Slow cookers or crock pots are a must-have kitchen appliance for those who are on a budget or who are off working all day and still want to come home to a hot meal without spending hours in the kitchen after work or school. They can turn just about any cheap cut of meat into a tender morsel, and you can use them to make everything from sauces and soups to complete dinners. However, you do have to look for those features that will give you the most versatility when it comes to slow cooking and help you prepare the best tasting meals. So here the top 7 features you consider when purchasing one. It is funny that I did not understand the term “slow cookers save time” until I did the research for this article. What I learned was that it is not about the overall time saved but the miracle of coming home to a “meal done” with a starving family waiting in the wings.
Size-When it comes to slow cookers, size does make a difference. If you are mainly going to be using yours to make soups and casseroles for a single person or sauces to pour on that meal you made in the oven, then a small 3-4 quart will be your best bet. However, if you are plan to make whole meals on a regular basis, or want to make food ahead to freeze to save money then a 6-7 quart large cooker works best. Some people end up buying two different sizes to cover all their needs.
Shape-While it may not seem like the shape would not make much difference it definitely can. While round slow cookers are good for soups, stews, and sauces. An oval slow cooker will let you make all that as well as whole hams, chickens, and pot roasts.
Inserts-The standard insert for most slow cookers or crock pots are ceramic, but some are made of aluminum. Ceramic inserts (what the food actually goes into) seems to have more flavor when you use a ceramic liner. However, many people prefer the aluminum liner and it really is all a matter of taste. For what it’s worth, I like ceramic. I find the flavor of the food better, they are easier to clean and well I am nervous cooking with aluminum for health issues.
Lids- They may come with a glass or plastic lid. Choosing a glass lid that locks down for transport is the best because plastic lids become foggy over time making it hard to see the food in the slow cooker without removing the lid. The less the lid is removed the more flavor that will remain.
Programmable Cooking Time- While this isn’t a must-have feature, it certainly comes in handy for those working away from home. You can set the amount of time you want your meal to cook and when it is done it automatically switches to “warm,” keeping your slow cooker meals hot while not overcooking them to the point of burning.
Temperature Control Settings- Depending on what you want to use your cooker for the temperature control settings can be extremely important. There are really 3 basic types of slow cooking temperature controls. Those with a simple on and off, those with a high, low, warm and off settings and those where you can set an actual temperature for slow cooking. (Some feature actual temperature settings as well as a high, low, warm and off slow cooking temperatures, and you can choose between the two). While in most cases you want to avoid those slow cookers that just have on/off temperatures, choosing between the other two is going to be a case of just what type of meals you want to prepare. While the basic high/low type settings are great for most dishes, if you want to prepare a slow cooker pot roast or roast beef brisket or make slow cooker pulled pork, being able to set an exact, actual temperature for slow cooking is a must.
Cooking Probes-Cooking probes in slow cookers are designed for people who want to cook larger cuts of meats or whole chickens and go hand in hand with cooking controls. The probes normally go through the lid and into the cut of meat and when the meat reaches the internal temperature it is supposed to, the slow cooker then reduces the heat to keep the food from burning yet still warm.
Just which of these features you are going to need in your slow cooker really depends on how often you plan on using your cooker and what you will be cooking in it. The more of the features it has, the more versatility you will be able to have in your cooking.