Are you in the market for a new slow cooker? If you have had one before, then you’d probably agree that this must be one of the best cooking inventions of all time. Mix up your ingredients and seasonings and place everything in the pot to simmer or stew for hours. (But don’t forget to turn it on – I did that once and it was quite a not-so-pleasant surprise when I returned home.) And at the end of the day after work, errands, etc. you’ve got a delicious meal to serve – with no mess and very few dishes.
But did you know that not all slow cookers are created equal? It’s true. Many of them look almost identical, however, they don’t cook the same. And the one you choose could have an impact on how your foods turn out. Let’s look at some of the top features you should consider when choosing your next slow cooker.
Sustain Low Temperatures
Ideally, your next slow cooker should be able to maintain a low temperature for at least six hours. What we’ve discovered is that many of today’s slow cookers they are all across the board when it comes to their “low” temperatures – with differences of as much as 30 degrees. Which means, they can burn your food or dry it out if you aren’t careful. Ideally, you do not want your slow cooker to reach temperatures above 200 degrees after six hours of cooking.
Programable Cooking Times
Have you ever left food cooking in your slow cooker too long? Perhaps the recipe called for six hours of cooking, but you’ll be at work for eight hours. Even in a slow cooker, you can overcook your food, especially if your slow cooker is one on the higher temperature spectrum. However, there are programmable slow cookers. You can set it for a specific number of hours, then it switches to warm until you are ready to eat.
Another important slow cooker feature you should look for is one that cooks foods evenly on both low and high settings. If your slow cooker has hot spots (especially around the heating elements) it could burn certain dishes, especially more delicate ones. Some slow cookers have internal thermostats that monitor the temperature, or they are specially insulated for even cooking.
Large Enough Capacity
Slow cookers come in several sizes, but in general, it’s best to look for a larger one. You can cook a smaller dish in a large slow cooker, but you can’t cook a large dish in a small one. So, if you choose a four-quart slow cooker, you limit the size and type of meals you can make in it. It’s better to purchase one that is six to eight quarts.
Can Sear or Brown Foods
Not all slow cookers have this feature, and while it isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, the ability to sear or brown foods can save you both time and dishes to clean. Many recipes that call for meat or aromatics recommend browning or searing first before slow cooking. You can do this in a hot skillet. Or, you can use a slower cooker, if it comes with this feature.
Sounds an Alarm When Food is Cooked
Do you use the alarm on your oven frequently? It’s a nice tool to have to remind you when your food is done. And the same goes for slow cookers. Even if you note the time that your dish will be ready, you could still easily get sidetracked. After all, the dish won’t be ready until hours later. It’s easy to forget or lose track of time.
Easy to Read Control Panel
Believe it or not, many slow cookers have complicated control panels that can take awhile to figure out, especially when it comes to setting times, alarms, etc. And while it is good to find a slow cooker with lots of “bells and whistles”, it is equally important that you can actually use these features. So, make sure the one you choose has a control panel that you can operate.
Handles That Don’t Heat Up
As the food heats up, so can the slow cooker. And if you aren’t careful, you could burn yourself when reaching for the handles or lid. So, another feature to look for is heat conductivity. Can you lift the lid without an oven mitt? Can you grab the insert by its handles? If not, you’ll need to make sure to have an oven mitt on hand or wait until it cools to prevent burns.
Cleans Up Easily
Do you remember the old-timey slow cookers that were all one piece? You couldn’t put them in the dishwasher or even submerge them in water. They were a hassle to clean! Today’s slow cookers, in general, are less time-consuming to clean. However, some are better than others. While most modern slow cookers do have removable inserts, not all of them are dishwasher safe.
So, if you don’t like washing dishes by hand, make sure that the one you buy can go in your dishwasher. Additionally, some slow cookers have non-stick inserts that wipe up easily. Or, you can always put a plastic liner in your slow cooker.
There is a wide range of prices when it comes to slow cookers. You can find plenty of them for under $100. But there are also ones that cost as much as $250. More expensive doesn’t necessarily equate to better. Not every slow cooker is going to have every feature. Even the more expensive ones lack features that others don’t. The key when searching for a slow cooker is to find one that includes the features you need most at a price that falls within your budget.
Fortunately, there are plenty of choices available. When you find one that you are interested in, read its specifications to see what features are included. You can also read reviews on Amazon or other sites to see what other customers are saying about them. Reading reviews can give you hints on things like even cooking or heat conductivity that you may not be able to find in the product description.