Did You Know?Besides making soups, casseroles, and roast chicken, you can also make burgers, corn on the cob, pulled pork, barbecue ribs, etc., and several desserts in a slow cooker.
Also referred to as a Crock-Pot, a slow cooker is a countertop appliance that makes cooking even more convenient. This appliance has been gaining popularity over the last few years, especially among the busy, working circle. Slow cookers involve cooking with moist heat, wherein the steam produced in the cooker condenses on the lid, and then continues to cook the food in the low, even heat of the appliance. Food is allowed to cook in a gentle simmer, for several hours, which results in soft and tender meats, soups, and casseroles.
Although this appliance works on electricity, it barely consumes as much electricity as a light bulb. Thus, even though the cooking time is long, it's actually a money-saving appliance. Since it runs on very little electricity, a slow cooker with food can be left unattended for hours together, making it a must-have in the kitchen. However, the market is flooded with all kinds of slow cookers, and choosing one can seem extremely mind-blogging. Moreover, purchasing the wrong kind can cause you to shun away from this efficient kitchen appliance forever.
Slow cookers come in various sizes, from 3.5-quart to 8-quart models. In terms of capacity, what's important to remember is that a slow cooker has to be two-third (maximum three-fourth) full. Filling it beyond this level can result in overflowing, while filling it below this level will cause the food to scorch. For a family of four to eight, the 6-quart slow cooker is appropriate. Not only will there be enough for everybody to devour, but there will also be leftovers. For two members, the smaller cooker with a capacity of 3.5 quart will be more than sufficient. Thus, the cooker's capacity must be proportional to the number of people dining on a regular basis. Some slow cookers come with interchangeable bowls, with 2, 4, and 6 quart bowls, so as to increase the usability and versatility of the product.
Square-shaped slow cookers aren't very convenient, simply because cleaning around the corners becomes a daily hassle. The rounded ones are very easy to clean. Then again, if you intend to cook a whole chicken or turkey, it's better you opt for the oval one, because there's more space. Even if you aren't planning on slow cooking roast chickens as yet, it's better to get the oval one; you never know when you will change your mind. Then, there are the deeper cookers, which are ideal for soups and stews.
In a slow cooker, food cooks in the heat trapped inside, and taking off the lid now and then causes the cooking heat to escape, thereby, resulting in increase of cooking time. Constant temperature fluctuations can cause bacterial growth, which is why it's important to allow the cooking to get done undisturbed. By getting a glass lid, you can view the food from the outside, thus, eliminating the need to lift it. Moreover, glass lids have higher domes, which means increased space to fit whole chickens. Always make sure the cooker you purchase has a snug-fitting lid.
This is one of the most important aspects you must consider, before purchasing a slow cooker. The crock or liner must be removable. The non-removable ones are very difficult to wash, while the removable ones can be easily washed in the sink. Also, look for a dishwasher-safe liner to make washing easier. Moreover, the outer rim should be at least an inch wide, and must slant inwards. Narrower rims have the risk of spilling cooking liquids over the cooker. Removable liners can also be used to store the leftovers in the refrigerator, thus, being very useful and efficient. Always look for a sturdy liner that can withstand daily handling.
A basic slow cooker contains 'High' and 'Low' settings, while the fancier versions contain 'Keep Warm' settings that automatically shift to the warm mode, once the food has been cooked. Some come with the 'Delayed Feature Setting', which records a time later in the day, when the slow cooker should begin cooking. Then there are those that come with a stovetop safe pot, which allows you to brown the food (especially meat), before slow cooking it. Some even come with temperature and time settings, which allow you to specify them as in an oven. While all these fancy features are not mandatory, you can purchase them if they lie within your budget.
The prices may range from $20 to $200, depending on the capacity, quality, and brand. Choose according to your budget. Be patient with your slow cooker. It may take some time to get used to it. Start off by preparing the usual soups and casseroles, and then move on to more fancier items, like roast chicken, puddings, etc. With time, the slow cooker is sure to replace your stove and oven, and will soon become a great asset you can't let go of!