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Crockpots: The Good and The Bad

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i'm thinking about getting a crockpot because i went over to a friends the other day and her father fed me some kind of bean and ham soup/stew and it was so good. he said he made it in crock pot and that that was the only way to get the soup so creamy and the meat so tender. I dont have much experience with stews but now, i think it could be a great, time saving and nutritious way to make meals on the weekdays. (i usually splurge on the weekend by cooking an elaborate meal or eating out). do any of you have crockpots, what are the pros and cons?

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  1. I LOVE my crockpot! I recently got an oval Rival after my older round one died. . It really is great for week-day meals.

    Braised short-ribs are the BOMB

    2 Replies
    1. re: recordkitten

      Do you happen to have a recipe for braised short ribs? I'd love to try that!

      1. re: ITurnedOutTV

        Do a seach on the Home Cooking board, you'll find some good recipies for short ribs.

        Some using the crockpot.

    2. Great little investment. I'm not sure how much choice you have anymore (meaning I think they all come like this now) but make sure you get one with a removable crock. The only con for me is leaving an electric appliance on in my kitchen when I'm gone.

      1. You must either follow specific crock pot recipes, or adjust your own to compensate for the fact that liquids do not evaporate in a crock pot as they do in stovetop or oven cooking. If you do not reduce the amount of liquid in your recipes, most dishes will come out too watery.

        Also, even though it's tempting to just throw everything into the crock pot at once, building and layering flavours are still important for good results. Do take the extra time (and pan) to brown your meats/poultry and sweat your aromatics (onions, carrots, celery, etc.) before proceeding with the crock pot recipe.

        2 Replies
        1. re: FlavoursGal

          hmmm, how does one "sweat" an aromatic?

          1. re: fooddiva

            When used as a culinary term, sweating means to cook something, usually aromatic vegetables such as onions, carrots, celery (a classic "mirepoix"), and/or garlic, in butter and/or other fat at a low heat without browning.

            This process serves to soften these ingredients and release their flavours. Onions (minced, diced or chopped) that are sweated become translucent. To prevent browning, many people cover the pan while the vegetables are sweating.

        2. Heartily agree with both of the above recs. Check out your local garage sale or Value Village store - I got mine (with a removable crock) for $5 10 yrs ago at a garage sale and it's still going strong :-) FYI - there are quite a few new crock pot cook books out there that look interesting and are packed with ideas.

          1. I think their strong suit is soups, stews, sauces, and braises. All the recomondations so far posted are on target.
            get one with a removable crock
            reduce the amount of liquid in your recipes
            brown your meats/poultry and sweat your aromatics (onions, carrots, celery, etc.) before proceeding with the crock pot recipe.
            there are quite a few new crock pot cook books

            1. In case you're willing to consider slow cookers as well as crockpots, I have the westbend versatility 6 qt slow cooker and it has proved to be an excellent performer. The pot is removable from the heating platform and can be used on the stovetop. This is great because you can brown your meat or sweat your aromatics directly in the the slow cooker pot, so you don't have to dirty multiple pans. I got this model after America's Test Kitchen recommended it, and it's been awesome for meat dishes as well as chilis, stews, beans, etc.

              Another thing I'll put a plug in for is the Rival Smart-Part timer. My slow cooker doesn't have a timer (it's only downfall), so I got the Smart-Part (you plug your slow cooker or crock pot into the timer, and the timer into the wall) and I've been quite satisfied with it. It allows me to set the slow cooker up when I leave the house at 8am, and come home to a meal that isn't overcooked and is still hot.

              Here's the model slow cooker I have:

              http://www.amazon.com/West-Bend-84716...

              The Timer:

              http://www.amazon.com/Rival-327298-SP...

              3 Replies
              1. re: litchick

                litchick, crock pots and slow cookers are the same thing, "Crock-Pot" being a name that Rival (now owned by Sunbeam) trademarked way back. Consequently, all manufacturers aside from Rival use the "slow cooker" term.

                1. re: FlavoursGal

                  I always think of crock pots as the round thingies with the ceramic inserts, and slow cookers as the metal oval ones. Perhaps I am alone in this.

                2. re: litchick

                  I really love my West Bend Versatility too. Doubles as a pan for the stove, which in my small kitchen is an excellent quality. Easy to clean, nonstick. Great French Onion Soup. It's also awesome to be able to start on the stove for browning and just move it right over to the platform... which also doubles as a griddle if you like, although I haven't really used it for that.

                  Thanks for the rec for the Smart Part!!!

                3. Look for one that has a timer on it, I leave the house at 7:45 and don't get home until 7-8PM, most things are reduced to mush from 12 hours of cooking. Being able to start later in the day or switch to warm at a certain time would be a good thing.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Scrapironchef

                    My slow cooker is a very basic model, but I just plug it into an inexpensive household timer--the kind you use to switch lamps on and off automatically--in order to start it after I leave and stop it before I get home. Works well.

                  2. another plus for the crock pot is that it makes a great "chafing dish" when you have a party. you can keep "saucy" things nice and hot...like meatballs/sausages in sauce, baked beans, etc.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: mke2lax

                      For safe food handling, though, make sure to heat the contents to the boiling point in a regular pot and then transfer to the crock pot to keep warm.

                      1. re: mke2lax

                        Don't forget about hot cider and mulled wine for parties, too!

