Ever imagined a scenario where you come home tired from work or from school or whatever you do during the day and as you open the door to your apartment you are welcomed with a sweet smelling food aroma with a ready-to-eat meal? Imagine no more because some people are living that reality. Which people you may ask? They are no other people than those using slow cookers.
Have I got your attention? Good. The term slow cooker may sound new to some people but it is definitely not a new term or better still not a new product in the market. It was first introduced by Rival who gave it the name Crock-pot in the 1970s and has since become a household name. It’s an electronic cooking aid that has come to stay for many countless years to come. It most of the time comes with a silver body or stainless steel with a transparent clear gas to help you see how your meal is cooking. Slow cooker has gained so much positive reputation that many refer to it as a life saver, private dedicated cooker, faithful and timely cooker to mention a few. Some say it does not just save time but move time because of its ability to help you prepare for meals you will eat much later.
The timing can range from 30 minutes to 1-6 hours cooking time for higher settings and 8-10 even up to 20 hours for lower settings (this is best if you are to have your meal cooked overnight or while you go off to work or school).
Although some older models of slow cooker comes with just an off and on switch button with a dial on the front of it that enables you to choose if you want the meal cooked on warm, low, or high heat, the newer models come with a more sophisticated and useful feature. There you can programme it such that it can cook from low to high heat, set time for when it will start cooking. You can even set it to start cooking on high heat close to the time you will get home. This makes it easy for you to have a hot homemade meal.
The 7 Best Slow Cookers Details
Highlighting the pros or advantages of slow cooker is good, but getting to know some of the products and what people are saying about it is equally important. Here are some of our top picks to help you decide on the slow cooker that best suits your need:
Have you been paying so much for chicken, fish, vegetable or meat stock from commercial stores? You don’t have to do that anymore because that’s one of the things you can enjoy with a slow cooker. When it comes to the new consciousness of healthy cooking, slow cooker takes the keg with its usage of little or no oil for making soups and many other dishes.
Slow cooking isn’t just about making soups and stews. How about baking bread in the slow cooker or making the famous Mac and Cheese? The list is endless. Like taking porridge oats in the morning before you head out? All you need do is add some oats in the slow cooker with some dried fruit and cinnamon and enough milk and set on low heat before turning in for the night, and the next morning you will wake up to a perfectly and beautifully made oats porridge that will triple your energy for the day.
Who should use a slow cooker?
Having said so much about slow cooker, the next question that comes to mind would be; who should use this product? The simple answer to that would be everyone. From the busy mum who is struggling to get her kids ready for school or stay at home mum to the one managing a position in an office, all these will benefit from the amazing options provided by slow cooker. Even for the male folks who are yet to master the art of proper cooking. With a simple following of instructions they can prepare meals that will make their fellow guys jealous.
With the ease of cooking at different prices, there is no reason anyone should not have this cooking aid at home, office or at the restaurants. It saves you the time you would have spent monitoring your food until it is done. Still need more convictions on why you should get a slow cooker? Let’s point some of the reasons out:
- Slow cookers save time
This is the first advantage slow cookers have over conventional stoves and ovens. With a slow cooker you can set your dinner to start cooking in the morning and by the time you are back, you will have a sumptuous meal waiting for you. No more rushing home from work to make dinner for the family when all you need to do is get home, get the warm meal out of the slow cooker and serve.
- Unique tastes
Meals made in slow cookers have this unique taste that is easy to differentiate. This is because of its ability to slow cook even tough meats to release all the flavours in it. You might think that with the slow cooking vegetables will lose their taste; the contrary is however, the case here. Veggies are able to absorb stocks and spices in the meal for that lasting taste in the tongue.
- Economical and power saving
Slow cookers are well known for their usage of little amount of energy unlike the standard oven or electric cooker. With some using only 240 watts or even as low as that of a light bulb, what’s not to like about this product that isn’t just saving up energy and making the environment more friendly, but also save you some electricity bills.
- Healthy meals
With its slow cooking ability, slow cookers cook at a low temperature that vegetables and meats retain their rich nutrition because all the moisture and juices from the meal are trapped in the cooker.
- Dishwasher friendly/ Easy to Clean
Cooking parts of slow cookers especially the recent ones can be detached and put in the dishwasher. You will only have to deal with washing one pot even for a slow cooker that multi tasks whereas in the conventional way of cooking you would have been washing several pots used for boiling, frying and doing other things. Many of them come with ceramic interior so even if the slow cooker is of older model and not dishwasher friendly, you can easily wash off the pot with little soap and sponge.
