November 26, 2014

Crock-Pot Wonders

I’ve owned a few crock-pots over the years. Right now I have two- both of them the large six quart models made by Rival. They are both basic models that have a simple central knob for choosing a low or high setting. I prefer my appliances simple and these are perfect for me.

Many people are discovering or rediscovering the humble crock-pot or slow cooker. They offer convenience, and economy. A slow cooker and turn a tough (and cheaper) cut of meat into a tender main dish, ready for dinner when you return home after a long day. Today, about 83% of American households own a slow cooker, according to the NPD Group, a leading marketing research firm. Of these households, almost half used a slow cooker within the past month.

While I heartily recommend my style of slow cooker, the folks at the Los Angeles Times, took a look at a few newer, sleeker models out there and offered these comments:

West Bend’s 5-Quart Oblong Slow Cooker promises an all-in-one slow cooker and griddle, with an insert advertised to be safe for the stove top and oven; it also comes with its own carrying case. The adjustable temperature control has five settings.
What we thought: The model promises a lot and delivers little, if anything. The model automatically starts warming as soon as it’s plugged in — there is no “off” setting — which could lead to burns if you’re careless. Although it’s marketed as oven- and stove-top-safe, in the manual’s fine print there are limitations to how high the thin insert can be heated. Only plastic or rubber utensils can be used with the insert, as metal can scratch the coating. The lid does not securely cover the insert and easily falls off. The model takes forever to heat up, as does the griddle (it took us 45 minutes to fry three pieces of bacon and 10 minutes to fry an egg with the griddle on the highest setting). About $55.

The KitchenAid 7-Quart Slow Cooker is big in capacity and power. It heats quickly with its 400-watt heating element and boasts an accurate and responsive “electronic temperature management system.” It offers 10 hours of programmable cooking time, automatically lowering the heat to warm when the timer is done. The settings: buffet, simmer, low, high and auto.
What we thought: Everything about this unit is big; there’s even a bumper at the back of the unit. The 7-quart ceramic insert is heavy and awkward on its own; filled, it requires a good amount of strength to move. However, it has large — and very convenient — level indicators, so you know the volume of contents you’re cooking. The big digital cooking display is easy to read. The lid does not always sit flush against the top of the insert. The unit heats up very quickly and adjusts throughout to maintain consistent temperature. The insert and lid are dishwasher-safe. About $130.

The All-Clad 7-Quart Deluxe Slow Cooker offers a cast-aluminum insert that is oven- and stove-top-safe (both the insert and lid can function on the stove top as a Dutch oven). The programmable timer automatically switches to warm when cooking is complete. The model features a stainless steel exterior.
What we thought: This is one massive and expensive showpiece. The exterior is big and impressive, but after a couple of uses we found the stainless steel hard to keep clean and almost unbearably hot. The stainless steel lid prevented us from being able to check on contents as they cooked; the lid itself was very thin and lightweight and the handle got so hot a potholder was required. The cast aluminum minimizes mess and eases cleanup. About $280.

And their favorite:

Cuisinart’s 3 1/2 -Quart Programmable Slow Cooker includes a ceramic insert that is stick-resistant and dishwasher-safe. The model comes with a 24-hour LCD countdown timer that automatically switches to warm when contents finish cooking. Four settings: high, low, simmer and warm.
What we thought: This slow cooker was one of our favorites. The programmable timer is a big plus, allowing the cook to set the cooking time in half-hour increments. The ceramic insert offers consistently reliable heating and cooking. The insert and lid are dishwasher-safe. About $60.

One of my favorite cooking sites, allrecipes.com has a highly rated recipe for chicken and dumplings you can try next time you want a comforting meal ready right away when you get home.

You can read all the reviews here.