For every modern and busy household, a slow cooker is a blessing! If you leave home early in the morning for work and return late at night, your slow cooker will be ready with warm and delicious meals for the whole family. All you need to do is to fill up your slow cooker with the right ingredients, turn it on and forget about the whole thing; whenever you return, your dinner will be ready for you, perfectly cooked and hot. this slow cooker guide will tell you all you need to pick the perfect slow cooker.
When you are not too fussy about your meals, and when you care more about nutrition and taste, then a slow cooker is exactly what you need in your home. This amazing kitchen appliance can cook your meals with minimum fussing and one-step preparation so that you won’t have to spend too much time in cooking.
If you are new to the idea of using a slow cooker to prepare your meals, you’ll get all the information here in this single article, including ideas on how to use this appliance, everything that you can do with a slow cooker, and review on the most popular slow cookers available in the market at the moment.
How to Choose the Best Slow Cooker?
Most slow cookers that are available in the market are similar in their designs, shape and size, functions and options. There might be some difference in their price because of the brand they belong to, or the extra features they come with. In this part of the article, we’ll talk about the different features and aspects you’ll need in your slow cooker to make it most convenient and helpful to your busy lifestyle.
Slow cookers are usually of two types: programmable and manual slow cookers. With Programmable slow cookers, you can choose the cooking time with a digital or a manual timer. These slow cookers also usually come with electronic controls so that you can program it to cook for up to 24 hours, with 30-minute increments. With the digital timer, you can see the amount of time you have left in cooking. When the cooking time is over, the cooker will keep your food warm until you turn off the appliance manually. You can select any time on the slow cooker and leave the appliance turned on when you go to work, and your cooking would be done on time when you are not home. Your food will be cooked within time and stay warm for your return home, which is quite convenient for people who stay out all day.
With the manual kind of slow cookers, you need to manually control the cooking. All you can do with these types of slow cookers is to select the temperature mode; the cooker will need to be manually turned off when your cooking is done. Of course, if you select a low temperature for cooking, you can leave the slow cooker cooking for several hours, even as you leave the home for your chores.
When you compare a programmable and a manual slow cooker, the former may seem the most convenient one. You won’t have to worry about your slow cooker overcooking the food or burning your meal because you’re not at home to manually turn it off; with a programmable slow cooker, you can choose any amount of time for your food to cook, and the cooker will turn off obediently according to your timing, and also keep your food warm.
- Size and Shape of Pots
The pot or the inner container that comes with a slow cooker might not seem very important, but a particular size and shape can be quite convenient. An oval pot can be convenient to roast a whole chicken and large pieces of meat; with a deep pot, you can cook soup and stew for the whole family at one time. On the other hand, with a pot that is wide, you can roast or steam vegetables in it easily, or cook a casserole.
When deciding on a slow cooker, no one looks at the shape and size of the pot that comes with it, but the right pot can be a convenience for you. If you are more inclined towards soups, stews, sauces, and curries for your family, you need a slow cooker with a deep pot, but for slow cooking meat, casseroles, and vegetables, you should get one that is wide and large.
Most slow cookers come with a capacity range between 1.5 quarts to 8.5 quarts. However, the slow cooker pot should only be half-filled or three-fourth filled up, and never more than that; so, if you plan to cook a good amount of soup or broth in your slow cooker, you need a model with a large capacity.
For example, the Hamilton Beach Stay or Go Portable Slow Cooker is a 7-quart slow cooker, the De’longhi Multi-Slow Cooker is a 6-quart one and the Calphalon Digital Sauté Slow Cooker is a smaller, 5.3-quart model. However, even with similar holding capacities, slow cookers can vary in size and shape depending on the model. Some models can seem bulkier even with a smaller holding capacity, while others can have a larger holding capacity but also sleek design.
The best lids are those that are transparent, sturdy and airtight. If the lid is transparent, you can check on your cooking without having to remove it every now and then, and releasing the steam in the process; an airtight lid will seal the flavors inside the pot and keep the flavors intact. Some slow cookers also have a hinged lid, which can be handy when you are checking the food or stirring the ingredients.
With some slow cookers, the lid sticks to the cooker itself and with some models, the lid is attached to the inner pot. If the lid is attached to the pot, you can carry it to any parties or potluck you are invited to, use the pot to serve the food directly on your table, or even store it in the refrigerator.
With the Hamilton Beach Stay or Go Portable Slow Cooker, the lid is attached to the slow cooker itself but with the Calphalon Digital Sauté Slow Cooker, the lid stays attached to the inner pot.