- Easily transportable/movable
Visiting a friend or attending a party and you want to take some food along with you. The beautiful exterior that most of the slow cookers come with makes it alright to just unplug the cooker from the electric switch, pick it and off you go.
How does a slow cooker save time?
A slow cooker saves countless times that would have been put into making a meal for the family. The hardworking housewife will have one less thing to worry about if she has a slow cooker to do most of her cooking. With the appropriate timing and setting, a breakfast, lunch and even dinner can be taken care of by this single cooker. All she need do is programme herself, have a food timetable, prepare all she needs for the meal and into the slow cooker they go. If she prefers having a crunchy vegetable and is afraid of having her vegetables turning soggy, she can add the vegetables to the last minutes of her cooking to get her crunchy veggies.
Who wouldn’t want to walk into an already cooked and warm meal on a cold winter night? I sure would. Slow cookers afford you time to do the things you would not have ordinarily been able to do. Things like hiking, swimming, going to the gym, going for movies, hanging out with friends, taking a nap, going to school or work and hours later come home to a meal would not have been possible without a slow cooker. It just doesn’t save you the time to cook meals, but also save you the time to warm the meal up. With most of the slow cookers switching to the warm mode after cooking, you save the strength and time you would have used in going to the kitchen to do so.
Slow cookers not only save time but save a lot of money year in year out that would have been spent on takeouts or eat outs. Many families end up eating out and spending a lot of money on costly restaurant meals that may not even be as healthy as a homemade meal. They do this because of lack of time for cooking. It can be very tiring to come home from a stressful day at work or school and just when you wish for nothing more than to have a home cooked meal, and you realize that you have to make the meal from start to finish; it makes the option of eating takeouts more alluring.
Assuming a family of five were to eat at a restaurant, a child’s meal can range well over above $2 per meal and that of an adult will obviously double that price. But with a slow cooker, the whole family can enjoy a good meal for less than $2. This is made possible when ingredients are bought in bulk prior to the cooking time. Even leftovers can be turned to lunch, breakfast or even dinner the following day.
You don’t have to wait until you are ready for a meal before you start cooking. Slow cookers save you more time by allowing you to cook your meals in batches for up to a week’s meal, package it and store away in the freezer for the times you will need it. All you have to do is bring out a batch and microwave or warm it and you are good to go.
Slow cooker features, programs and sizes
Slow cookers have simplified cooking for many homes. Its usefulness cannot be denied or over emphasized. It ranges from 1.4 that can cook for a few to 8 quarts that can feed a family of 8 or more. It will be nice to take a closer look at the features, programs and sizes of some of the slow cookers we reviewed.
Crock-Pot Programmable Cook and Carry Oval Slow Cooker, 6-Quart
- With a 6 quart capacity, this oval slow cooker is perfect for 7 or more persons or at least a 6 pound meat or chicken roast
- Its features include an easy-to-use locking lid gasket for extra seal to lock in food and prevent food from spilling
- Can be programmed to cook as little as 30 minutes or up to 20 hours
- Uses less energy with 240 watts at 120V A.C. and 60Hz
- Automatically shifts to Warm setting once the cook time is complete for up to 6 hours
- The stoneware that it comes with can be removed and used as the serving dish for your guests
- Product dimension is 15 x 10 x 15.2 inches; 8 pounds
Hamilton Beach Set ‘n Forget Programmable Slow Cooker, 6-Quart
- It comes with 3 settings that distinguishes it from other slow cookers: probe, program and manual
- It has an attached thermometer probe for checking meat temperature and doneness
- Comes with a clip-on spoon
- A clip-tight gasket lid holds the meal in place whether you are travelling with it
- This 6 quart slow cooker is big enough to make food for 7 persons or more
- Product dimension is 10.4 x 16.1 inches; 14.6 pounds
- Has power interruption protection
Crock-Pot SCV400B 4-Quart Oval Manual Slow Cooker
- This 4-quart oval shaped slow cooker can cook for 4 persons or more
- Comes with a High, Low and Warm setting
- Perfect for making chilies, sauces, soups, stews and many more
- Can accommodate a 4 pound roast
- The stoneware and lid are dishwasher friendly
- The product dimension measures approximately 12 x 9 by 9 inches
