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Slow Cooker Questions

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As I mentioned in another thread, I'm looking for a new something or other for my kitchen. I think that I like the idea of a slow cooker since I work full time and have 2 small children.

During lunch today, I went to Williams-Sonoma (to get a gift for my sister) and I saw this All-Clad slow cooker:

http://www.williams-sonoma.com/produc...

There is another model that is less expensive as well. The sales person was very informative and she told me that the Deluxe model has a cast-aluminum insert, which is good because you can brown the meat on the stove and then just stick the insert back into the unit without dirtying another pot or pan. Sounded logical to me.

I have never used a slow cooker before (although I do many oven braises), and I never thought about the need to brown meat prior to slow cooking in this machine.

So I have a few questions:

-- Is it an advantage to have the cast-aluminum insert for browning? Is browning necessary for most slow cooking?
-- While this is a gift for me, is it necessary to spend so much money on the All-Clad model? If not, what are some that are good?
-- What is the difference between a slow cooker and a pressure cooker? Is one "better" or more versatile than the other?

Thanks for any and all answers!

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  1. I do not have the gorgeous All Clad slow cooker, just a much-cheaper Rival. I always brown meat before putting it in the cooker. This is not, strictly speaking, necessary, but the flavor of the finished dish is much better with browning. Before investing in the All Clad, I think you should remove the insert at the store to see how heavy it is. Being aluminum, it might not stand up to the high heat you'll need to achieve a good sear.

    2 Replies
    1. re: pikawicca

      I wonder if you would want to cook anything with tomatoes in that aluminum pot.

      1. re: yayadave

        The product info says the insert is non-stick. Tomatoes should be fine.

    2. I use my slow cookers a lot (we have one round and one oval, both Rival, I think) and I've rarely needed to brown meat beforehand. I make roasts and stews without browning. I did a pork roast from a recipe that said to brown, but I don't think the end result was all that different because of it.

      This is the oval one I have: http://www.jardenstore.com/product.as... I don't know how it compares to something more high-end, but I'm happy with it.

      5 Replies
      1. re: shellyesq

        Yup, I have a plain ol' Rival one, too, from Target (actually, I have a round and an oval one, but the round gets used more). You can hear debates go on forever on the "necessity" of browning before slow cooking. It does make a difference in the finished dish, mainly for beef, in both looks and taste because you sear the outside to a golden brown. However, I've also dumped meat into the crockpot without browning and it comes out perfectly tasty. A difference? Yes. Necessary? Not in my house.

        Not having owned a high end one, I don't know if it's worth it to spend so much money on one. All I need is a High-Low-Off dial and I'm good.

        If you do want a crockpot and have someone willing to spend money on you, I'd look for one that has clamps on the handles to clamp the lid down. Not while cooking, but if you ever want to transport something to a potluck or anywhere, you'll really enjoy having the lid secured. That's the one thing I wish I had.

        1. re: leanneabe

          I secure the lid of my crockpot with a silicone band looped around the handles. The bands come in different sizes and colors, and are very useful in the kitchen. (They can go in the oven, and are great for trussing birds, tying roasts, etc.)

          1. re: pikawicca

            Where could I find the silicone lid bands to buy?
            bigsmith53

          2. re: leanneabe

            I use large rubber bands, from handles of the pot itself to the knob on the lid. This works great, lid stays on, no mess in transport.

            We have a round Rival and an oval Rival pot. They work great, the browning unit sounds like an expensive no use item. Most crock pot items do not need browning.

            1. re: leanneabe

              I've bought short bunji cords that adapt well for this.

          3. Don't buy the All-Clad... It's listed at $250!!!!! One thing you have to remember is that now more than ever, All-Clad is a VERY well known name in "upscale" kitchen equipment. Advertising works in amazing ways sometimes! As a result, they can charge just about whatever they want. I got a Rival brand for $20 at Target. IT may not look as chic as a stainless All-Clad model, but it spends most of its time in the cabinet anyway. There are dozens of models that are literally hundreds of dollars less. The Crock Pot brand now makes a "One Pot" where you can sear on the stove and then cook it in the usual slow cooker way. If it were me, I would spend your money on good food not a fancy name brand.

            http://www.jardenstore.com/product.as...

            And by all means, if you really want to get a All-Clad machine DO NOT buy it at Williams Sonoma. Look here:

            http://www.amazon.com/All-Clad-99003-...

            1 Reply
            1. re: HaagenDazs

              Well, you might as well buy it at Williams-Sonoma, since the model linked to by HaagenDazs, above, costs the EXACT same price at WS as at Amazon -- it's $149.95 at both places. The more expensive "Deluxe" model that the OP was looking at is listed as "currently unavailable" on Amazon... it's still not cheap, but at least the pricing seems to be steady no matter where you buy it.

