Slow cookers have come a long way since the small brown plaid appliance that my mom used in the 1970s. There are so many different options now, it’s hard to imagine how such a simple appliance could have become so complicated. I bought my slow cooker when I had a toddler (and less time to cook) about 10 years ago. I purchased a simple model – 6 quart oval with a warm, low and high dial. It works great, having the ceramic insert that can be placed in the dishwasher is fantastic. I use it on the warm setting often when I am entertaining a crowd to keep foods warm. I do wish I had a model that had the ability to switch over to the warm setting after the cooking time is completed. The delay start timer would also be nice. This option should be used with caution when cooking meats, however. Leaving raw meats in a cold slow cooker is no different from leaving raw meats on the counter and should be avoided.
- delay times
- cook times
- warm settings
- different kinds of inserts
- ability to brown items in the insert
- inserts that can be used on the table top
- different sizes
- digital readouts
It’s easy to fall in love with the idea of a slow cooker, but not enjoy actually using the slow cooker. With the cold January weather, having a warm stew or soup to greet you every night as you get home from work sounds amazing. And it is, but living the slow cooker lifestyle takes some advanced planning. You’ll have a better sense of what’s right for you if you give yourself a trial run. Borrow a friend’s slow cooker for a couple of weeks and check out a cookbook at your public library. There are tons of books out there, but I would highly recommend America’s Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution. It’s got a great selection of recipies and gives great guidance on cooking times and heat settings. When I first got my slow cooker I never understood what the difference between low and high really was and how to make sure something was ready when I wanted it to be. At the end of this experiment you will be a much more experience “slow cooker” and will have a much better sense of what to purchase.
After giving the slow cooker lifestyle a trial run, ask yourself some questions:
Is it worth paying an additional $100, just to avoid having to wash an additional dish or two?
There are cookers out there that allow you to use the insert on the stovetop to saute and brown ingredients before starting the slow cooking process. This will allow you to avoid having to dirty an additional pot. For me, the answer is no.
Will I be home while it is cooking, or do I need a delay timer and warm settings?
If you work from home, you may not need the delay timer and automatic warm settings. However, dishes with chicken come out better if they do not cook longer than 4 or 5 hours, so having a slow cooker that can switch over to the warm setting automatically while you are out running an errand or shuttling kids around can be very useful.