A slow cooker or Crock-Pot has become essential for today's busy cooks. You can save on food with a slow cooker because you can use cheaper cuts of meat and have them come out tender and flavorful every time.
What Is a Slow Cooker or Crock-Pot?
There is no difference indicated between the terms "slow cooker" and "Crock-Pot." Note that a Crock-Pot is a registered brand of the slow cooker.
A slower cooker or Crock-Pot is a small electrical cooking appliance with a stoneware insert that cooks food at a low temperature for a long period of time. It's the perfect vessel for making one-pot meals, stews, soups, and more.
Getting the right slow cooker or Crock-Pot that will work best for you and your family can be a challenge due to the many choices available. Consider how you will use it, what size you need, and the features you might want in one. Our comprehensive guide below will help show you the way as you go shopping for one of these small appliances.
Before Buying a Slow Cooker or Crock-Pot
A slow cooker or Crock-Pot is a cooking appliance that is found in most households. In fact, according to Consumer Reports, about 83 percent of households in America have a slow cooker. This cooking vessel is highly useful for people with busy lives, as the food is ready whenever you want to eat it and can be left unattended while you go to work or take your children to sports or other activities. That being said, as you go searching for a slow cooker, take the time to ensure you are getting what will fit your needs best, including the shape, size, functions, design, and construction.
Buying Considerations for a Slow Cooker or Crock-Pot
Style and Design
There are two common types of slow cookers—those that are traditional in look and those that are portable or "travel-friendly" with locking lids to minimize spills. If you plan on taking your slow cooker to potluck dinners or socials, you may want to opt for a portable type rather than a standard model.
You'll find different styles, sizes, and finishes of slow cookers. If you find you need a variety of sizes, a unit with differently sized ceramic cooking bowls in one heater unit, such as the Hamilton Beach Three-in-One, may be the answer.
Choosing an appropriate slow cooker size is essential if you want this counter appliance to be practical and meet your needs. There's a good range of sizes (capacities) available in various brands, from a quart up to 6 or 7 quarts.
You can expect to need 1 quart per pound of meat being cooked in a slow cooker. A 5-quart cooker would be able to handle a 5-pound chicken.
|Average Slow Cooker Sizes|
|1 to 3 Quarts||The smallest slow cookers are ideal for singles or couples who want to cook enough for one meal, to use in a recreational vehicle, or for keeping gravy or dip warm.|
|4 to 5 Quarts||A young family of four would find the 4- to 5-quart size handy.|
|6 to 7 Quarts||Most crockpot recipes are designed for a 6-quart slow cooker. This size can feed a large family a single meal or give you lots of leftovers.|
Slow cooker size is also an important consideration if you entertain a lot, like to make meals ahead, prepare large batches of pasta sauce, and so on. Many homes have more than one size. However, storage may be a problem for some, and the most versatile size, if you can only have one, is a 5-quart.
Most slow cookers are round, but there are many oval models available. The oval shape is quite popular and more versatile for a variety of foods such as a whole chicken or ribs.
From slow cooker and crock-pot beginners to experts alike, today's appliances offer a number of features that make the cooking experience a breeze.
- Programmable Settings: Offered in most slow cooker models, programmable digital controls allow you to set the cooker to start at a certain time. This feature is great for those who must leave it unattended (such as during the workday) and return later to a meal that's ready to serve.
- Different Temperatures: Most manual (non-programmable) slow cookers have Warm, Low, and High temperature settings, but it's always good to confirm before buying. The "Keep Warm" setting, which often accompanies the aforementioned programmable feature, can be very handy when the meal is delayed. Programmable models usually have a Low and High setting and can also be used as a manual set slow cooker.
- Automatic Warming Function: This safety feature that operates when your countdown is done also saves you from spoiling your meal.
- Removable Ceramic Inserts: Standard with every unit, ceramic inserts are easy to clean. While off-white inserts were standard years ago, many current slow cookers have black inserts. Exterior finishes range from various colorful patterns to modern stainless steel.
- Temperature Probes: Some slow cooker models have temperature probes that help you to monitor the temperature if the meat is cooked. This is a handy feature that ensures you don't overcook or undercook meat.
While you don't need much else when using a slow cooker, it's a good idea to have some plastic serving utensils such as a large spoon, slotted spoon, and soup spoon on hand to prevent scratching your ceramic insert. Since some models can become quite hot on the bottom while on High for long periods, keep a wooden cutting board underneath a slow cooker to protect your countertop.
To make clean-up quicker, consider using a slow cooker liner such as Reynolds Slow Cooker Bags. They fit circular or oval cookers from 3- to 6-quart size.
Types of Slow Cookers
Manual slow cookers offer a few settings that you can use by turning the knob or button on the front. These settings are Off, Low and High. Some manual slow cookers have an additional setting of "warm" that you can switch over to after the meal is done cooking. With this type of slow cooker, the cook will have to note the time they put the ingredients in and when the food will be done.