Crock-Pot Cook’ N Carry 6-Quart Oval Manual Portable Slow Cooker
- Its beautiful oval shape serves two purposes: for cooking and carrying to events
- It is a 6-quart cooker that can cook for 7 persons or more
- Can cook a 6 pound roast
- Also comes with a High, Low and Warm settings
- The lid securely keeps the meal inside the cooker whether you are on transit
- Dimension is approximately 15 x 10 by 15 inches
Cuisinart MSC-600 3-In-1 Cook Central 6-Quart Multi-Cooker: Slow Cooker, Brown/Saute, Steamer
- The sizes ranges from 4, 6 and 7 quarts
- Has extra-large blue backlit LCD display that makes it easy to read temperature and time settings
- A multi cooker that can slow cook, brown or sauté foods and can steam as well
- Has a clear glass lid with cool-touch handle for checking how your meal cooks
- Makes cleaning easy with its dishwasher-safe removal parts
- Comes with 3 years warranty
- One touch switch changes your cooking from one mode to another
- Can be shipped in a certified frustration-free packaging
Crock-Pot 6-Quart Countdown Slow Cooker with Stovetop-Safe Cooking Pot, Stainless Steel
- Its ceramic coated body makes it possible to be used on stoves for browning and later placed back in the slow cooker to finish off the cooking
- Shifts from cooking mode to warm mode automatically when it is done cooking
- Has a digital timer that counts down cooking time
- Cooking time when programmed can cook for 30 minutes or up to 20 hours
- The stoneware is removable and can be washed separately
- Can cook for 7 persons or more
- Comfortably handles a 10 pound roast
- Dimension is 9.9 X 15.2 inches
MaxiMatic MST-900V Elite Platinum Slow Cooker, 8.5-Quart, Stainless Steel
- This 8.5 quart slow cooker can cook for a family of 10 and perfect for cooking for a small party
- Comes with a removable stoneware pot that can be served with
- Has a brushed stainless steel finish with an oval shape
- The handles and knobs are cool to touch even when you are cooking
- Glass lid and stoneware pot are dishwasher friendly
- Uses 380 watts energy to cook
Maintaining and caring for your slow cooker
Having a slow cooker is great but knowing how to care for it to get the maximum benefit out of it is equally important. Although many of them come in a stainless steel exterior, ceramic or metal interior, referring to the manufacturer’s instruction for proper cleaning is basic. For some slow cookers, you should not wash in the dishwasher, while for some others you can remove parts of it like the lid and clean in the dishwasher.
Different slow cookers as earlier mentioned come with their unique specifications but it is important to state some of the things that reduce the lifespan of your slow cooker:
- You do not need to preheat the slow cooker as doing so may tamper with the workings of the cooker.
- The stated amount of water must be added to prevent the liquid from spilling while cooking. Many slow cookers recommend adding half or three quarter water to your cooking. Due to the close lid nature of most slow cookers, the water does not evaporate, therefore, adding too much water may leave your food lacking in taste or spilling from the cooker. Not adding the proper amount of water to your cooker can affect the cooking time.
- Many of them come with a glass lid cover and calls for extra care when cleaning to avoid breaking.
- It is important to always turn off and unplug the slow cooker from the electrical outlet once done with cooking. Also allow it to cool before washing.
- Using an abrasive cleaning compounds or scouring pads can damage or dent the exterior and interior of the slow cooker. Make use of a cloth, sponge, or rubber spatula while washing or removing any food residue. In a situation where you notice stains and spots use vinegar or non-abrasive cleaner to get rid of it.
- Avoid washing the stoneware with cold water when it is hot.
- Wipe dry after cleaning or washing
- Never immense the heating base of all your slow cookers in water or any other liquid
- You should never place a cold stoneware insert into a preheated slow cooker.
- Like many other cookware, putting a hot slow cooker pot into the refrigerator can cause a sudden change in temperature and could lead to cracks in the glass lid. Always allow your slow cooker to cool down before putting it in the refrigerator. Or better still transfer the food from the slow cooker to a plastic food container and store in the refrigerator.
- Make sure you add the right amount of food that the slow cooker capacity can handle. You cannot put 8 pound roast in a 4 quart slow cooker. Always refer to the manufacturer’s manual for the right quantity of food and liquid that can be added.
- It helps to thaw your meat or poultry or brown it before putting it into the slow cooker. Except for the multi cooker which can do that for you, many slow cookers require that you thaw your meats before adding to the slow cooker.
