Slow Cooker Buying Guide
Buying a slow cooker is a great idea for anyone who enjoys making large, hearty meals, but doesn't always have the time to stay in the kitchen throughout the whole cooking process. Review this breakdown of slow cookers to find out what they do and what features they offer to find the perfect slow cooker for you.
What Does A Slow Cooker Do?
Slow cookers gently warm meats, vegetables, stews and more over a period of hours, bringing them to their optimal temperature through an elongated cooking process that leaves food extra tender. Because there is no flame heating the food, and the container is sealed with a lid, food can be left unattended while it’s cooking. This comes in handy as meals made in a slow cooker can take an entire day, or be started the night before they will be eaten.
What's The Difference Between Slow Cookers And Crock Pots?
Slow cookers are often referred to as "Crock Pots," a name that has become synonymous with delicious slow cooking. However, Crock Pot is actually a trademarked brand name, referring to a specific type of slow cooker.
How Do Slow Cookers Work?
A slow cooker is a large pot with a glass lid. The pot portion is typically surrounded with a ceramic or porcelain coating, which encapsulates a metal layer. This metal layer is what heats up to slowly cook the food. When the slow cooker is plugged in, most offer at least two heat settings, allowing the user to control cooking temperature. Some models also include a setting that simply keeps already cooked food warm until it is ready to be served.
Why Use A Slow Cooker Over Other Cooking Methods?
If you’re still unsure why you might want a slow cooker, consider these benefits to cooking with them:
- Don't Burn Your Food: Because food is cooked at a lower temperature for long periods of time, it’s highly unlikely, if not impossible, to burn your food. While overcooking it will leave you with a pretty tasteless dinner, you don’t have to worry about accidentally blackening your meal.
- Produce Tender Meat: Slow cooking at lower temperatures produces incredibly tender meat. This isn’t just delicious, it’s also cost effective. Because this cooking method produces such tender results, you can buy less expensive cuts of steak, chicken, pork, etc. that would otherwise be tough and unappetizing when made with something other than a slow cooker.
- Allows You To Multitask: If you enjoy home cooked meals but can’t find the time to hang out over the stove for hours at a time, the slow cooker offers an easy way to create the dinners you want. Food can be placed inside a slow cooker and left to simmer for hours, leaving you free to do other things. Some people enjoy the ability to fill their slow cooker in the morning, and allow it to cook dinner throughout the day while they’re at work. By the time you come home, dinner is ready to be served.
- Leaves Less Dishes To Clean: If you’re sick of washing a separate pot or pan for meats, vegetables and starches, then the slow cooker is a smart choice for you. All of these can be cooked in the slow cooker at once!
Are There Any Drawbacks To Using A Slow Cooker?
Unfortunately, slow cookers aren’t perfect, and there are some issues to keep in mind before purchasing one:
- Don't Let Heat Escape: Because food is cooked at a lower temperature than other methods, you should avoid removing the lid whenever possible. When heat escapes through the open lid, food will take longer to finish cooking.
- Allow For Extra Cooking Time: The lower cooking temperature also increases the risk of bacteria if food is not allowed to cook long enough. Never eat meat from a slow cooker until it has reached the necessary internal temperature to kill bacteria.
- Boil Beans First: If you plan to make beans in your slow cooker, you must always boil them first. While this may seem like a hassle, some beans, including kidney and fava, contain a toxin that is only removed when boiled. To be safe, always boil beans for at least 10 minutes before placing them in the slow cooker.
What Features Are Available In Slow Cookers?
To find the right slow cooker for you, review the following features and decide which ones you’d like:
- Removable Liners: Slow cookers with a removable liner/pot allow for a much easier clean up than those without. Simply take out the liner once the pot has cooled, and clean in the sink as you would a regular pot. You can also place ingredients into the liner/pot separately from the slow cooker, allowing you to put it in the refrigerator, or place around the kitchen as you gather ingredients. Liners are usually made of stoneware, aluminum or stainless steel.
- Size: How large of a slow cooker you need depends on what you plan to cook, and for how many people. For small, single dinners or dips, a one quart slow cooker would suffice. For medium sized dinners, stews and recipes for two to four people, mid-range, three and a half to five quart slow cookers will do well. Finally, if you plan to use your slow cooker for entertaining or a large family, purchase a six quart or above model. Also, if you plan to cook large items as a whole, like chicken, you’ll need a bigger slow cooker to accommodate the food’s size.
- Parts And Accessories: When you’ve narrowed down your slow cooker selection, go online or ask a store representative to review the cost of replacement parts and accessories like lids and liners. These items can be costly depending on the brand and model you choose, increasing the overall cost of your purchase. If you seem to have found the perfect cooker at a great price, expensive replacement parts may be the hidden charge you can’t afford.
- Portability: If you see potlucks and family dinners on the horizon, then a slow cooker designed with portability in mind is the best choice for you. Find one with a locking lid, big, sturdy handles and portable dip warmers.
Finding the right slow cooker for you means selecting a model in the right size with the appropriate features for your cooking habits. The more you plan to use your slow cooker, the more features like removable liners will come in handy. If you want to make food for four or more people, then you’ll need a medium to large sized slow cooker. If you plan to take it with you to events and dinners, then a model designed for portability is the best fit for you.