I tried some tortellini stew the other day, and now I really wanna try making some myself. Thing is I am gonna need a slow cooker, so any tips on buying one? What should I look out for when shopping for one? The only thing I know for sure is that I will use it to cook for 4 or less people.
Help On Buying A Slow Cooker
Gear mentioned in this thread:
I would avoid a slow cooker and instead look into buying a good enamel dutch oven. Then follow the classic French braising method. Slow cookers have a tendency to dry out the food and leave a great liquid. It might be alright for your soup, but a know ton's of people who think they can turn on a slow cooker and let it go all day. Invest in the dutch oven and a good thermometer. You won't be upset!
Oh, I think slow cookers have there place and can be great. They are much more energy efficient and safer if you want to leave it on while out of the house. I still use the same one I have had for over ten years, so I can't make a recommendation on the new models. However, I find Amazon.com a great place to read product reviews - one of the areas where crowd sourcing works great. Even if you don't buy it from there, it can be helpful to read people's opinions on the various features available. You should be able to find a very nice one this time of year for less than $20.
Sorry, but I have to disagree with almost everything Jelly says about slow cookers.
More energy efficient? Maybe if you have an electric stove. But my gas stove runs less expensively than any electric applience.
Safer? What world are you living in? The vast majority of home fires begin with electrical problems. But the fact is, neither leaving a slow cooker nor oven on all day is particularly dangerous. Insurance companies don't even keep actuarial tables on such accidents.
In our experince (which, granted, does not include any new models), no slow cooker truly does the job they're touted as. There was a period where our jobs kept both of us out of the house ten or more hours daily. So we figured slow cookers would be the way to go. Puleeze! Our conclusion: they're great if you are there to monitor them. And, frankly, no recipe (of dozens) we tried needed to be in the damn things more than 6 hours. After that they became the same old mush. And that was with three different models.
Now the fact is, slow cookers do have their uses. For things were texture is not a particular issue---such as soups---they can't be beat. And they do braise well if you're there to monitor them. You almost can't beat them for keeping foods warm.
But, overall, gimme a heavy pot for stewing and braising.
I agree KYHeirloomer. No food needs to be cooked 8 to 10 hours while your off to work. You need to monitor a slow cooker or a heavy dutch oven. The food is finished when it's finished. Slow cookers are not a cure all. I guess they have their place and I own two of them. They
collect dust in my kitchen.
I use mine to keep things warm for parties and to make jook/congee over night for an easy breakfast.
The older models cooked cooler and slower than the newer models.
This is ridiculous. Slow cookers work for some people and not for others. Why are we beating up the OP? He simply wants to know which are the best models and not his utter failure as cook and human being.
My wife likes to cook with one. I don't. So the heck what?
And yes, you have to monitor them. If you leave them alone for too long, meat will go from well cooked, to stringy, to mush. In my experience, the same thing happens in any other cooking vessel if you overcook. If you buy a programmable slow cooker, you can arrange for them to cook exactly as long as you like and no longer.
What are the respective "carbon footprints" of a slow cookers and regular ovens? I actually took the time to research the question, and KYH was wrong. A crock pot leaves a smaller carbon footprint than a full-sized regular in nearly all circumstances.
Anyway, my wife and I are (possibly) looking for a new crock pot as well. There's a wide range of prices, and while you get what you pay for they do a very similar job of cooking. What you're really looking at is "features" (like programmability) and finish. Here's a short list of what looks best to me in the 5-1/2 - 6-1/2qt range:
- All-Clad (nice, nice, nice, but $$$, $$$, $$$);
- Crock Pot;
- Westbend; and
- Hamilton Beach (least expensive, most bang for the buck, but least expensive means cheaply made as well).
Edited by boar_d_laze - 12/22/11 at 10:15am
Thanks BDL. I just had the lid handle disintegrate on mine and I'm looking for a new one - that programs so that I can set it to turn off or shift to warm when I want it to. Like many cooking tools. useful for some things and not for others. Both of us work all day so, while it would be nice and ideal to monitor something in the oven or on the stove, it ain't going to happen on a week day. You just need to judiciously pick your application.
Why are we beating up the OP? He simply wants to know which are the best models and not his utter failure as cook and human being.
I'm sorry. Have we been reading and posting the same responses? Just who, and where, did anyone beat up on the OP?
And yes, you have to monitor them. If you leave them alone for too long, meat will go from well cooked, to stringy, to mush.
From day one until this morning, slow-cooker makers have touted them specifically for non-monitored cooking: turn it on, go to work, and forget it until you return home. If, as it turns out, you have to monitor them, as is the case, then their whole marketing strategy is a shuck. And, if they have to be monitored, there are no particular advantages to them that I can see.
