Kristen Hicks on February 10, 2016 0 Comments Table of Contents Benefits of Slow Cookers Types of Slow Cookers Factors to Consider While Shopping Popular Brands of Slow Cookers Owning a slow cooker, called a crock-pot by many families, can be a boon to those who cook at home regularly. So many of the inconveniences of cooking – having to stay close to a hot stove or oven, keep an eye on the food for long periods of time to keep it from burning, and deal with a huge pile of dishes after every meal you cook – are diminished by the use of slow cooker. Just as the name implies, slow cookers will cook your food very slowly at a low temperature. While that means you can’t plan on starting dinner an hour or two before you eat, it also means you can do less work to end up with tastier meals. To help you figure out which slow cooker is the best for you and your families’ needs, we’ve put together a guide on what you should be aware of during the buying process. Benefits of Slow Cookers If you have limited kitchen space, you may be wondering why to bother with one more item. The benefits of owning a slow cooker may make this item worth the cabinet real estate: It’s less work: You do your prep, add all your ingredients to the pot, and you can leave the pressure cooker working on the counter as you go about your day. It saves money: If you’re much of a meat eater, you can save a lot of money over time by buying some of the cheaper cuts of meat and making them in a slow cooker. The slow cooking ensures they come out tender and delicious every time. It uses less energy: Because it’s on such low heat the whole time, a slow cooker ends up using much less energy than other cooking methods. It’s easy to clean up: Since you’re making all your food in one pot, you just have the one item to clean at the end of your cooking. The flavor’s better: For foods like soups, stews, and meats, the longer you cook them at low heat, the more the flavors come out. You therefore end up with especially tasty meals with a slow cooker. Affordable cooking appliance: It’s also not a significant investment in terms of cost. Other than some of the larger models, most slow cookers you find will cost less than $100. For better food, convenience, and savings, that’s not much of an upfront cost. 4 Types of Slow Cookers The slow cookers you’ll find as you research your options will fall into four primary categories. 1. Manual Slow Cookers This type of slow cooker is called manual because you have to switch them off yourself. That’s not a big deal for everyone – it’s not all that hard to flip a switch – but if you want to be able to leave your food cooking while you go off to work or go to sleep, knowing it will switch itself off when done is a nice feature. Manual slow cookers will be some of the most affordable options you’ll find and they’re simple to use. You don’t have to worry about any complicated controls, you just have an on/off switch and high/low/warm settings to worry about. Benefits: Affordable for any budget. Extremely simple to use. To Keep in Mind: You have to be around when it’s time to turn off the cooker. 2. Programmable Slow Cookers Programmable slow cookers add a few features for convenience, the main one being a timer so the machine can shut itself off. They also often have more settings than just high and low and sometimes even let you choose specific temperatures. They’re more expensive than manual slow cookers, but that’s because you’re paying for these useful features. Programmable units are the most popular type of slow cooker on the market because of the added convenience they offer. Benefits: Convenient and easy to use. Comes with more features and cooking options. To Keep in Mind: Costs slightly more than manual slow cookers. 3. Multi-Cooker In many kitchens, counter space is a valuable commodity. Recognizing this, some brands have started making slow cookers that double as other kitchen appliances, such as pressure cookers, rice cookers, roasts, and steamers. Because of these extra cooking options, there are many benefits to owning a multi-cooker. Unfortunately, multi-cookers typically cost a bit more. Benefits: More options for cooking. Saves on counter space. Easy to store when not in use. To Keep in Mind: Usually more expensive than typical slow cookers. More complicated to use – you have to be careful to use the right setting. 4. Roaster Oven Roaster ovens are typically larger and come in a rectangular shape in comparison to the oval shape most slow cookers come in. They work similarly to slow cookers, but often come with more settings and allow you more options for cooking. As the name suggests, one of the most common uses for a roaster oven is roasting meats, but you can still use them to make many of the same recipes you would in a conventional slow cooker as well. Benefits: Great for roasting. Allows for many cooking options. Available in both small and large sizes. Affordable cooking appliance. 6 Factors to Consider When Buying a Slow Cooker For as basic a process as slow cooking is, you might be surprised by the wide variety of options you find in your search. To determine which slow cooker is the best choice for you, here are some suggestions on what to consider. 1. Size You can find slow cookers that range anywhere from 1.5 quarts to 18 quarts. As you’d expect, the costs tend to go up as the size increases. The size that’s right for you will depend both on how much space you have available in the kitchen and what you’re planning to use the slow cooker for. If you want to be able to make large quantities of food for when you host for the holidays, or intend to use it for roasting and want to be able to fit whole chickens or turkeys in it, a larger size is likely best. If you just want to make the occasional slow cooker recipe for your immediate family members or prepare meals for the week, one of the more affordable small sizes will likely suffice. 