- Ease of Cleaning
With most slow cookers, you can remove the inner pot to clean it efficiently under running water, just like you’d clean any other pot or pan in your kitchen. The outer casing can be cleaned by wiping with a piece of a damp cloth, but carefully, because this is the part of the slow cooker that contains the heating coils, mechanisms, and electronic parts.
At the same time, it is easier to clean a slow cooker that has buttons and a digital display instead of numerous dials and knobs.
- Temperature Options
Even if your slow cooker doesn’t come with too many options, you’ll at least have choices for the temperature. With the programmable and digital ones, you can choose any temperature in Fahrenheit or Celsius, as required in your recipe. You can even adjust these automatic slow cookers for time, too.
- Other Features
Apart from these important ones, there might be some other features that might actually be convenient for you, if not necessary. For example:
- A sturdy handle for carrying
- Extra roasting racks for meat or vegetables
- A wrap-around cord
- Insulated carrying bags
- Compatibility with a stovetop and induction stove
- Ceramic scratch-free inner pot
- Colorful LED lights for easy identification
- Non-stick inner pot surface
- PTFE- and PFOA-free container and lid
- Option to keep food warm
- Multiple cooking options
- Lockable lid
- Dishwasher safe
- Rubber lining along the lid for a better seal
- Effective “warm” function to keep your food warm and ready to eat
You’ll find most of these features in the slow cookers that are popular among users these days, but it all depends on your budget. You can find slow cookers from a range of $40 to $300, but the price depends on the size and the brand. The more features your slow cooker has, the more expensive it will be, compared to the manual ones that come with only a few temperature options.
Best Slow Cooker 2020
The three most popular slow cookers in the market at the moment happen to be the Hamilton Beach Stay or Go Portable Slow Cooker, the De’longhi Multi-Slow Cooker, and the Calphalon Digital Sauté Slow Cooker. They are all quite different from each other, and each of them brings their own specialties to your kitchen.
We’ll discuss these three slow cookers in this part of the article in detail, with all their features, pros, and cons.
This is a portable slow cooker that you can carry with you when you are traveling, going camping or to a picnic, on a holiday or a vacation, or going somewhere you won’t have access to a gas stove. Although quite a large slow cooker with a 7-quart holding capacity, it has a sleek and modern design and can be easily stored away in one of your kitchen cabinets.
The Hamilton Beach Stay-or-Go is built for movement; you can carry it around with you when traveling, or even take it with you to a potluck or a picnic, filled with ready-to-eat food. The airtight lid can be locked securely with a Lid Lock, which will both lock the lid and keep the food held inside. Even if you are carrying soup or curry, there wouldn’t be any chance of spilling or dropping. The transparent lid will let you peek inside the slow cooker to know the condition of the food inside, without having to open the lid. The unhinged Lid stays up at all times, which makes it easy when you are serving food or adding more ingredients to the slow cooker.
This is a rather simple cooker, with only three temperature options: high, low and warm. You can either cook your food extremely fast over a high temperature or choose the “low” setting to cook the same food using the whole day. However, you’ll have to manually turn the knob to “Warm” if you want to keep your food hot before serving. This kind of manual slow cooker can be left alone for cooking, but you have to manually change the settings.
Both the lid and the stone pot is removable, and you can wash them directly under running water. The container and lid can also be cleaned in a dishwasher. Two folding handles on either side can be snapped close when storing the slow cooker away and snapped up when you want to carry the slow cooker in your hands.
With a 7-quart holding capacity, this slow cooker is just the perfect depth, size, and shape to cook a whole 7-lb chicken for your family or a 5-lb roast. The deep and large stone pot is also perfect for all kinds of slow-cooked soups, casseroles, curries and stews, but can also be used to cook all kinds of food over a high temperature.
- Convenient design and shape
- 7-quart holding capacity
- Transparent, Air-tight lid
- Portable slow cooker designed for traveling with
- Perfect for picnics, camping, vacation homes and holidays
- Keeps food warm after cooking is done until served
- Healthy and the natural stone container
- Both container and lid can be removed for cleaning
- Dishwasher safe
- Full-grip handles
- Folding handles can be snapped shut for storing
- Perfect size for cooking a 7-lbs chicken
- Can be used to cook soups, casseroles, stews, and curries
- The base can be cleaned with a damp cloth
- Air-tight lid seals in all kinds of liquid inside
- Completely spill-free and secured to carry
- Special Lid Lock keeps the lid closed securely when shut
- Can be carried when the food inside
- Only comes with two temperature options: “high” and “low”
- Has to be turned on and off manually
Dark and stylish, the Calphalon Digital Slow Cooker is just what the modern kitchen of a busy household needs. Besides using this slow cooker to cook your food over a low temperature, you can also use it for sautéing your food, browning or searing your ingredients – all in the same pot and the same slow cooker. At the same time, you can use the inner pot from the slow cooker on your induction stove, gas or electric cooktops without any fear of cracking. You can use the cooking pot simply as any other pot or pan in your kitchen to cook in ovens and stovetops.
