this caramel sauce up is this to-die-for caramel frosting. Spread over a fresh apple cake, it's totally decadent and amazing!

What would you use this yummy and easy caramel sauce recipe on?

Walmart Moms Disclosure

by Tara | 51 comments

  • Cathy

    I'm excited to try this! Can you tell me how I can prepare them, after cooking, so they will be able to go on the shelf? After they come out of the slow cooker, can I boil them for a few minutes to bring the temp up high enough for "canning"?

    • I'll be honest, Cathy, I don't have enough experience with canning to tell you how to make the recipe shelf stable. I'd hate for anyone to get sick. But since it has a great deal of sugar in it (which is a natural preservative), it should keep for a good long time in the refrigerator!

      • Cathy

        Thanks! Didn't think about the sugar being the natural preservative. Don't have that much room in our fridge but would be an EXCELLENT thing to give away or take to cookout with extra jar for hosting family (if I could get it from the clutches of my own family!). Thank you SO MUCH again. I surely do appreciate you and your blog!!

    • Becky Thomas

      I did something wrong as well. It darkened, so I took it out, but didn't try it until later. It wasn't creamy. I'm afraid I scorched it. It still tasted like sweetened condensed milk, but not like caramel. Ideas?

  • Mom

    When you told me yesterday that you were making caramel sauce, I had no idea how simple of a recipe this would be. I can't wait to try this! I have to go to the store today, so I will be picking up some jars. You better stop making such good recipes, you know I am on a diet and I certainly don't need caramel sauce but I will just tell myself I need to test your recipe! Love, Mom

  • Rick

    While I was reading this recipe I had Ming Tsai's show on PBS and Duff Goldman was his guest. Duff was making fudge and he made caramel "in the can" to use in it. Had to laugh.
    I think I'll stick to your method, though.

  • This looks absolutely delicious! I've never analyzed the safety of making caramel in a can, so thanks for suggesting an easy way to make caramel in a jar! :-)

  • Lisa

    This did not work for me, I don't know what I did wrong! I left it in the crock pot for almost 9 hours, even turned it up to high on the last hour, there was no color change yet. It was late so I turned it off to go to sleep. First thing in the morning the water was still very warm, and it still looked like the milk from the jar, so I turned the crock pot back on for several more hours. I finally took it out and it is just slightly darker than the original milk, nothing like the picture. I want to try it again, but do you have any tips as to what happened? I don't know if my crock pot is too old or what! Thanks!

  • Lisa

    Yes, I never opened it!

    • Hmm, it sounds like it just never got hot enough for some reason. Did the water come to a simmer at all? It took quite awhile, but the water should come to a very low boil by the end of the cooking timeframe.

  • Lisa

    I think I'll try it on high since my crock pot is 13 years old, thanks!

    • I've often heard people say that the new slow cookers cook differently than older models. I would just check it more frequently because it may cook faster than the times I shared. I'd love to hear your results so that other readers with older crock-pot models can learn.

  • DEB

    This look great, how long will it keep on the shelf, or in the refrigerator,

    • I wouldn't keep it on the shelf, Deb, but it should keep for at least two months in the refrigerator, if not longer. It's never lasted that long around here, though!

  • Kecia

    Can you use the caramel sauce to make caramel apples? My daughter is sensitive to food coloring so always looking for alternatives to store bought without all the coloring and preservatives in it. Thanks for posting!!

    • It might be a good consistency when it's cold from the refrigerator, but I'm not sure it would stick well as it warms up. It's great for dipping, though!

  • Nancy

    Are your jar lids clear, allowing you to look through the lids for doneness?

    • Janet

      I think the lid she's referring to is the crockpot lid, not the actual jar lids.

      • Nancy

        My bad! That makes sense; don't know where my mind was. Thanks.

        • Ha ha, yes, you should be able to look through the crock-pot lid and see through the sides of the glass jars to check for doneness. Sorry if I confused you!

  • Margie

    Has anyone made this with the fat free condensed milk?

    • Kathy

      I accidentally bought fat free condensed milk while at the grocery store. I was worried, but it turned out great!

  • Micki

    Not sure if my original post went thru so I'll try again...can I make this with the sugar-free or "light" version of the sweetened condensed milk?

    • I don't see why not, but I haven't tried it. I'll give it a shot next week and report back!

  • Micki

    Thank you Tara...well I'm going to try this tomorrow with the regular - I can always give the jars as gifts..please keep us updated on the sugar-free or "light" version.