What to look out for when selecting a slow cooker
With many slow cookers out there, one can be easily confused with which one to go for. Let us look as some of the shapes and capacity of slow cookers to help you decide on which one to go for.
Oval shaped ones:
Slow cookers that come in oval shapes are best suited for larger cuts of meat, chicken, chops or rack of ribs. You can also cook a small whole fish in this type of cooker without having to break or cut it to fit.
Round shaped slow cookers:
If you are a fan of soups, stews, side dishes and casseroles and you cannot do without having them handy, then a round shaped slow cooker is what you should go for. For making some appetizers and also for baking, this type of slow cookers works very well.
Rectangular shaped slow cookers:
These types of slow cookers come with a non-stick metal pot with deep sides. The good thing about these types of cookers is that they can perform the task of both a round and oval shaped slow cooker. They can accommodate a rectangular shaped roast and does well for large baking and deserts. Stews, casseroles and soups are not left out as they can be perfect dishes with these types of slow cookers.
In choosing slow cookers based on their capacity or how many people it can feed, let’s consider the following:
- If you are looking for a slow cooker that can cook for one person or for a single serving then you may want to consider the 1 to 2 quart mini slow cookers. If your kitchen does not have enough room for too many cookware then this type of slow cookers can comfortable sit in your small kitchen. This type of slow cooker is mostly used for hot dips and spreads.
- Next are the 3 to 4 quarts slow cookers that can cook for 3 to 4 persons. It can take larger quantity of dips or appetizers, meatballs, chicken wings than the 1to 2 quarts slow cookers.
- The 5 to 6 quarts slow cookers are perfect for a small family of 4 to 5 persons. If you are looking to make a complete dish of vegetables, potatoes and chicken in one dish then look no further as this size of slow cookers can see to that. It is also great if you are planning a holiday and you want to take food along with you
- 7 to 8 quarts slow cookers are perfect for cooking for large families or when you are having guests over. Taking food to a friend for a small party? Consider using this size of cookers. Large chicken with vegetables can fit in well into these types of slow cookers. Side dishes and baking are not left out.
- Slow cookers come in different types of pots ranging from cast aluminium, ceramic or metal pots. Older models of slow cookers have their heating unit permanently fixed to the pot while newer models are removable. The removable models are more convenient to wash, placed in the refrigerator or carried outside the house and can also be used in the conventional ovens.
- The ceramic slow cookers retain heat fairly and are usable in a microwave. They, however, cannot be used on stovetops and this means that if you were to brown your food first before cooking, you will have to transfer the food to another pan and brown before adding to the ceramic slow cooker. It can be used an oven but cannot be used under a broiler. Ceramic slow cookers are heavier in weight than other slow cookers and therefore, if heavy cookware turns you off then you might reconsider buying it.
- Cast aluminium slow cookers have the advantage of food not sticking to the pot. It evenly distributes the heat for cooking. It can be used in an oven but not in the microwave. You can also use it on a stovetop and this eliminates the need to use a separate pan to cook on a stovetop. They are, however, more expensive that other types of slow cookers that has ceramic or metal pot.
- Metal slow cookers are available in a non-stick or stainless interior. It can be used on a stovetop, oven but not in a microwave. You can use it to brown your food without needing to transfer it to another pan. It, however, heats only the bottom of the pot and therefore, does not distribute heat evenly. It comes mostly in rectangular or oval shapes.
- Other things you might want to consider when selecting a slow cooker is the type of lid cover it comes with. They can either be glass, heat resistant plastics or stainless lids. The glass lid is clear and gives you a view of your cooking without needing to lift the lid, but is heavier in weight and can smash if it falls to the ground. There are some reviews that claimed that the glass lid cover cracked under extreme heat. The heat resistant plastic on the other hand is lighter in weight, does not break easily and provides a clear view. However, after a prolonged exposure to heat, it can become cloudy and make seeing through it difficult. The stainless lid cover does not break when it falls to the ground, but you have to always lift the lid to see how your meal is cooking. Some lids come with clamp on lids but this feature is only useful when you want to carry the pot around without having it spilling.
- Another thing you might want to consider when selecting a slow cooker is their settings. Some of them come with two buttons: high and low. Some others come with high, low and warm offering you the ability to switch your cooking modes from cooking to warming. But with the newer makes which come with programmable buttons, you can set your food to cook at your desired pace and time. The ones that come with alarms and light indicators can help you in choosing the one that best suites you.