The inner pot is made from ceramic and is 11 times more durable than traditional Teflon or standard non-stick pots and pans. The ceramic non-stick surface of the pot also gives 20% more heat than regular cookware, which means that cooking can be completed within a very short amount of time.
The digital programmable controls on the slow cooker let you choose between cooking modes: between browning, searing, sautéing, frying and stir-frying, steaming and of course, slow cooking. A small LCD digital display on the side of the slow cooker allows you to see the modes you’ve chosen, as well as the time remaining, and whether your food is being cooked or kept warm by the appliance.
The inner pot can be removed from the slow cooker for easy cleaning, as well as for serving on your table. The transparent glass lid will give you a peek inside the pot when cooking, without having to remove the lid and let out steam. Being able to remove both the pot and the lid from the slow cooker allows them to be cleaned safely under running water, while the outer casing of the slow cooker can be wiped clean of any drippings with a piece of a damp cloth.
You get only two heat settings with this slow cooker: high and low. However, the slow cooker will automatically adjust itself to “warm” when it is done cooking, to keep your meals ready for you when you want to serve. The food won’t stick to the bottom of the pan, so you would have no trouble serving the food on a plate or bowl; the pot can also be removed from the slow cooker and you can serve the pot directly on your dining table.
This is not a very large cooker, as it only has a holding capacity of 5.3-quarts; but, the size is perfectly enough for one-pot dinners or a small serving of breakfast cereal. With a “green” and a “red” LED light indicator, you can know whether your food has finished cooking or not, at a single glance. The ceramic cookware is a healthier option than a Teflon coating and provides even heating to your food.
- Can be used to slow cook, sear, brown and sauté
- One-pot for different kinds of cooking
- Compatible with electric and gas stovetops, and induction cooktops
- Healthy ceramic cookware
- The inner pot is 11 times more durable and stronger than a regular kitchen pot
- Ceramic cookware heats up more evenly and quicker
- Digital programmable controls
- Inner pot can be removed to serve and wash
- Dishwasher safe
- Transparent glass lid
- LCD display screen
- 2 heat settings: “High” and “Low”
- Cooker automatically switches to “Warm” to keep your food ready
- Food doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan
- Color indications for when food is cooking and when done
- PTFE- and PFOA-free inner cookware
- Gorgeous design and shape
- Large handles for easy carrying
- Stainless steel body can be wiped clean with a damp piece of cloth
- Only a 5.3-quart holding capacity
- Too small for roasting a whole chicken or multiple servings of soup/stew
- Food may burn when cooked over a high temperature
One of the more advanced models available in the market, the De’longhi Livenza is actually much more than just a slow cooker, it has 7 in 1 feature. One of the most exciting features of this model is that it can be used for not only slow cooking, but also for browning, sautéing, steaming, baking, warning, and rice cooking. It comes with an exclusive recipe App (50 Recipes) to make your life easier when you are preparing your breakfast, lunch, and dinners. All you need to do is to select the right recipe you are cooking, and the cooker will do the rest.
This slow cooker from De’longhi also comes with 24-hour programmability at the touch of a button. You can use the same inner pot for all kinds of food preparation: sautéing, steaming over water, baking inside the closed lid and of course, use a “low” temperature for slow cooking. With this one single kitchen appliance, you can prepare many different types of food and recipes.
You can use it to slow cook your meals while you are away from home, or keep your food warm until you are ready to serve.
This slow cooker has been designed with the user’s convenience in mind so that you can use it anywhere you want. All you need is an outlet where you can plug it in, and your slow cooker will be ready to cook; this makes it perfect for you to carry this slow cooker away to picnics, parties, vacation homes, and camping.
This multi-cooker will eliminate the guesswork in the kitchen. If you are around the cooker, you can use a high temperature to stir fry or boil your food, or you can use the “low” temperature option to leave the food cooking if you are not around. The food will be automatically kept “warm” after it has been cooked.