  • Stephanie

    I have tons of baby food jars, do you think I could use those instead of buying jelly jars?

    • As long as you can seal them tightly, I'd think they'd work. Because they're smaller, you may want to keep a closer eye on them as they may cook faster than the jelly jars.

      • Stephanie

        Thank you, I will try soon, and let you know how it went. :)

  • Micki

    Well Tara and everyone...I made this yesterday...put it on at 5:30 pm and took it off at 2:30 am...so I went 9 hours...the color wasn't quite right after hour 8 so I let it go an extra hour...it is delicious!! Tara it is so so simple...I will never buy another jar of caramel sauce again...I gave my cousin and her husband one of the jars this morning and she texted me later to say it was delicious...they were dipping apple slices in it. I still want to see if I can make it with the sugar free version tho. Thanks so much for the wonderful and easy peasy recipe!

    • Glad you all love it! I'm going to try the sugar-free version later this week, so I'll update the post then.

  • Jessica

    Hi I want to make this for a potluck ... Do you think after I make it that I can pour the sauce in the crockpot and keep it warm rather than have individual jars? Thanks

  • Alunsina Nunez

    I did this one and it turned out great!

    I wonder now how I can make a salted caramel version? :P

  • Micki

    Well Tara, I have to say, I'm not sure if you had a chance to try a sugar-free version of this but I hate to say I did not like this caramel. My cousin and her husband loved it but I did not. I'm not sure what it is but it tasted nothing like I was expecting. I am hoping to make some of your butter cream caramel frosting out of it and see what happens. Now I'm trying to figure out what else I can do with the other 4 jars. To all you out there who liked this I'm so glad...and I'm so sorry that my taste buds just do not..BUT...the making of it was every bit as simple as Tara said.

  • Tammy

    WOW....I am so doing this over the weekend! Thank you!

  • kayla

    Any ideas what the nutrition facts on this is? Does the value change after its cooked?

  • Kate Henry

    What you are making is called Dulce de Leche. I've made it for years in my crock pot.

    To the person who said it didn't work, it could be the brand of sweetened condensed milk you used. I had that happen a couple of times when I bought an unfamiliar named sweetened condensed milk at an outlet store. Because of that, I now always use Eagle Brand or Safeway's brand, which I expect is Eagle. I like my Dulce dark because I think it tastes richer.

    Recently I made Dulce de Leche from scratch. I have to say that it was really good, the flavor being much more complex. But, it does take a lot of babysitting so I still mostly make my Dulce de Leche this way.

    • Thanks for the info, Kate! I hadn't even thought about the brand affecting results -- I always use Eagle brand, as well.

  • Amanda Collier

    Hello, Banoffee Pie! Wish I'd have seen this post before 3/14. Pi day will never be the same (or easier).

  • Nicky

    Do you have to keep the crock pot on low? I want this for my caramel buttercream frosting tonight so I don't have 7 hours. If you can cook it on high, for how long?

  • Augusta Latorre

    Hey Tara, I loved this! Is delicious but just for you to know this is from my country Chile and Argentina and it name is Manjar or Dulce de Leche.

    Love your website.

    • Thanks for the history, Augusta! I always love hearing about the heritage of my favorite foods and recipes.

  • Amber

    I have never made it with the jars but I always make it in the can in my crockpot, 8-10 hours overnight. I put it in about 10-12 pm & get it out between 8-10 in the morning. I normally leave it in the crockpot after I turn off until the water cools. It always works for me. I rarely buy name brand. I normally always buy Kroger brand & I think it tastes better than the Nestle brand (just an FYI). :) I fill the water to the top of the crockpot & cook it on low with the lid on, of course.

  • Nansusy

    Hi, we call it Dulce de Leche and we use it as a frosting on cakes, filling for cakes, as frosting on cupcakes, on toast for breakfast, with fruit slices. You can use it on anything you would use marmalade or jam or just plain on a spoon right out of the jar...

  • Brilliant! Going to add scm to my grocery list this week. Yum!

  • sharon sanmarco

    You wrote "fill the slow cooker up with water to about one inch about the top of the lids"...did you mean 1" ABOVE the top of the lids?

    • Oops, yes -- thanks for pointing that out! It's correct in the recipe instructions, but I'll fix the post.

  • KBartlett

    I am double excited to try this since Carnation has come out with a already caramel flavored condensed milk!... Also they have a new chocolate condensed milk... Im going to try it with both to make some great creamy sauces!!..

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