Buying Guide: Slow Cooker

Initially, slow cookers aren’t essential kitchen tools since Dutch oven (French Oven), cocotte or casserole pots can do the same jobs in way better flavor and technique than these machines. However, who can resist how convenient of slow cookers; you can throw everything you’ll eat in, walk away to work, and then come back home with ready delicious meals.

Dutch ovens are capable for stewing, simmering, and roasting methods. Also, they’re superior than traditional slow cookers for letting searing/sautéing before slow cooking period for more flavor and aroma. However, many newer slow cookers can do it; they can’t beat the traditional cast iron pot but produce acceptable results.

Probably, the best parts of these machines are convenient. You can prepare delicious meals with no need to watch over them. They’re also good for budget-saver and heath-concerned people.

Slow Cooker Buying Guide

Cost to Pay

As a long-time electric machine, a slow cooker costs various price, from $15 to $300 or up. The big differences between them mostly depend on feature, size or even gimmicks, such as Wi-Fi usability. The more bells and whistles, the more price. If you’re on the budget, look for a manual or plain programmable crock pot for saving a bulk of money.

Know Before Buying:

There’re some overlap in certain area between slow cookers or multi-cookers these days. Still, we agree on Cook’s Illustrated[1] that the ideal machine should be absolutely simple and intuitive to use, as well as accept with reservation with Food & Wine[2] for picking a machine that runs as low and slow as possible, which may not a solid rule.
  • Size. For home uses, capacity runs from 1.5 to 8.5 quarts. Since a slow cooker can be filled 1/2 to 3/4 of full capacity (depending on recipes and ingredients) to avoid over-cooked and spill-over, the most generic size for a slow cooker is 5- to 7-quart capacity, which is perfect for serving four. Also, a couple or a bachelor can find a 3- to 5- quart one more practical because it has more compact store and cooks without leftovers.

  • Shape. Commonly, for slow cooking, oval-shape pots are preferable as they can be compatible with a whole chicken or chunky roasted meat than round ones at the same capacity, as well as offers more flexibility to use than round crocks. However, oblong, or oval-but-lean-to-oblong shapes (like the Cuisinart Cook Central, KitchenAid, and West Bend) are also great for searing or being used as a griddle pan due to roomier space.

    Most multi-cookers have round space since serving various functions, includes rice cooking or pressure cooking, which do better in round shape.

  • Manual vs Programmable. According to Consumer Reports[3], the cooking ability seems not different between manual and programmable machine. “In our past tests, there wasn’t much difference in performance between types, but the added features provided added convenience”, they said.

    Still, we lean on programmable machines, especially ones that have a built-in temperature control for ensuring appropriated heat all along the cooking cycles. Besides, programmable machines also have automatic Keep Warm mode, which will lower the temperature when reach the setting time. If you have unpredictable schedules, spend extra bucks on programmable crocks to have a peace of mind not to overcook or burn.

    Manual Slow Cooker
    These machines work like 30-year-old ones that your grandma own. They have simple and manual setting.
    • Basic settings: Low, Med, High
    • Some newer models have Keep Warm, but need to set it manually.
    • Available in various sizes, from 1 to 8 quarts.
    • Inexpensive, under $50.
    Programmable Slow Cooker
    Most new models born with ‘set-it-and-forget’ function and timer, or even searing ability.
    • Advanced settings and modes. Some models work as multi-cookers; they can cook many different methods than slow cooker, such as pressure cooker, rice cooker or steamer.
    • Timer. Most recent models can be set the cooking time, cycle, and delay timer.
    • Automatic Keep Warm.
    • Pricier than manual models, from $50 to $300.

  • Lid. A glass lid is necessary. It lets you easily monitor cooking process without opening the lid, which will release moisture. If you plan to bring your slow cookers away, look for ones that have locking lid, like Crock-Pot Cook & Carry or Hamilton Beach Set ‘n Forget to ensure no messy transport to parties.

  • Multi-Task Cooker. Some machines are multi-cookers that means they can cook more than slow cooking, such as pressure cooking, rice cooking, steaming or even making yogurt.

    If you’re slow cooking lovers, aside from slow cooking function, the multi-cookers that excel for this technique should well equip for these feature: searing/browning, or sautéing for intense aromatics and flavor, or else you will have to do these process in another pan on traditional stove. The Cuisinart Cook Central, KitchenAid and Ninja Cooking System are admirable for these duties.

  1. Slow Cooker, America’ s Test Kitchen.
  2. Sarah DiGregorio, The Best Slow Cookers, Food & Wine, February 01, 2017.
  3. Slow Cooker Buying Guide, Consumer Reports, February 2017.

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