By Carl Hanson

How to Buy the Best Slow Cooker

Slow Cookers are making a big comeback? Well, they never really went away. Cooks have always grokked the Crock-Pot's incredible convenience. Put some ingredients in a pot, turn it on, go away, and come back to a hot dinner. Nothing's easier.

Photo by Meredith

What Is a Slow Cooker?

A slow cooker is also an extremely simple machine. It's essentially a ceramic pot that sits over enclosed electric coils, which simmer food at a low, constant temperature. That's it.

Even the most elaborate slow cookers come with limited features and functionality. That's a good thing. There's less to worry about breaking. Beyond an on/off switch, you might want a programmable timer, which automatically switches from a High, Medium, or Low settings to Warm, in case you come home late.

Slow Cooker Features

Here are some basic slow cooker features to think about:

  • Removable, easy-to-clean pot made of glazed ceramic or porcelain
  • An oval-shaped pot is good for cooking large roasts
  • Glass or clear plastic lid
  • Sturdy, easy-grip handles
  • Easy-to-clean touchpad controls

And some extra features you might consider:

  • Insertable temperature probe that automatically switches to the Warm setting
  • A lid that clamps shut is nice for transporting
  • Removeable, automatic self-stirring paddle
Photo by Meredith

Why Should You Buy a Slow Cooker?

There's the convenience factor, of course. Also, slow, moist cooking at a low heat is perfect for preparing tougher cuts of meat, which also happen to be the least expensive cuts. So slow cookers can be both a time and money saver.

If you're into comfort foods -- soups and stews, pot roasts, chili -- you might want to consider a slow cooker.

Slow cookers are also great for potlucks and parties because they travel well.

Basket for Carrying Slow Cooker | Photo by Meredith

A slow cooker's glazed ceramic pot is easy to clean. But if you want to make an easy clean-up job even easier, there are slow cooker liners.

Photo by Meredith

How Big Should Your Slow Cooker Be?

If you're cooking large roasts or whole chickens or cooking for a family, you'll want at least a 6-quart slow cooker. They range from about 1.5 quarts to 8.5 quarts.

Types of Slow Cookers

Small Slow Cookers

Slow cookers start out at about 1.5 quarts. That's not big. But if you're a single person or live in a dorm room or small apartment, the small size can be a bonus. The small slow cooker could be all you need.

Photo by Meredith

Programmable Slow Cookers

Programmable slow cookers feature digital touchpads instead of knobs. Just touch the pad to select the setting you want (high, medium, low, warm), and the time you want to cook. Typically, the settings automatically switch to warm after the cooking time has ended.

Photo by Meredith

Multi Cooker Slow Cookers

These contraptions handle slow cooking duties, and then some. With a multi-cooker, you can also sear, sauté, roast, and steam. Each function is programmable. Multi-cookers typically come with a steaming basket and roasting rack. With a multi-cooker, you can sear your meat in the same pot you slow cook it in. No surprise, they are more expensive than single-duty slow cookers.

Photo by Meredith

How To Use Your Slow Cooker Safely

  • Allow your pot to cool before putting it in the refrigerator
  • Thaw meats before slow cooking them
  • Don't use your slow cooker to reheat leftovers

So that's slow cooking. Are you more interested in FAST cooking? Here's a quick look at How to Buy the Best Pressure Cooker.

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