- More than just a slow cooker
- Comes with 50 recipes
- Comes with 7 cooking options
- Can be used to sauté food, bake, slow cook, steam, brown, rice, warmer
- 6-quart holding capacity
- Comes with 24-hour programmability, eliminate the guesswork
- Automatically keeps food warm when food is done cooked
- Precision cooking control
- Perfect for traveling with
- Perfect for college dorms and vacation homes
- Transparent glass lid
- Dishwasher safe
- It’s a bit expensive if we compare to other 2 products we reviewed, but if you want a multi-function cooker, then I would recommend you get this, it will save you a lot of space in the kitchen.
- Not a very large pot to cook in
Bonus: Special Slow-Cooker Beef Stew Recipe
Beef Stew is an extremely versatile recipe! Easy to prepare and delicious to eat, you can slow cook your beef stew throughout the day with no trouble at all. Cooking for hours makes the meat tender and succulent, and none of the flavor or the nutrition of the ingredients can escape from the meal.
Beef stew may seem like a simple recipe, but it’s extremely healthy and hearty. You can serve it with bread or rice, or simply eat it like soup. Put in your favorite vegetables with the beef, and you can have a complete meal ready for you when you return home from work.
Below, you can find a recipe for a beef stew that you can make in any slow cooker.
- Beef stew meat, 2.5 pounds, cut into small cubes
- Baby red potatoes, 1.5 pounds, cut into quarters
- Carrots, 4, cut into cubes
- Large onion, 1, diced
- Beef broth, 4 cups
- Garlic cloves, 2, minced
- Tomato Paste, 3 tablespoons
- Worcestershire sauce, 3 teaspoons
- Paprika powder, 2 teaspoon
- Dried Rosemary, 2 teaspoon
- Dried thyme, 2 teaspoon
- Bay Leaves, 2, Large
- All-purpose flour, ½ cup
- Freshly parsley leaves, 3 tablespoons, finely chopped
- Olive Oil, 4 tablespoons
- Kosher Salt, to taste
- Black Pepper, to taste, freshly ground
- Heat olive oil in a skillet. If you have a slow cooker that can be used for another kind of cooking modes, you can heat the oil in it directly. Use medium heat.
- Marinate the beef pieces with salt and pepper. Mix well using your hands or a pair of tongs.
- Add the beef pieces to the skillet, and cook for a few minutes until the pieces have all browned evenly. It will take around 2 to 3 minutes for the beef pieces to brown evenly on all sides.
- Add the potatoes, onion, carrots and garlic pieces with the beef. You’ll need a 6-quart slow cooker or a larger one for this recipe.
- Mix the Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, beef broth, rosemary, thyme, paprika, and bay leaves together in a separate bowl. Empty the content of the bowl into the slow cooker.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Cover the slow cooker and set the temperature and time.
- Set “high” temperature to cook the beef for 3 to 4 hours; choose the “low” temperature for cooking the beef for 7 to 8 hours.
- You can leave for work or for your chores while the slow cooker keeps on cooking your dinner.
- When you return home after 4-6 hours or 7-8 hours, set the slow cooker to “warm”. On the other hand, if you have an automatic slow cooker, the temperature will be already set to warm after the cooker has finished cooking.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the all-purpose flour with a little beef broth, approximately 1 cup. Stir in the flour-and-beef-broth mixture into the slow cooker and turn in back on.
- Cover and cook for 30 minutes over “high” temperature.
- When the gravy thickens, turn off the slow cooker.
- Garnish with fresh parsley leaves and serve with rice or bread.
What is a Slow Cooker?
At the end of the day, the last thing you want to do is to get cooking for yourself and for your family. Ordering takeout seems to be the most desirable idea after you return home and not in the mood to cook, although not the healthiest option. However, if you own a slow cooker, you can prepare for your dinner before leaving for work in the morning, to come back to a perfectly delicious home-cooked meal, made to your preferences.
As the name suggests, a slow cooker will cook your food slowly. They are designed to cook the ingredients you place inside the cooker just like they would cook on a stove, but slower. They are usually quite large, resembling a Dutch Oven Pot that you might put on the stove for soups or stews; however, a slow cooker cooks your food with electricity instead of living fire, which makes it safe to keep turned on when you leave your home.
Slow cookers are not just cheap, they are easy to use and economical. A slow cooker doesn’t use up a lot of electricity, even when you keep it turned on for the whole day or all through the night. Everything you put inside the slow cooker will be slowly cooked to perfection through the day and kept warm and ready for eating whenever you want your dinner.
