What are the benefits of having a slow cooker in my kitchen?
A slow cooker or crock pot is one of the handiest tools to have in your kitchen. With a busy lifestyle, slow cookers can make planning for dinner a breeze. Simply place the ingredients in the crock pot in the morning, turn it to the right temperature, and by the time you come home your kitchen will be full of the welcoming smell of warm food ready to be served. Slow cookers are also fun to experiment with, and can give you some great new recipe ideas that will impress your friends and family. Slow cookers create some of the most flavorful dishes because they really allow the unique tastes of each ingredient to blend together.
How big of a crock pot should I get?
Slow cookers come in many different sizes and shapes. Smaller crock pots generally have 1.5 quart capacity, while larger crock pots can hold up to 8.5 quarts. The bigger your family, the bigger your crock pot should be. 5 quarts would be fine to feed a family of four. Always buy a little bigger size than you think you actually need; you don’t want to fill up the crock pot to its full capacity, because it could cause spillage and mess. The shape of the crock pot you choose shouldn’t make much of a difference, though an oval-shaped slow cooker is better for slow roasting whole meats. Note, too, that you should consider how much storage space you have for a crock pot. If you live in an apartment or a home with a small kitchen, a large, 7 quart slow cooker might just be too big to fit comfortably in your kitchen.
What are crock pots made of?
Most crock pots are made of ceramic, which is a great heat conductor. Certain slow cookers, like West Bend models, have metal pots. Units with metal pots can often be used on the stovetop as well as in the slow-cooker. The lids should usually be made of glass or some other see-through material so you can check on the food as it cooks without having to release heat and moisture by lifting the lid. Some crock pots are dishwasher safe and some are microwavable.
What sorts of temperature controls can I expect on my slow cooker?
Most slow cookers have three to four temperature settings: warm, low, medium, and high. Higher-priced, upper-quality slow cookers may offer more specific temperature settings, but the standard models will do just fine in most kitchens.
What are the pros and cons of mechanical and programmable slow cookers?
Mechanical slow cookers are super easy to use: simply set the knob to your desired temperature and walk away. However, they do not include a timing mechanism so you will have to consciously keep track of how long your food has been cooking. Programmable slow cookers give you more control over the entire process; you set the temperature as well as the timer, and with many models you can even set the temperature to change throughout the cooking process. For example, you could tell the slow cooker to increase the temperature after an hour and then reduce the temperature after four hours. They are less intuitive to use than mechanical slow cookers.
What features should I look for in a crock pot?
Some good things to keep an eye out for when shopping for crock pots include automatic warming, nonstick coating, a locking lid, and temperature probes.
What is automatic warming?
Automatic warming, found on many higher-end programmable slow cookers like Waring and the Crock Pot brand, means that once the timer has run out on your dish, the slow cooker automatically sets itself to “warming” mode so that your food stays hot even if you don’t get home to enjoy it for another few hours.
What are the benefits of nonstick coating?
Just like with your pots and pans, nonstick coating can make clean-up a breeze. You won’t have to worry about trying to remove stubborn grease or food particles from your slow cooker and can easily rinse it out and put it away for the next time.
What does a locking lid do?
A locking lid, common on many Hamilton Beach and Crock Pot brand models, helps keep your food warm and prevent spillage if you’re traveling to a dinner party or potluck and want to bring your slow cooker. The lid locks snugly in place so that you don’t have to worry about your food spilling out during the trip, and it can help preserve the warmth of the food even when the crock pot is not plugged in.
What is a temperature probe?
A temperature probe, found in many Hamilton Beach models, can be an invaluable asset if you plan on cooking a lot of meat in your crock pot. Probe setting allow you to program the desired internal temperature of your meat, and the slow cooker monitors this temperature, automatically shutting off when it has been reached. Usually, it will not shut off entirely but program itself to warming mode. This is ideal for food safety.
How much should I spend on a slow cooker?
A slow cooker could cost you as little as $40 or as much as $250. Since the basic technology behind a slow cooker is pretty simple, you won’t find a huge difference in the quality of food produced by different priced crock pots. However, more expensive slow cookers will have better, more user-friendly features that give you more control over the cooking process, and will have longer lifespans. Lower-priced slow cookers can break down or need replacement parts, which can become expensive in the long run.
What can I make in a crock pot?
The options for crock pot cooking are endless. You can make pot roast, jambalaya, red beans and rice, soups and stews, and savory dishes like mac and cheese. You can boil your own peanuts, make fun fusion cuisine, and make up your own recipes. Meatballs, chicken cacciatore, pulled pork, and beef brisket can all be on the menu, as well as vegetarian and vegan dishes like ratatouille, curry, porridge, and lentil dishes. You can even make desserts like chocolate pudding cake and rice pudding. There’s really no limit to what you can conjure up in a slow cooker.
Are there any safety tips I should know when using my crock pot?
Always test the internal temperature of your meat before consuming using a meat thermometer. You should also try to fill the crock pot at least half full each time you use it to prevent overcooking and burning. Make sure your crock pot is set on a higher shelf or surface during use so that children in your home can’t pull at the cord or accidentally burn themselves playing with it. In terms of raw meat in your slow cooker, it’s a good idea to always set the slow cooker to high for the first hour or so. This helps the temperature heat up rapidly; bacteria growth is most likely to occur between 40 and 140 degrees, so you want to make sure that the temperatures reach at least 140 degrees in the first hour.