A Buyers Guide to Slow Cookers
When purchasing a new slow cooker, you have to be sure of a few key points. Here you will find some of the important things to keep in mind before deciding on a make or model. There is a lot of information available, so make sure you read plenty of reviews.
What Can They Do??
Slow cookers are the perfect choice for people with a busy life style, they can produce perfectly cooked stews, soups and some models offer a browning feature, which will perfectly sear meat or poultry to maintain moisture and flavor.
There are a huge amount of models available, from entry level models, to high end, multi functional appliances. Although the lower end models still perform very well.
Perfect for soups, stews, and tough cuts of meat, slow cookers are designed to simmer food at a low temperature for an extended period of time. The newer models feature electronic controls that let you program cooking time, usually in 30-minute intervals, and that automatically switch to warm mode when cooking is done.
Variety of Styles
Entry level models will offer a very easy to use and simple cooking appliance, they generally only have an on and off switch. The more expensive models offer timers and various cooking styles. Consumers report that there is no real difference between one type and the other but the extra features provided added convenience
A model with a timer and electronic controls allow you to select cooking times and delay the cooking until a specified time. Some allow you to program the slow cooker for up to 24 hours, in 30-minute increments, and the digital display shows remaining cooking time.
Many of these models automatically switch to a keep-warm setting when the set cooking time is complete, and can keep food warm for hours. Some also have a manual mode that lets you select from high, low, or warm without choosing a cooking time.
These appliances are the easiest to use, all you have to do is turn the control to the desired setting, low, medium or high. There is no timer to complicate things and get confused with, but this does mean the user has to monitor the cooking, especially for smaller quantities of more delicate foods. The user also has to turn the slow cooker off. Some have a keep-warm function but this setting has to manually switched on.
Features and functions
Sturdy handles are a must, and some models have ‘keep cool’ handles, but today’s slow cookers offer many options, wrap-around cord storage, and insulated carrying bags for example. Lots of higher end appliances have multi-functional settings for pressure cooking, sauté/browning, rice cooking and some even have a steamer option.
Lots of models offer built-in smart programs, they include meat/stew, sauté, poultry, soup, bean/chili, congee, steam, multigrain, rice and slow cook to make cooking simple and convenient.
Different Cooking Pots
Most slow cookers today have a removable ceramic pot, although some models are supplied with a metal cooking pan. The metal cooking pots are usually supplied with models that rest on a heating base, they are similar to a hot plate. In general, slow cooker pots have non stick coatings, and most can safely be used in the oven, microwave or on the stovetop. They are usually dishwasher safe so are very easy to clean, but make sure that the model you are looking at offers this feature.
A glass or clear plastic lid lets you take a look at what is cooking without removing the lid. Some slow cookers have a split lid that is hinged, this lets you check on your food by lifting one side, while the other stays shut, retaining the heat, but still giving you the option to stir or add ingredients. This is handy when serving. Some slow cookers have a serving ladle that fits snugly into a notch in the lid. A locking lid helps keep food from spilling while transferring the pot from the kitchen to the dining table or refrigerator.
There are various sizes available, they typically range from 1.5 to 8.5 quarts. A 1.5 quart model would suit a single person or couple, while an 8.5 quart would be able to produce enough food for a party or function. Most manufacturers recommend a 5 or 6 quart slow cooker for a family of four that uses the slow cooker for whole chickens and roasts.
You must keep in mind that you should only fill the cooking pot between 1/2 to 3/4 full, this helps to avoid over spill, as well as over or under cooking the ingredients.
There are many shapes of slow cooker available, the most common being a round design, but you can find oval shaped cooking pots and some can be rectangular. The oval shaped appliances are best if you are looking to cook a roast or large pieces of meat.
Please also bear in mind that the larger, bulkier models require more counter space and a larger area for storage.
Although slow cookers are monitored by safety regulation and authority boards, a certain level of health and safety needs to be adhered to. Some common sense goes a long way too.
As easy as they are to use, slow cookers can pose a health risk if the food is not cooked properly. The federal food safety and inspection service recommends the following.
- Keep perishable foods refrigerated until prep time. If you cut meat and vegetables in advance, store them separately in the refrigerator.
- Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker.
- Match the amount of food to the capacity of the slow cooker, check the owner’s manual for suggested amounts. Make sure you add the correct amount of liquid.
- Never place a cold stoneware insert into a preheated slow cooker. Let them heat up together, this prevents cracking.
- If the power goes out during the process and you are not at home, discard the food even if it looks done. If you are at home, finish cooking it by some other means such as on a gas grill or oven.
- Do not put a hot stoneware pot into the refrigerator, a sudden change in temperature can lead to cracks. It’s better to transfer any leftovers into a shallow container and store that in the refrigerator.
- Do not reheat leftovers in a slow cooker. Instead use a conventional stove or microwave and heat to an internal temperature of 165° F. After that, you can return the food to the slow cooker for transport or serving.