A programmable slow cooker offers a bit more flexibility and control of the cooking. This type of Crock-Pot has a digital control panel that allows the cook to set cooking times and heat levels. The "time" to cook can be programmed from 30 minutes up to 24 hours and will automatically turn itself to the warm setting after that time is up.
Specialty Slow Cookers and Crock-Pots
While most slow cookers are stand-alone single appliances, you can find some very interesting and functional slow cooker units such as duo and trio units to cook and keep different dishes at their temperatures. Connectable entertainment units allow you to line up as many single and duo pots as desired. These buffet servers can be used for entertaining as well as family meals. Each slow cooker has individual controls.
One thing to note is that not all specialty appliances have cooking functions; some are mainly servers with warm settings, so confirm this before buying.
Slow Cook Function in a Multi-Appliance
If you need to cut down on appliances due to limited counter space or storage room, consider a multifunction appliance with a slow cooker setting. Some newer models of rice cookers have a slow cook function, as do some pressure cookers.
There's a lot of value in a slow cooker. They tend to be reasonably priced, and you will use the appliance for many years. Because of the various features and sizes of slow cookers, prices vary considerably from $10 to $100 or more for high-end models.
Most often, when a slow cooker breaks down after the warranty period, it's simpler to replace the appliance rather than paying for a replacement part or shipping for repairs.
This is one appliance you'll want to use often, so choose carefully when it comes to size and features. There are many very good brands including Crock-Pot, Hamilton Beach, Cuisinart, Rival, and KitchenAid.
Maintaining Your Slow Cooker
The upkeep and cleaning of your slow cooker will ensure the best results for future meals. Follow these simple tips to maintain your appliance:
- Always begin by turning off the appliance, unplug it from the outlet, and allow to cool.
- Glass lids and removable stoneware can be cleaned with soap and warm water or in the dishwasher.
- When hand cleaning, do not use abrasive pads or cleaners but gentle cleaning products or vinegar to remove stains. Avoid washing the stoneware with cold water when it is hot.
- Removable stoneware can be washed in the dishwasher.
- Deep clean by filling your slow cooker with water to the leftover food line. Add 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar for a 3-quart slow cooker or 1 cup for a 6-quart slow cooker. Slowly pour in 1/2 cup of baking soda for a 3-quart slow cooker or 1 cup for a 6-quart slow cooker. Wait for bubbles to simmer then slowly add a little bit more. Cover and set to "low" for 1 hour. Remove lid, allow to cool, wipe down, and give a final hand wash with soap and warm water.
How to Choose a Slow Cooker or Crock-Pot
There are so many choices of slow-cooker or Crock-Pot appliances on the market that it can seem overwhelming when you start looking for one. Getting your thoughts in order on what you really need, will fit in your cupboard or on the counter, falls within your budget, and serves its purpose is the best step you can take before taking the plunge of finding the right slow-cooker for you and your family. As you prepare, ask yourself a few questions.
How Will You Use Your Slow Cooker?
Determining how much use your slow cooker will get, what you will cook in it, and for how many people, can help you start the selection process. As you look, think about any special functions you want, or if you would prefer one you can program, and how much your wallet can afford. Will you use the slow cooker on a weekly basis? Or more often? What amount and type of food will you cook in it? Will you use it year-round or only during the fall and winter months?
Where Will Your Slow Cooker Be Stored When Not in Use?
Figuring out just where you will be able to store this appliance when you're not using it can be a factor. Small kitchens mean small storage space. A slow cooker is something you most likely will want to be put away in a cupboard or pantry when you're not cooking something in it.
Where to Buy a Slow Cooker or Crock-Pot
The slow-cooker is such a popular small household appliance it can be found in multiple places, including supercenters, home stores, appliance stores, grocery stores, home improvement stores, online retailers, and more. Where you buy a slow cooker or Crock-Pot, whether in person or online, is totally up to you. Some people prefer to view it in person so they can actually see the size, features, and functionality. While others prefer the time online shopping saves and the fact the appliance is delivered right to the door.
Either way, ensure you know the return policy in case there's an issue and it needs to be returned.
How long does a slow cooker last?
The lifespan of a slow cooker is around five to ten years. But if you see there is an issue with it heating up, has other problems, or it no longer fits your needs, this small appliance is such an affordable one that it's easy to replace.
Can you put raw meat in a slow cooker?
Slow cookers are created to put raw meats in them. Don't hesitate to put raw or frozen chicken, beef, or pork in the slow cooker. This appliance is designed to save time and cook food while you're busy or away.
Should you sear chicken or beef before putting it in the slow cooker?
There are some recipes that recommend searing or browning meat before placing it in the slow cooker. It is believed that this step helps keep the moisture locked in, thus making the meat more flavorful and savory.
Crock Pot slow cookers are a must for fast-paced lives. Consumer Reports.