Slow cookers are casseroles which heat and cook food very gently by means of an enclosed electrical element.
Slow cookers are typically earthenware. They have a low (175° F) and high (200°F) settings which enables them to cook over six to ten hours, depending on the model.
Because of their earthenware nature, the core stoneware or crock insert, the slow cooker is also known as crock-pot or crock pot.
The slow cooking is ideal for large pieces of meat, or tough cuts of meat. They come out as tender as you could wish for, the meat falling of the bones on its own. The long cooking period -6 to 8 hours is very common- has one advantage. Set up the slow cooker in the morning and dinner will be ready when you come back from work.
Your slow cooker is your best friend
Slow cookers, or slow cookers as they are also known, seem to have taken a back seat to just about every other kitchen gadget in the last 10 years. Without a doubt, slow cookers should be at the top of everyone's list for desired kitchen tools. Slow cookers are the ultimate tool in de-stressing and hassle free cooking. Let's take a quick look at why slow cookers should be one of the main staples in kitchens around the world.
Set it and forget it
One of the best reasons to keep a slow cooker on your kitchen counter, is the fact that you can set it and forget it. Basically, you can fix a hearty dinner for your entire family while you are getting everything else done. Imagine being able to make a killer barbecue while cleaning the house, running errands and getting the kids to school and sports practices.
The ability to set it and forget it should be reason enough to almost super glue a slow cooker to the center of your kitchen counter. Not only can you fully cook meals, but you can reheat them too. slow cookers are useful for reheating food because the do not dry them out like microwaves do. Sure, it takes a little foresight to get the food in there with enough time before dinner is served, but your chicken will be more tender and juicy than if you nuke it for a couple minutes.
Types of recipes
Another reason to become buddy-buddy with your slow cooker is the number of great recipes that it can be tasked with. Everything from roast to barbecue and soup to cobbler, the walls of your slow cooker can do it all. There are tons of books, filled to the brim, with slow cooker recipes from the beginner to the advanced.
Since there are practically hundreds, if not thousands of recipes, you don't have to stress over having the same things each week. The versatility of a slow cooker is well worth the money you will spend on one. If you can think of a recipe you would like to try, chances are there is a slow cooker recipe designed strictly for it.
Just like one pot meals, slow cookers are incredibly easy to clean up, especially the ones made of ceramic or porcelain. Many of the slow cookers today are even dishwasher safe, to save even more time and reduce stress. While slow cookers can go in the dishwasher, it is usually best to wash them by hand so they do not chip if something hits the basin. As for the rest of the slow cooker, there really isn't much to do other than the occasional wipe down with a warm, soapy cloth.
Slow cookers are incredibly efficient at reducing stress. With simple controls, a variety of recipes and clean-up that would make your mother proud, slow cookers should really regain their rightful place on the kitchen counter. Grab out your slow cooker, throw in some ingredients, set it, forget it and come back when it is done. How is that for stress free cooking?
Picking the perfect slow cooker
Thirty or forty years ago, there were only a few models of slow cookers to choose from. Today there are hundreds if not thousands of options in the world of slow cookers. Over the years, improvements have been made, new brands have come to the market, and the world is reinventing what the slow cooker can do.
When it comes to selecting a slow cooker, you need to know what to look for, what you absolutely need your slow cooker to do, and your bottom line. Let's take a look at a few guidelines for choosing the slow cooker that's right for you:
The basic structure
A slow cooker is made up of three main parts; 1) the outer shell or base; 2) the inner stoneware or crock insert, and 3) the lid.
The outer shell should stay rather cool to the touch. You should be able to wash off the surface with a damp rag without too much trouble. Look for skid-proof feet on the bottom to keep the slow cooker from slipping around the counter top while you're preparing your meal. The outer shell also houses the controls, so check to see if they are sturdy, well situated, and easy to see.
The inner stoneware section, or 'crock,' should be rather resilient and feel sturdy. The crock is not unbreakable, so if you drop it on a solid floor, it may break. However, it should feel solid in your hands. The best slow cookers have a removable insert so it makes serving and clean up easy. You'll also want to be sure you can get your hands on the crock handles and easily lift it out of the outer shell without struggling.
The lid, while simple in design, is one of the reasons slow cookers work so well. The best lids have a separate knob protruding out of the top. This separation of materials helps to keep the knob cool to the touch while the rest of the device heats up. The lid should also have a good seal around the outside edge, in order to keep the heat and liquids from escaping. Glass lids used to be the standard, but nowadays the plastic ones are just as nice and they have the added benefit of being lighter, which makes them easier to handle.
slow cookers can range from ten dollars to well over a couple hundred. The most important aspect of picking out the perfect slow cooker for you is to look at your budget and find the best value for your money. Look at size, construction of parts, and how well it all goes together. If taken care of, your slow cooker will last a lifetime and will pay for itself over and over again. Just remember, you don't have to get the fanciest slow cooker to cook a great meal for your family.