There’s almost no limit to what you can cook inside a slow cooker; from soups to casseroles, sauces, and lasagna, chili and mashed potatoes, grilled or roasted meat, granola, and oatmeal cereal, lentil and curries, rice soup and pot roast – these are only some of the hearty and healthy meals you can make in your regular slow cooker. More and more recipes are being discovered especially for slow cookers every day, and many world-renowned health experts and chefs are working solely on slow cooker recipes.
How to Use a Slow Cooker?
A slow cooker uses the same principle that we use to make soup, stew or sauce in the stove or roast pork and beef in barbecue pits. The food is cooked slowly, left to simmer and cook in its own juices so that the spices really get inside the meat. The temperature used in a slow cooker is usually low, so there’s no chance of the food getting burned or charred. You can leave the slow cooker turned on for 10 to 12 hours at a time, and the food will be perfectly cooked inside.
The process of cooking in a slow cooker is a simple one: put in all the ingredients, one after another. If this is a soup or a stew, give the ingredients a twirl with a spoon to mix them together. Close the lid of the slow cooker securely and turn it on. Based on the mode and the temperature, your food can be cooked within half an hour, 2 hours or it might take as long as 10 hours. Usually, a slow cooker comes with several different temperature options, from Low to High, and a few in between depending on the model. The time it will take your food to cook depends on the temperature setting you choose.
Depending on the brand and the model, your slow cooker will come with different temperature settings, length of time and choice of temperature. Although the primary idea behind a slow cooker is to cook your food slowly, you can also use a high temperature to cook the food quickly.
Cooking Process of a Slow Cooker
All the ingredients put inside the slow cooker will remain sealed throughout the cooking process, and the low temperature will cause the moisture from the ingredients themselves to cook the food. As the food slowly cooks, it releases natural steam, which is trapped inside the slow cooker as long as you don’t open the lid. The steam let off by the ingredients inside the slow cooker will be trapped inside the cooker in a condensed form, and act as a baster to cook the food faster. None of the nutrition will be allowed to escape the slow cooker but will return to the ingredients themselves, sealing into the food and increasing the taste and flavor.
This method of slow cooking your food has been around for centuries, mostly for meat and sauces; previously, food was cooked slowly in covered pots overheated coals and barbeque pits. The first slow cooker came into existence in the 1970s, and they are still popular in the busiest households these days. Even when you can cook your food in ovens, microwave ovens, stovetops, rice cookers, and induction pots, slow cookers remain a favorite among families who love to work with it.
Some slow cookers also come with pre-programmed settings, for convenience. You can simply choose the type of food you are cooking, and let the slow cooker do the rest of the work. Most models will also keep your food warm for you until you open the lid to serve dinner, hours after the food has been fully cooked.
The basic idea behind a slow cooker is to present you with a cooked meal when you come home at the end of the day. You can simply assemble all the ingredients in the morning before you leave for work, and come home to a prepared and warm meal. A slow cooker only uses a very little amount of electricity even when you’ve kept it turned on for more than 12 hours; your food won’t burn or stick to the pan even after being cooked all day. You can even use it to slow cook your breakfast instead of lunch or dinner; simply assemble the ingredients at night before going to bed, turn on the slow cooker and wake up to a pre-prepared hot meal.
Parts of a Slow Cooker
Any regular slow cooker has three main parts:
- The inner pot or container,
- The outer casing or body, and
- The airtight lid.
The outer casing of the slow cooker is usually made from metal, and it contains several low-wattage heating coils inside. These heating coils are completely hidden away by the outer casing so that you don’t get burned from the outside; they are also responsible for cooking the food. Most slow cookers are built like a large cauldron or soup pot, and the outer casing makes up the shape of this kitchen appliance.
The inner casing is the part of the slow cooker where you put in all the ingredients. This inner container is also sometimes known as the crock; in most models, you can remove the crock from the slow cooker and serve it directly on the table. The inner container is usually made from glazed ceramic and fits in snugly inside the outer casing of the cooker; the inner container gets heated when the slow cooker is in use, which helps to cook the food.
The final part of a slow cooker is the lid, which is usually transparent, domed and made from glass. The lid is also usually airtight and fits perfectly on top of the slow cooker.
Of the three slow cookers discussed here, each of them has its own features and specialties. They can all be great additions to your kitchen, save your time and efforts, and give you readymade meals. For breakfast, lunch or dinner, you can have your favorite food ready for you when you have prepared the ingredients several hours in advance. The main idea behind having a slow cooker is to come home to your favorite meals at the end of the day, healthy and hearty, without having to order unhealthy takeaway. However, with the more versatile slow cookers these days, you can make more than just soups and stews; you can cook roasts, bake cakes and even prepare your favorite stir fry recipes.