April 23, 2014

How to Buy a Slow Cooker

Winter is a great time to enjoy chilis, stews and soups. If you want to arrive home to a comforting meal, one of the easiest ways to do so is by using a slow cooker. Slow Cookers (also known as Crock-pots) work, their name suggests, by maintaining a low, constant heat over many hours. Although they are generally thought of as being used for wet mixtures, slow cookers can also cook a whole chicken or roast.

If you are looking for a slow cooker, be prepared by reading the tips here before you shop.

Checklist for buying a slow cooker:

What size slow cooker do you need?

Slow cookers are available in 8 ounce to 6 quart sizes. Depending on your intended use, if you’re cooking for a family of four or more you will need at least a 6 quart model, if less that 4 than the 6 quart would do.

Keep in mind that slow cookers need to be at least half full to properly cook as intended, so if you have a large slow cooker, but are only cooking for a small family, you could prepare a larger quantity of food and then freeze the leftovers.

Is it user-friendly?

Choose a slow cooker with user-friendly features like a removable power cord with switch. From time to time you may need to move the slow cooker in your kitchen or even outdoors during a picnic. A long power cord provides you hassle-free mobility with the slow cooker.

Glass lids and removable pots

The best slow cookers come with glass lids so you can see through it to check on the progress of the food without opening the lid.

When you open the lid, the cooking temperature drops so the cooking time will change and may take longer. Most models will have removable pots, but make sure they have stay cool handles to avoid getting burned when lifting them out.

Most slow cookers have a thick stoneware liner surrounded by a metal exterior. This outer surface can become quite hot. While it may be pricier, you can find models that have added insulation and are layered with temperature absorbing finishes.

Temperature setting options

Kitchenaid slow cookersLook for slow cookers with temperature setting options. A slow cooker which only comes with an On/Off switch could not keep your food warm without burning it after it is cooked.

Most models offer at least 2 heat settings, better yet, some models may have an automatic temperature control that you can set.

Look for a slow cooker that has a “keep warm” setting because you may not eat immediately as soon as your food is cooked, and you don’t want it to dry out.

Better yet find a slow cooker model with an electronic temperature sensor because that feature will alert you if there is a drop in the food temperature level.

Other slow cooker buying tips:

  • Choose a slow cooker that is durable and could be of service to you for the next five to ten years.
  • Digital programmable settings offer cooks maximum flexibility with time and temperature.
  • Choose a slow cooker which is dishwasher friendly and whose parts can be easily removed for easier cleaning.
  • Designer models have sleek shapes, finishes, and a choice solid colors or patterns of floral and plaids. Stainless-steel models are also very popular.
  • Slow cookers are priced from $20 to $250. If you choose a simpler model you will pay less but if you opt for a more elaborate slow cooker with more features, you can expect to pay more.

The leading distributors of slow cookers in the market today include Rival, Hamilton Beach, Cuisinart, All Clad, West Bend, Farberware, and KitchenAid slow cookers.

hamilton beach slow cookersWith the right choice, slow cookers can come up with the best-tasting chicken, beef stew, pot roast, roast beef, ribs, vegetarian dishes or any home-made meal you want to eat, but don’t want to stay around and monitor.

Slow Cooker Tips

The wind is blowing here, the temperature is dropping and we’re expecting rain.  On days like this we look forward to hot, comforting dinners.  A slow cooker (Crock-pot is one brand) is a convenient way to have that satisfying dinner ready when you come home at night.

Here are some helpful tips for making your slow ccoker dinner simple and tasty.

  • Less tender cuts of meat such shoulder, chuck roast, brisket and poultry legs work best for slow cooking.
  • Fish and seafood are not well suited unless they are added during the last hour or so of cooking.
  • Ground meat is also not recommended as the texture changes during long cooking and becomes mealy.
  • Slow cooking tends to intensify flavors, especially black pepper, chili pepper and garlic.  Dried herbs may loose some flavor with long cooking times and fresh herns are best if added right near the end of the cooking.
  • It’s not necessary, but flouring and browning meat for stews will add a richer flavor and color and will help to thicken the sauce.  Be sure to scrape the browned bit from the bottom of the pan to add to the pot.
  • Plastic liners are available in the foil aisle of most major grocery stores.  They make clean-up almost nonexistent.
  • To ensure even cooking, be sure to fill the cooker at least halfway, but not to the brim.  also, try not to stir as it will break up the vegetables.
  • It generally works best to place the vegetables (chunks of carrot potato and onion, for example) on the bottom of the pot followed by a layer of meat.
  • Meals can be made even easier by prepping many of the ingredients the night before and then just adding them to the pot straight from the fridge the next morning.

One of my family’s favorite slow cooker meals is exceptionally easy.

Bar-B Que Beef

Place chunks of carrot, potato, and onion on the bottom of the slow cooker,
cover with a layer of beef short ribs or stew meat. Cover with one bottle of your favorite bar-BQue sauce and an equal amount of your favorite beer. Cook 8-10 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high. Vary the amounts to suit your personal needs and tastes.