In complex organisms such as mammals, circadian energy metabolism is orchestrated by an interplay of central and peripheral clocks, with a master pacemaker being located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) and subordinate clocks in non-SCN central and peripheral tissues. Kolbe et al. used SCN pacemaker knockout mice to dissect the role of central and peripheral clock function in metabolic homeostasis. They show that a functional SCN clock is not needed to sustain metabolic health in a rhythmic environment, which is sufficient to drive behavioral and peripheral clock network rhythms. In constant conditions, however, the synchronizing capacity of the master clock becomes key for this synchronization and metabolic homeostasis.