Whenever I think of slow cookers, I immediately think of my grandparents’ Crock Pot. It was this god awful faded beige color, with a pukey, limey-yellow design encircling it. It had big brown knobs, and was straight out of the 70’s. My mother inherited it one day when my grandmother finally got a new one, and I remember wishing she would bury it in the backyard instead of leaving it out on our counter. Ugly does not even begin to describe it.
Slow cookers, however, have come a long way since then. They have sleek new designs suitable for any modern kitchen, and added technology that somehow makes it even easier to use than before. I proudly display one on my kitchen counter, and brag about my great slow-cooker recipes. They are making a serious come back and are trending among younger crowds, in addition to their appeal to the traditional mom and pro-hostess crowd. For those of you who follow my blog because you live in a dorm or apartment, the most appealing factor is that you can actually cook meat- sans oven! Cooking real meat dishes in a toaster oven doesn’t really work out, (no, seriously, I have done it and it was a disaster!). Personally, that was the hardest part of surviving without a kitchen. There are only so many dishes that cook well in a microwave, and only so many ways to dress up Ramen and Mac N’ Cheese. But many young folk still do not realize just what a versatile addition they are to their appliance collection, so here I am to explain to you all why you absolutely must invest in a slow cooker.
The main reason most people buy a slow cooker is for their ease of use. They have fewer buttons than almost any other cooking appliance- Low, High, Warm, and set your hours for cooking. Even the most cooking-challenged individuals can handle a slow-cooker recipe, I promise. In fact, it’s near impossible to burn food in them (although you can over cook things which I will address in the tips section). Even more important, though, is the fact that it lets you cook all day while you are in class or at work. A little prep in the morning, throw it all in one pot, set your timer, and you will come home to a delicious, cooked, and still warm meal, ready to eat. What is better than coming home after an exhausting day to have dinner essentially on the table? It’s like living with your mother all over again (without the nagging). No monitoring is necessary.
Slow cooking also makes your food taste better! Your dinner is slowly cooked in juices all day long. SC’s seal in all those vapors so your food absorbs flavor making it so juicy and delicious. The steam cooking also keeps foods moist. And since you are cooking in steam and food’s own natural liquids, you don’t need to add oils, butter, or fats to your dishes, making many slow-cooker recipes much healthier than their pan-made cousins. For me, I also eat unhealthy foods when I am too tired to put together something healthy, so prepping in the morning while I have the energy for a ready-to-eat dinner when I arrive home is key to healthier eating. It makes being healthier a much lazier task.
Aside from their ease of use and deliciousness, slow cookers also save you money! Certain cuts of meat at the grocery store are cheaper because they have more connective tissue. This tissue makes them tough, and lessens their value. But slow cooking allows meat to tenderize all day, so even those tough meats fall right off the bone. Not only that, but when that connective tissues cooks down, it leaves a super flavorful liquid that can actually make cheaper meats work even better than more expensive ones when used in slow-cooker recipes. Aside from buying cheaper ingredients, you also save money because they use far less electricity than your oven or stove top, even when left on all day. This is especially true for models that automatically switch to “warm” when they are done cooking, further reducing your electric usage. If that wasn’t reason enough, it also cuts down on water usage by shortening your dish-washing time. Everything cooks in one pot, so not only is prep and cooking easy, but clean up is a breeze as well. No more stacks of dirty dishes left for weeks. No judgments though if this happens. You’ll appreciate your SC especially in the summer. If you have a small kitchen like mine, turning on your oven in the blistering dog days of summer usually roasts me in the kitchen more than my food. Using a slow cooker will keep your kitchen cool and comfortable so you don’t have to crank up the AC just to eat a decent meal. Now you are not only eating healthy and easy, but you’re being eco friendly- your vegan friends will love you. Yay you!
If I have convinced you to purchase a slow cooker with my law-school-worthy argument, or you already have one, here are a few tips and things you should know about your new favorite appliance.
• Like I mentioned earlier, it is nearly impossible to burn foods in a SC but you can still overcook them for sure. This is especially true of lighter meats like chicken. Just make sure you keep an eye on cooking times. You don’t want to end up with uni-flavor mush of a dish, or dry out your meats.
• Cooking times for slow cookers will not be the same as they are listed in a regular recipe. Make sure you are looking at slow-cooker specific recipes, or checking the appropriate cooking time.
• There are certain things I recommend looking for when buying a slow cooker:
Make sure it has a removable bowl. This is so much easier than dealing with models that are one piece, cord and all.
Get one with programmable features. These are a little more expensive, but well worth the splurge if you can afford it. It allows you to preset start and stop times, program it to switch to “warm” after cooking is completed, and easy to read digital displays.
• The grocery store now sells disposable liners. They are little plastic baggies to line your pot with, and safe for cooking. They are with all the foil, plastic wrap, and baggies. When you’re done eating, just take out the liner and toss it. No need to even go through the dish washer every time.
• Buy a size that fits your daily use. If you only entertain occasionally, it’s not worth buying a bigger size since cooking smaller dishes in a pot too large will affect your cooking results. Here is what I recommend for sizes:
Family- 6 quarts, Couple- 3 quarts, Single- 1 quart.
Go up ½-1 quart if you prefer to cook a meal once, and then have plenty of left-overs.
• Add seasoning at least one hour before cooking finishes so the herbs and spices have time to be fully absorbed into the food. Don’t put delicate spices in at the beginning if possible to avoid diluting their flavor. (See my Spice Guide for some ideas about which herbs should be added when.)
• Oval or Round- Buy oval if you plan on cooking chicken and meat frequently as these fit larger items better. Buy an oval pot if you plan to cook just soups, chili, veggie dishes, etc. since they will have more even cooking.
Hopefully this persuades you into buying this must-have appliance, or ignites fresh enthusiasm to use the one you have forgotten about in your cabinet. I will help further fuel your slow-cooker fever tomorrow with a great SC BBQ pulled pork recipe that is mouth watering. Be sure to check it out!