In addition, most of the slow-cooker cookbooks that had been written as of the time we experimented with the damn things supported the manufacturers' claims. The recipes all were given as cooking for anywhere from 8-12 hours. I guarantee that none of the ones we tried---which was several dozen over the course of about three months--- produced anything but mush when cooked that long.
I actually took the time to research the question, and KYH was wrong.
Hmmmmm? Based on the latest price increase, I run my gas stove, doing virtually all my cooking, baking, and canning with it, for $240 and change a year. Are you seriously suggesting that if I operated a slow cooker for an equal amount of time that it would cost less than that to operate? I don't think so.
I used to edit Waste Age magazine, and knew all about carbon footprints long before it became a green buzzword. And what I mostly know about them are two things: 1. You can "prove" anything you want with them, depending on what you choose to include and omit as total delivered cost; and, 2. despite all the talk, most people could care less. What matters to them is the actual cost, in dollars and cents.
I use our slow cooker on a regular basis. Is it the perfect substitute for monitored, slow braising? No. Is it any safer than running your oven all day long unmonitored? I don't know, but it makes me feel more secure. I have found that slow cookers do best with larger cuts of meat and with soups. Things like stews, with smaller pieces of meat, tend to get overcooked and mushy. With the way mine and my wife's schedule work out we usually only have about a 6 hour window when no one is home and I find that 6 hours is usually the optimal time, although on occasion we have had them go as long as 8. Don't listen to any recipe that tells you to cook for 8-10 hours. I agree, 10 hours in a stock pot and you'll have mush. I also always cook on the lowest setting no matter what the recipe says (not that I follow recipes anymore...at least not often). While I would love to be home for the majority of the day to monitor a slowly braising dish, that is just not a reality very often, even on weekends. And I am not going to forgo those types of dishes until I can find it in my schedule to watch my oven. Now when I do have time, and am home, I will always chose to cook on the stove top or in the oven, but that isn't a reality very often so slow cookers fit the bill.
As for specific recommendations, I'm not very well versed in all the slow cookers out there. We have always owned "Crock Pot" slow cookers and they have always done well by us. In fact, it is time for a new one as I recently busted the handle off of the lid of ours.
Things are different now. The older ones were not programmable, so they were on for the duration until someone got home and turned them off. And yes, if that was 12 hours later, the results were not impressive. Now, you can program them to cook for a reasonable amount of time and then shift to warm. Which means that you can avoid cooking things to mush (unless that is what you want - jook for example). I too would love to be able to monitor a long cooked dish, but it ain't gonna happen during the week. IMHO, in that circumstance, a slow cooker is an acceptable substitute for certain dishes.
I have 2 slow cookers, a large Crockpot one and a small Hamilton Beach slow cooker. Tomorrow I am going to use the big one to make a chicken and dumplings style dish. The small one is good for shredded beef for Tex Mex type of dishes, just put your beef in, add seasoning and in 4-5 hours you are done.
Bought a Frigidaire 7 qt slow cooker. An Electrolux product I believe (at least it is an Electrolux warranty). A mid-priced unit that I ordered it from Costco (@ $70.00 including shipping but before sales tax). We'll see how it performs when it arrives. Relatively new, so few reviews, but it looks promising.
We been using a slow cooker for decades--but only for those things that it can do well. Throw out any cookbook that suggests true baking or other silliness in the slow cooker. These proliferated when slow cookers first hit the market (it happens for almost any new cooking device) and some are still in print. Slow cookers are do a very good job on soups, stews and other braises and with meats that have sufficient internal fat. But with a few exceptions, don't expect to just dump the ingredients and run. Most slow cooker recipes require prep work, for example, browning before the ingredients are set to slow cooking. And some ingedients wil;l need to be added near the end of the cooking cycle.
As for models, I second much of what boar_d_laze suggests: it's capacity and convenience features that you're looking for at the price point that works for you. In addition to programability (with a "hold" or "keep warm" feature), make sure the crock is removeable for washing. A true crockery insert (instead of the metal liner in some "multi-purpose" cookers) is the best bet for providing even heat throughout the volume, especially when used on high.
When slow cookers were first introduced, some did not attain proper temperatures at the traditional two settings, either too high or too low, or took too long to reach proper temperature, potentially posing a health hazard. Today, most, if not all, slow cookers handle the temperatures well.
I've done the calculations for energy use by slow cookers. There is no question that the ones I've tried (and I expect most) use less energy than braising in an oven or on a stovetop for anything but the very shortest cooking time (where they may be bested by the stovetop). I recently repeated this calculation on a single slow cooker using actual measurements (instead of relying on the manufacturers' specification) and my contention has not changed.
By the way, a slow cooker cookbook that I've been sampling over the past year with good results is Andrew Schloss' "Art of the Slow Cooker."