Have you ever wondered about how to choose a slow cooker?
My first slow cooker was a bridal shower gift, so there was nothing to choose.
A round 5-quart manual CrockPot, with a ceramic insert and plastic lid, in a color combination that just screams, “I’m from the 1980s,” it’s up in the cabin in Wisconsin waiting patiently for me show up and pull it out like I did recently to make a yummy Italian Pork and White Bean Stew.
Today, with a vast array of sizes and features, choosing the right slow cooker can be a little more complicated.
My brother, Peter, wants to start doing more crock pot cooking and has asked for a little guidance getting started. We’ve decided to share the information in a series we’ve dubbed, “Slow Cooking 101 with Peter.”
The first step is for him to get a slow cooker, so I’m hoping this post will help make his decision a little easier.
Some of the slow cooker variables to consider include:
Things to Consider When Choosing A Slow Cooker
The first slow cooker variable to consider is size.
For best results when cooking, the crock of the slow cooker should be at least half full, but no more than 3/4 full.
If you are single or a family of two, a 2-Quart to 3-Quart probably makes the most sense. If you are a family of three to four, the right size for you is probably a 4-Quart slow cooker. Large families of four to six will mostly likely need a 6-Quart slow cooker.
Small (1- to 3-Quart) slow cookers are good for appetizers, serving hot drinks, and baking cakes right in the crock.
Large (6- or 7-Quart) slow cookers can accommodate a turkey breast or whole chicken, which is pretty cool. And you can fit a loaf pan or baking dish into them so you can make bread or cakes or even smaller quantities of main dishes in them.
The folks at America’s Test Kitchen consider 5-1/2 to 7-Quart models to be the most versatile and I’d have to agree.
If you have a large slow cooker, and are cooking for a small group, to ensure the recipe cooks evenly and at the right speed, simply place the food into an oven-safe dish that fits inside your slow cooker. Place the dish on the bottom of the slow cooker, cover and cook.
If you have the space, you may want to consider having several slow cookers in varying sizes, which is what I have done. It allows me to make more than one dish at once 🙂
Another slow cooker variable to consider is shape. Slow cookers come in two basic shapes: round and oval. Round slow cookers are perfect for soups, stews and chilis.
Ovals have more surface area so there’s more room to fit in foods like pork chops and stuffed peppers. And because they have more surface area, they will cook food slightly faster than round slow cookers.
A relative newcomer in the world of slow cookers, you can now even find Casserole Shaped Crock Pots.
3) Manual or Programmable
Manual slow cookers have a button or knob with three to four settings: Off, Low, High and sometimes Warm.
Programmable crock pots provide more control. You can set an exact cook time and then the cooker switches to Warm when the cooking time is up. This is helpful when you will be away from home for long periods of time because today’s slow cookers cook much “hotter” than they did a few decades ago.
Most recipes will be way overdone if left to cook for 8 or 10+ hours.
But, if there’s a power failure, the digital timer may reset and you’ll come home to find a flashing timer and uncooked food. Bummer 🙁
You may not need the programmable feature if you are home when you do most of your crock pot cooking, like I am.
4) Other Nifty Features
Many new slow cookers come with a lock-in-place lid which is great if you plan on taking your slow cooker filled with food to parties and potlucks and such.
See-through lids are nice so you can keep an eye on your food as it cooks. This helps you avoid lifting the lid which releases the steam and slows down the whole cooking process.
Every slow cooker has its own unique personality, so it will take some time to get to know it.
The Slow Cookers I’m Using Most Right Now
These are the slow cookers that I’m using right now:
There’s nothing really fancy about this slow cooker, but I love its size.
One of the secrets of slow cooking is that for best results it should always be between one-half and two-thirds (or three-quarters) full when cooking.
So, unless I’m cooking for a crowd, or won’t be available to manually switch it to warm when the food is done, this is the slow cooker I use most.
2) Hamilton Beach 3-in-1 Slow Cooker The most versatile slow cooker I’ve ever had. This has 3 different size (2-quart, 4-quart and 6-quart) stoneware vessels that fit into the separate electric base. One glass lid fits all three size vessels. This is a manual slow cooker with 3 heat settings. All stoneware crock inserts nest into the base for easy storage in the same space it would take for 1 slow cooker .
3) My mom got me a Ninja 3-in-1 Cooker for Christmas. You can set the cooker to “Stove Top” to brown meats and/or soften onions and then switch it to “Slow Cook” to continue cooking. It’s programmable and automatically switches to “Warm when the time is up.” I like it a lot 🙂
My latest greatest kitchen tool is this Instant Pot 7-in-1 Multifunctional Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Saute/Browning, Yogurt Maker, Steamer & Warmer.
I mostly use it as an all-in-one slow cooker, since the saute/browning function allows you to do all your precooking in the same pot.
I’ve also had great success cooking rice and plan to experiment with pressure cooking this summer.
Crock Pots on My Wish List
You’d think with all the slow cookers I have, there would be none left to want.
You’d be wrong. These 2 programmable slow cookers are on my wish list…
This slow cooker provides a user-friendly touchpad control panel and four cooking modes that include high, low, simmer, and warm. When the cook time ends, the appliance automatically shifts to the “warm” setting, so dinner stays hot and ready to serve without overcooking.
The 3-1/2-quart size is perfect for 2 or 3 people. If you are looking for a larger family you may want to get the 4- or 6-Quart one.
Crock-Pot 6-1/2-Quart Programmable Touchscreen Slow Cooker, which is highly rated by America’s Test Kitchen.
Any additional thoughts and/or suggestions to share with my brother, Peter?
What would you tell a beginning cook who asked you for advice about how to choose a slow cooker?
Do you have a favorite make/model/style slow cooker?
We would love for your to share your thoughts and comments with us!
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