A Slow Cooker, or more commonly known as a, “Crock Pot,” is an essential part of any kitchen, allowing the owner to just load it up and step away before coming back to a delicious meal. At least, that’s the theory. In reality there’s a world of difference between a bottom-of-the-barrel slow cooker and one which will end up holding an honored place on your counter.
Finding the best slow cooker doesn’t need to be complicated. Read on and we’ll explore what you’ll need to ensure that you’re able to make the best choice to bring home to your kitchen.
Slow cookers were originally designed to take some of the time out of a person’s daily tasks. Since they have relatively tight temperature controls and are meant to run all day long they’re a convenient way to make dishes like stews without having to stand over a boiling pot.
More than that, they’re a key component of modern variations of recipes like pulled pork. The slower cooking time makes for a remarkably tender dish and the longer cook time is useful for making sure that marinades and spices actually set into the meat.
After all, the food is basically stewing for hours at a time.
Most people who make regular use of a crock pot will find themselves starting it before work and leaving it on through the day.
Is there anything better than coming home to an already hot and finished meal as soon as you’re in the door? On top of that, the only cleaning that needs to be done when a slow cooker has been used is to clean the crockpot itself. They’re not suitable for every dish but they’re the best way to make cooking at home more convenient than ever.
Convenient and easy-to-use, slow cookers can make a huge difference in how much effort has to be put into cooking, especially since they don’t need to be attended to throughout the process. It’s just a matter of when the owner is willing to use it.
While the core idea of a slow cooker is quite simple, there are a ton of them on the market these days. They range from those that closely mimic the original to modern cookers with a ton of programming options and high-end materials.
The prospective buyer should carefully consider all of the following before making an investment.
Are you cooking for yourself? A couple of people? Regularly hosting dinner parties which feature a delicious roast in potatoes and carrots?
The size of a slow cooker is one thing that shouldn’t ever be overlooked. Even if it meets your expectations across the board being too large for a single meal or too small for a planned event renders it pretty much useless.
Most slow cookers are measured in quarts. One to three quarts is perfect for a single person or couple, for larger families something in the range of five to six quarts is desirable.
Larger pots are available for those who really want to be able to go to town as well, so if dinner parties are your thing then it’s worth keeping an eye out for something a single person would consider massively over-sized.
One thing to keep in mind: the majority of slow cooker recipes are geared towards a six quart cooker. Check carefully if you’re trying out someone else’s recipe and make adjustments as necessary for the size of your pot.
One of the few risks when running a slow cooker is overcooking the food contained within. This can render an otherwise delectable dish a nearly inedible mush, so one should carefully consider whether or not they need a timer.
Many crock pot recipes can take upwards of four to six hours to cook, but if your work day is eight hours and you’re planning on dinner being ready when you get home you’ll want a programmable cooker.
On the other hand, if you just want to take some of the effort out of weekend cooking and you’ll be around to turn the pot off at the correct time you can skip the extra expense and go with a manual slow cooker which requires you to turn it off.
Most will switch to a “warm” setting when the timer has run out, keeping the dish nice and hot for those who are planning on enjoying it even though they’re no longer cooking.
Time controls range pretty far, with some cookers only working in certain intervals. For the most part no interval is shorter than 30 minutes however, and slow cooking rarely requires extremely tight time controls.
Depending on how much you’re willing to spend, there are a lot of options out there with slow cookers. Some combine a ton of functions, while remaining primarily a slow cooker these are often quite handy to have around for someone with limited counter space.
One of the primary functions to look for is a searing feature. For those who enjoy hearty stews they’re essential and save the owner the hassle of having to dirty up a frying pan or skillet in order to pre-cook the meat.
Some work well as steamers, rice cookers, or even a pressure cooker.
Extra functions make a slow cooker more handy, but they’re also a driving point behind higher costs. Keep that in mind if you’re on a tight budget and planning on a truly extravagant pot.
The shape of the pot matters more than it would seem at first glance. Round models are available, forming a ceramic circle inside the pot, but they’re not the ideal solution for most people.
Instead, look for an oval shaped pot. This makes it easier to get a roast or other large piece of meat wrangled into the pot without having to cut it down and change the cooking time.
Take a close look at the bottom corners as well. Some of the cheaper models have a very sharp angle that will make the slow cooker more difficult to clean, a gently rounded corner will easily wipe smooth with a sponge on the other hand.
If the pot isn’t able to be easily lifted clear of the base for cleaning you’ll want to give it a miss as well.
Metallic inserts are sometimes available and work fine but can impart flavors to the food and won’t stay hot as long once the heating element has been disengaged. Most cooks prefer ceramic or porcelain since they’re easier to clean and have better heat retention.
Ideally, a slow cooker won’t have its lid removed during the cooking process. It lets out heat and can change cooking time for those who aren’t careful.
That means a transparent lid with a steam vent is ideal. Most high end slow cookers have lids which are made of tempered glass, a small steam vent keeps things relatively transparent so that the cook can look upon their work without taking the lid off.
Opaque lids mean you just have to trust the timer for many recipes. If the cooker doesn’t hold true to its thermostat that can mean a lot of tinkering with cook times and probably a couple of messed up meals before the owner can dial it in.
To make sure that you’ve got the right slow cooker for your needs, you should be able to answer three questions:
Those will give you a good indication of what you need and everything else will be in the details.
Q: Is it safe to run a slow cooker all day?
A: Manufacturers vary, but almost all are rated to run for at least 12 hours. While they get hot enough to cook a crock pot is well contained and unlikely to burn anything in the home as long as normal precautions are followed.
Q: What’s the difference between a pressure cooker and a slow cooker?
A: Pressure cookers are essentially sped up slow cookers. They allow for the same types of recipes and styles of cooking within a fraction of the amount of time a slow cooker takes. They’re also harder to use, more expensive, and generally a hassle compared the relatively simple “throw ingredients in a pot, turn it on, leave” routine that most people use slow cookers for.
Q: Do slow cookers make healthy meals?
A: Any type of cooking will denature the ingredients being heated. Slow cookers seem to be softer on nutrients than many out there but there’s a caveat: many vegetables will readily lose some of their nutrients in the water they’re cooked in. For a stew, that’s fine, but the broccoli you threw in with a roast may have marginally less nutrients than if you’d just steamed it. It’s not any more harmful than any other variety of cooking however.
Q: How much electricity do slow cookers use?
A: Most models use around 600W of electricity during normal usage. By contrast, a normal hotplate will usually use around 1200W of power and an electric stove runs from 1000W to 3000W depending on the model. They do run for longer in most cases but in the end using a slow cooker isn’t going to result in an electricity bill hike.
Q: Do I need to brown meat before putting it in a slow cooker?
A: Not necessarily, most meats will cook readily despite not having a seared exterior. The caramelization process that occurs on the skin during the browning process will change the character of the dish in a direction most people agree is for the better however.