What’s The Best Slow Cooker?
There are two basic types of slow cooker available on the market, the mechanical and the programmable. What’s The Best Slow Cooker for you depends on your lifestyle and the foods you want to cook.
Types of Slow Cooker
First, you should know about the two types of slow-cooker.
The mechanical slow cooker has a simple control to turn the slow cooker “Off” or on at either a “Low” or a “High” temperature setting. Many have a “Warm” setting as well, for keeping food at serving temperature after cooking.
A programmable slow cooker, on the other hand, has a built-in timer, mostly digital that cooks for a pre-set time and automatically switches to the “Warm” setting after the time is up. This allows you to “set and forget” without worrying about overcooking the meal.
For more details on types of slow cookers, read my slow cookers page.
So, how does this tie into your lifestyle? Well, are you the stay at home cook that will be around while the slow cooker does its job? Or will you be away when the slow cooker needs to be switched to the keep warm setting?
If you are going to be at home and available when the cooking time is over then a mechanical slow cooker will do the job for you quite nicely. You don’t need to spend the extra money to add the “frills” of digital timers and automatic switching.
However, if you are going to be away when the meal is done and needs to be switched over to warm, then you need the “convenience” of a programmable slow cooker. The additional cost will be well worth it to keep a perfectly cooked meal from turning into bland tasting mush, yuck.
Size and Shape
Now that you have determined the type of slow cooker you need, it is time to decide on the size.
What kind of meals are you going to be using the slow cooker for?
Large capacity, 7-quarts and larger, slow cookers should be used for large families and gatherings. For example, an 8-quart slow cooker will cook a 6-lb roast or 8-lb chicken, good for around 10 people.
4-6-quart slow cookers are average and will work for small to medium size families and the occasional get together.
Smaller capacity, 1-3 quarts, will be fine for a single person, or a 2-3 person family.
Slow cookers come in two basic shapes, round or oval. Large cuts of meat like roasts or ribs require an oval shape slow cooker as pictured above. The shape is not so important for stews, soups, chilis, and meals like lasagna, noodle or rice dishes that you mold into any shape.
Keep in mind the slow cooker should be at least 1/2 filled for best results and not more than 2/3 full. This ensures even heating of the food and prevents food safety concerns because the top part of the meal does not heat up quickly enough.
Here are some features that are very useful when considering the purchase of a slow cooker:
- Glass see-through lid – the temptation to open the lid to see the progress of your meal as it cooks is very high. Resist this temptation because the low power of a slow cooker means any lost heat due to an open cover must be made up by a longer cooking time. Glass lids allow you to check on the cooking food without opening the cover.
- Cooking element placement – cooking element placement is important to ensure even cooking of the food. Buy slow cookers with a heating element that heats both the bottom and sides to ensure even cooking. Large slow cookers with bottom only elements cook from the bottom up which can lead to poor quality results.
- A removable insert – especially an attractive one, can become your serving bowl so you don’t have to transfer the food. Removable inserts also make for easy cleanup, most are dishwasher safe.
- Sear function – for some recipes you should sear the meat before putting it into the slow cooker. Slow cookers with this feature avoid the need for cleaning up another pan afterward.
- Lid clamps – lid clamps and enhanced seal gasket are handy to take the meal from home to a party. The clamps and gasket prevent spillage, leakage, and heat loss during transport.
Check out some of my favorite slow cooker recipes under the Recipes tab at the top of the page.
Enjoy your slow cooked meal and feel free to leave a comment or questions in the comment box below.
Click here for Wikipedia’s Slow Cooker page.