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Normally, let's say I make shabbos at the usual time, shortly before sunset. If I want to leave food in the crockpot, I want to make sure it's cooked by sunset.

Now what happens if I make Shabbos early? Say sunset is 7, but I want to make Shabbos at 6? Does the food need to be cooked by 6? What if I put it on at 5:45, figuring it will be done by 7, then suddenly decide I'm ready to make Shabbos now -- does my crock-pot prevent me from doing so?

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To answer your question as asked, based on the mechaber in 261:4 you may not keep food with a shehiya issue on the "fire" from the time you accept Shabbos. Consider the following instead:

The minhag of most in America is to allow shehiya if the food is cooked 1/3 or 1/2 (ask your rav). Many are not lenient (again- ask your Rav).

Placing aluminum foil on the inner shell/element (and acc. to some the adjustable knob) would serve as a blech and a hekir not to raise the flame. This would allow you to do shehiya no matter how cooked the food is.

(The raw meat trick in 251:3 won't work if you are going to shul for mincha and kabbalas shabbos before actually being mekabel shabbos.)

If you came home from shul and realized you made a mistake, you can eat the chulent. Firstly, you have the gra quoted by the first biur halacha in 318 that an unintentional derabbonon is mutar. Secondly, the biur halacha in 253:1 "lehashhoso" allows you to occasionally rely bedieved on those who permit shehiya if his intention is to eat it the next day (different than other areas where you can always rely bedieved on a dissenting opinion).

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Do you have evidence that the "raw meat trick" as you call it is ineffective if done immediately before leaving for synagogue to recite mincha & kabbalat shabbat? I understand that early shabbat muddies the waters somewhat. –  Ze'ev Felsen Jun 27 '11 at 19:04
    
@Ze'ev Felsen, For a quick source, the language of the Mishna Berura 253:10 is "close to sunset mamash, but if you put it on while it was 'still day', it is forbidden since it already became slightly cooked and he needs to remove it when shabbos arrives..." hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=49625&st=&pgnum=40. Yeah, I don't know what the halacha would be if he threw it in while it was still day and he was mekabel shabbos immediately after. –  YDK Jun 28 '11 at 4:45
    
Not all agree that foil on the inner shell of a crock pot counts as a blech. –  Double AA Oct 27 '13 at 21:03
    
Possibly relevant sk71 hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=49625&st=&pgnum=44 –  Double AA Nov 24 at 15:08

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