Your Slow Cooker Buying Guide
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Your Slow Cooker Buying Guide

When you can’t feel your feet and the snow is driving into your face as you slide to the car (hoping it will start and then actually move) the image of hot rich beef stew steaming as the pot opens should sustain you all the way home and then the real thing will fuel you back out again the following day.

If you haven’t taken the plunge with a slow cooker yet, you really are missing out on the easiest way to cook the tastiest food, so read this slow cooker buying guide and go get yourself the warmest welcome home any kitchen gadget has on offer, all you need to do is slip into something fluffy and serve.

There are many different models out there all doing much the same thing, but not always saying it in the same way when you read the product specifications. There are also some appliances labelled slow cookers which sit on a flat heating surface that also serves as a griddle – here we just focus on slow cookers, which are quite simple appliances when you get down to it.

Firstly slow cookers and crock pots are the same thing. Crock Pot made the first slow cookers which causes confusion, but basically they make great slow cookers and are one of only three or four manufacturers who have a range of different sizes and with different features. Others who produce excellent slow cookers are Hamilton Beach, Proctor Silex, Sunbeam and the more expensive Cuisinart.

Very basic slow cookers are totally manual and usually come with four settings, High, Medium, Low and Off – note they don’t automatically switch to a keep warm program which does what is says, maintains your meal at a safe temperature without continuing to cook. You can pick up a family sized cooker in this category for about $17 – really they are that inexpensive.

Personally I’d go up to the next category and make sure being late doesn’t matter because my meal is being kept at the perfect temperature to serve. You’ll possibly get one with this feature for around the same price or a few dollars more, right up to about $30, or more for a 6 quart sized pot.

The programmable slow cookers are a notch up again and if you want all the features available, these often include programmable meat temperature probes which are part of the slow cooker, when your food reaches temperature inside, it will switch to keep hot for you. Over at Gadgets For The Kitchen you can find a review of my three year old Cuisinart which is still well up on the best sellers list. It has no temperature probe - instead they offer complete control over the temperature you cook at not just high, medium or low.

One final thing to tackle is size. These are some who say you should never cook with the pot less than ¾ full, I’m not one of them. But there is no point in having a huge great 7 quart slow cooker to make meals for a retired couple or small family of four, unless of course you intend to cook and freeze surplus for later – a great time saver for sure.

Though you really don’t need to fill the pot, you should always aim for half full not least because the food will cook better and more evenly. Try to make sure when the veggies have cooked down and released their juices, there will be enough stock to almost cover the meat. Though they say don’t take the lid off as it adds cooking time, I’ve often lifted and flipped a joint over to make certain it cooks evenly on both sides – just add half an hour on to the cooking time and you’ll be fine.

Armed with this knowledge you can quickly work your way through all the crock pots and slow cookers to find that special pal to come home to, one who won’t complain about how bad their day was, but instead will have been hard at work cooking you a great meal – wouldn’t that make a change?


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