                      2. Fuggeddibout recipes. Crockpots are great for throwing stuff (yeah, yeah, with a bit of thought) in and getting a new dish each time. Five minutes prep max every time.

                        1. There is a fantastic cookbook with a silly name: Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook that I found at my library. It is a great reference on different styles and heating patterns and has much more than just the recipes. I highly recommend the book if you are thinking of getting a slow cooker or want to expand your repertoire with it.

                          1. I highly agree with Flavor Gal (et al) about needing to brown meat, use the mirepoix (for just about everything) and do the prep time to get a good result.

                            What I have: At this exact moment, I don't. I had an old 70s model that just cracked, and I just ordered a new Vita-Clay 5-qt one from kitchenemporium dot com. The pot part is natural clay, which I hope will be good. I researched the new ones a bit and it sounded like most (including the high-end ones like KitchenAid and Cuisinart) have lead in the ceramic glaze that can leach into the food - I think Hamilton Beach was the one that was lead-free.

                            In the meantime, I have been using a "fake crock pot" - making stews and pot roasts and stuff in the oven in a covered soup pot at a low temperature. It's worked fine, but I'm looking forward to my new toy arriving.

                            1. apple butter in the crock pot. A M A Z I N G.

                              1. I've been cooking in crockpots since I was in college without any other heat source!!! My advice:

                                1) You can only achieve high-quality flavor by browning vegetables/meat in a pan before throwing them in the pot. Slow-cooked ingredients ultimately taste like they were slowly simmered, which doesn't produce world-class results, even for soups and stews.

                                2) Stick to soups, stews, beans. Please do not try to cook game hens, chicken, etc. as the cookbooks tell you to do. This is not the right cooking method for those ingredients.

                                3) Try placing vegetables on top of the stewing liquid in a "hobo pack." For instance, if you are making a stew with boneless skinless chicken thighs ( a great idea!!!), brown the thighs, and place them in the crockpot with broth, seasonings. Then place the vegetables in a package of tinfoil on top of the liquid, cover, and turn on the device. This way, the vegetables, don't get too overcooked, but remain more moderately steamed. They can be mixed in at the end.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: jono37

                                  I never heard/saw that "hobo pack" idea before. It makes wonderful sense.

                                  1. re: yayadave

                                    When I'm making a cholent in the crock pot, I always place the potatoes on top, and spoon a bit of the hot cooking liquid over top before putting the lid on. The potatoes come out browned and almost crusty, with a perfect texture.

                                2. I love mine. I have two Rival stainless babies - a 4qt and a 6qt, depending on what I'm making. I'm making our favorite roast beef tomorrow for a Italian beef sandwich night. My crock pot usage has skyrocketed since having kids and working a full time job.

                                  -Buy one with a timer and cooking settings. My larger model has 4-6-10 hour cook times, and once time is up the cooker sets itself to WARM.
                                  -Reynolds, the foil people, make slow cooker liners. USE THEM!!!! They will help keep the crock clean. Cleaning it can be a bear sometimes.
                                  -Someone mentioned layering. This is important, whether the recipe mentions it or not. The general order of food placement is: meat--dense veggies(potatoes, carrots)--thin veggies--liquid/spices

                                  1. I agree w/ FlavourGal, too. Crockpots don't make cooking easier--it's just done when you get home. A standard: I braise the meat, cook the mirepoix, deglaze w/ white and, add everything (tomatoes, broth, beans, whatever) in the crockpot. The best thing I've made lately is coq au vin. It takes time but it tastes good and is home when we come in the door at 7pm. Ours came with a tiny crockpot which seemed pretty useless at the time. But, we've used it lately to make fondue and it's perfect. Make chocolate or cheese up on the stove, pour into the crockpot and it keeps it the perfect temperature.

                                    You can also use the crockpot to cook/warm if you're having a lot of people over and don't have enough oven or stove room. Bread pudding is simple in one. Lasagna also turns out pretty well (not as good as baked but again if you're walking in the house at 7pm...).

                                    The bad? It's seasonal. I only use it in warm weather and it's pretty big to store.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: chowser

                                      The small one might be useful with scented oils or potpourri.

                                    2. I only use my crockpot about once or twice a year, but every time I do, without fail, I ask myself "why don't I use this more often"? Well, the big reason is that the majority of the dishes do not allow for just the assemblance of the raw ingredients in the proper order. Most of the recipes require one to brown the meat first and sweat any of the aromatics before assembling in the pot. If I'm going to be doing all of that, I might as well make the dish myself. In other words, I dont' know how much time I am really saving.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: rosielucchesini

                                        I am with you on that. My slow cooker is downstairs and will come up for a party if I don't want to use a fancier chafing dish. I bought it in a moment of "OMG what am i going to do I've shattered my cooktop" madness the first of the year. I prefer to use my LeCreuset and a low oven. I can brown in the LC pot and add the other ingredients put it in my oven and off I go. My oven also has the ability to turn itself on at a certain point if I wish to delay some of the cooking. I just wish it could turn itself off. My mother had one with that function a long time ago. It was helpful for a busy teacher with 4 kids to feed.

                                        1. re: rosielucchesini

                                          You can indeed make it take just as long to prep as if you were doing it the "conventional way." I rarely bother browning the meat or sweating any vegetables. I just do all the chopping and prep the night before, get up in the morning and throw it all in the pot. It always turns out great, and it really is a time saver in that regard...come home from work at 7 and have dinner on the table at 7:10. I save doing things the better/correct way for weekends.