2. Foods You’ll Be Making Do you have an idea of the slow cooker recipes you’d like to try? If you aim to roast a lot of meat, the best model for you will be different than what’s best for someone planning to make lots of beans and veggies. While shopping for a slow cooker, it would be wise to consider the types of food you’ll be cooking, how you’d like them done, and the quantities you’d aim to make. 3. Price Slow cookers in general are pretty affordable, but the cost can vary from about $10 for a small manual model to over $100 for larger slow cookers that come with more cooking options and features. Make sure whatever model you choose will work for the types of foods you want to make. There’s little point in saving money on a cheaper slow cooker if you realize once you have it at home that it won’t make the foods you want it to. 4. Programming Options The programmable slow cookers come with a variety of programming options. The most important is the automatic shutoff option, which can really come in handy for many slow cooker owners. Since slow cooking is so, well, slow, you don’t always want to have to sit around and wait or plan your day around being home when your meal is finished. You can just leave it cooking, know it will turn off when it’s done, and you don’t have to worry about it. Some more advanced models will come with even more programming functions, like more temperature or cooking settings. In most roaster ovens, you can expect to find a variety of settings including: slow cook, cook, roast, bake, and steam. And multi-cookers will of course provide different settings for the different types of cooking they do. For many people, a basic slow cooker that simply manages to slow cook their food will be satisfactory. For those that are curious to try more types of cooking or have limited space for additional appliances, the models with more settings and options can feel like a nice bonus. 5. Portability If you plan to do all your slow cooking at home and eat your meals there, this may not be a concern. If you want to be able to take your slow cooker with you to potlucks or holiday meals, then having one that’s easy (and safe) to carry is important. Many slow cookers come with a lid and handles that lock, so you don’t have to worry as much about spills or dropping the food you (or at least the slow cooker) spent so long on. You’ll also need to keep in mind how much it weighs. Can you comfortably carry it from the kitchen to the car? If not, will that defeat one of the main purposes you wanted a slow cooker for? 6. Insert Type This seems small, but can make a difference in functionality. The insert is the part of the slow cooker that holds the food. It can be removed, which in all slow cookers makes for easier cleaning. Having a metal one can often mean the insert is stovetop safe and you have the option of sautéing some of your ingredients in the same dish where you eventually cook all of them (leaving one less dish to wash). But the metals that allow this option don’t always convey heat as well as some of the other materials used for inserts, such as stoneware or ceramic. Popular Slow Cooker Brands You’ll find that most of the slow cookers for sale are made by a few key brands. We’ve taken a look at the consumer reviews for some of the most popular slow cooker brands around to get an idea of what actual customers tend to think of their devices. Here’s a summary of what we found. Crock-Pot Crock-Pot is easily the most popular brand making slow cookers. You’ll often hear slow cookers referred to as crock-pots because this brand (a subsidiary of Rival) was one of the first to start putting out slow cookers and really made their mark on the industry. While they were originally known for manual slow cookers, they now also sell programmable models. Most of the reviews we found backed up the strong reputation they’ve earned over the years, users generally seem happy with how their Crock-Pots cook and the value for the price. Fagor Fagor makes a popular multi-cooker that can work as a slow cooker, a pressure cooker, and a rice cooker. Reviews of the model are pretty uniformly positive, bordering on gushing, with words like “love” and exclamation points thrown around often. If the three-in-one component appeals to you, this multi-cooker appears to be a smart buy. Hamilton Beach Hamilton Beach makes a number of programmable slow cookers. The reviews we found of their models were pretty mixed. There were more positive reviews than negative ones, but some of the negative reviews were troubling – meals scorched because the settings changed while unattended, problems with the lids, and a lack of durability – to name a few of the complaints that came up. Those troubles do seem to be in the minority, so if a Hamilton Beach model otherwise fits your needs, it may be worth the risk. Nesco Nesco makes both slow cookers and roaster ovens. The latter category is what we found the most reviews for and almost all of the reviews we found were positive. Several reviewers mentioned having Nesco roasters for years that they loved before buying a new model, suggesting that the company’s known for durability. While many reviewers talk about using their Nesco roaster as an extra oven during busy cooking times, the reviews that mention using the slow cooker function confirm it works well for this as well. In Conclusion Slow cooking is easy, affordable, and results in some very tasty meals. You’ve got plenty of options to choose from in your search, almost all of which come at affordable prices. You shouldn’t have too hard of a time finding a slow cooker that suits your needs in a price range that works for you.