Beverley has a degree in science and additional certifications in nutrition and aromatherapy. She's published on and offline.
Slow cooking was quite popular in the 1970s. Today, with its revival, customers have many more choices than ever before. You can buy manual, programmable or digital, and portable. You can choose a pot that is non-stick with Teflon coating, stoneware, or ceramic. There are options in terms of liners, and there is a choice of lids, as well. There are still advantages and disadvantages with this type of meal preparation, however, and with the various appliances themselves.
- Save time. Put your ingredients in a slow cooker in the morning, let it cook all day, and return home in the evening to a hot, ready-to-eat, one-pot meal.
- Eat healthier. High heat and temperatures do two things to food: break down their nutrients (antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals) and create unhealthy chemical compounds that have been related to diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and renal complications. Cooking on low heat or temperature allows the food to maintain its nutrients and dangerous chemicals are not produced. Slow cooking also preserves the freshness and flavors of meals nicely. Your food does not overcook or burn.
- Save money: Ingredients used to make the best slow cooker meals (stews, soups, rice, and casseroles) are usually inexpensive. In addition, meals can be stretched beyond a day. Finally, you save money on gas or electricity because you are using one pot.
- Condensation. The condensation of steam on closed lids causes water to drip back down into your meal all day, diluting your spices and flavors—leaving you with bland food. If you are cooking hydrated vegetables such as tomatoes, it can get really soupy when you are not even making soup.
- Overpowering flavor. Another concern is the overpowering flavor left by fresh spices such as thyme and cinnamon after they have been simmering for hours. It is best to use less than what the recipe calls for.
- Doesn't work for every recipe. Certain recipes are not suited to slow cooking in a slow cooker. Recipes that require large cuts of meat for instance or any ingredient needing browning before cooking and recipes with a lot of different ingredients are usually not worth it.
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How to Choose a Slow Cooker
Before purchasing a slow cooker, consider the following questions:
- Personal or particular needs. Will you be cooking for one or more? This will determine the size of pot you purchase. A three- to four-quart pot makes a meal for two people.
- The size of your microwave in case you want to reheat leftovers without transferring it. You should also determine the size of your refrigerator for storage.
- Frequency of use. Will you be using your appliance often? Then you want one that is sturdy, dependable, and reliable.
- Will you be cooking meals in it for home consumption only or do you plan on transporting meals to pot lucks and holiday parties as well?
- Would you prefer a removable pot or a single cooker and liners for easy cleaning?
- How about a stoneware pot or one with non-stick Teflon coating?
- What kind of lid best suits you: glass; hinged; a latch for safe and easy travel, or a domed one for better heat entrapment?
- Would you prefer to program the temperatures yourself or will simple settings of low and high do?
- Do you want it to have a defrost feature?
- Budget. What can you afford? Slow cookers range from $13 to $150.
The following specific issues should also be considered:
- Stoneware pots may crack or break. They are also heavier to lift and clean.
- Non-stick Teflon may wear and flake over time, leaving you with a mixture of delicious food and possibly adverse chemicals.
- Some brands may be more temperature-sensitive than others and will cook your food faster.
Think you're ready to start researching the perfect model? The more popular brands include Rival Crock-Pot, Hamilton Beach, Farberware, Cuisinart, West Bend, and Kitchen-Aid. Choose your slow cooker wisely.
What do you think?
© 2012 Beverley Byer