            2. Gracious! $250!! Hard to believe that they could ask so much for such a plebeian appliance! Ouch! No shame.
              I have a Rival with some nice features that was about $50 at Wal-Mart. Choice of 4 or 6 hours on Low, 8 or 10 hours on High and then a Keep Warm function if I'm not around when it's done. .I just bought a small 2-qt version for $10.
              These are simple appliances - not much more than a heating pad with a timer. I don't brown most things and haven't noticed a lot of difference on most. Not much trouble to do it in my cast iron skillet which is a snap to clean anyway.
              I think yayadave's concerns about cooking with tomatoes in the aluminum pot are valid. Also, the crockery liners can go in the dishwasher but the aluminum may not fare well.

              A pressure cooker cooks food quickly under pressure in a sealed chamber which makes it cook more quickly. The slow cooker uses low heat to tenderize food in a moist environment. Fast v. slow. Both have their fans and uses. You can afford both if you get a simpler slow cooker.

              1 Reply
              1. re: MakingSense

                You can afford both and a new skillit to brown in if you feel you must.

              2. Rival does make a slow cooker called "Versaware" that comes with stoneware insert that can be used directly on the stove for browning - it runs in the $50 range, and i've had good results with it. the insert can also be microwaved as well as placed in the oven. one bit of advice: mine does have a hot spot, so spraying the insert with some Pam before starting the slowcook cuts down on cleaning time later!

                1. Ok, so I think that I will forego the slow cooker as a birthday gift and just buy an inexpensive model sometime down the line. Maybe I'll just ask for a new handbag instead!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: valerie

                    You can find such inexpensive brands to experiment with in terms of cooking style and time that I vote for the handbag...since you already have nice LC !! Crock pots and pressure cookers can tend to sit between uses that I would start off with the cheapies first and decide if you like them...then go for the more expensive bells and whistles later if you like them.

                    I vote for a nice HANDBAG instead!!!

                  2. First of all, you can brown/sear in a slow-cooker, just put the temp to the high setting and just add the meat and onions or whatever you want to brown. I do it all the time and it is the same as browning stovetop or in the oven, I use all these methods, HOWEVER, instead buy one of the new wondercookers. I just got mine about two weeks ago and it is great. There is a slow cook cycle so you can use it as a slow cooker, but also about 8 other settings ranging from sear, roast and all the high-temp settings down to warm, simmer, slow-cook. The shape and size (8 quarts) is perfect for most anything. I think their website is www.wondercooker.com.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: cheri

                      Cheri...do you use it more than you would a slow cooker? sounds kind of large for just one person, but very versatile!

                    2. I read that info about the All Clad and thought that it seemed like a good feature, but not worth the price. I use my slow cooker, a round Rival 5 quart model with four heat settings, all the time. The best meals are things like pot roast and stew. I have even been known to brown meatballs and put them into the crock pot in tomato sauce to finish cooking instead of watching the stove for a few hours. I go to work and come home to find a cooked meal waiting. I call it my best kitchen gadget.

                      I thing the observations of these other posters are astute: 1) To sear or brown meat, if you believe it is necessary for the dish, a thick pan is a better choice than the aluminum liner. I only brown meatballs because I need to keep them in one piece while cooking and I never brown the pot roast or stews; 2) I find I use tomato based sauce quite frequently, so aluminum is not a good choice unless it is anodized, which the All Clad cooker does not offer. So, save your money. Go to a Linens and Things or Bed, Bath and Beyond, spend 40 to 50 dollars, and enjoy your slow cooker. Please remember that the lids are NOT supposed to fit tightly or they can explode during cooking due to steam pressure built up, so the clamps suggested are ONLY to transport cooked food if you find them, not to be used when cooking. Lids are supposed to be loose so that steam can escape during cooking. Also, be sure to use it on a heat proof surface like a granite countertop or a cookie sheet on a standard counter for safety.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: RGC1982

                        Holding the lid in place should not be a significant feature. You just have to go to Wally World or an Auto Store and buy a couple of bungee cords.

                        1. re: yayadave

                          I've got a Rival and It does just fine. Bought it at Walmart. Al-Clads price is way out of line.

                          1. re: Stack8

                            I'd say get the cheaper model and brown your meat on the stove top. Then deglaze the pan with whatever cooking liquid you're using to get all the tasty brown bits, put everything in the cooker, and proceed as usual. I always brown the meat, but that's just me.

                      2. Holy Cow! Do NOT spend $250 on a crock pot. There are some kitchen appliances out there that would warrant a price tag like that and a crock pot is not one of them! If you have a gift card to WS go for something more chic that you cant get in the Target or Walmarts....if you want the crock pot and have never had one...spend the $30 bucks out of pocket at Target or Walmart first to see if you even like it. IF you like it, it wont hurt to have two! I could think of a thousand things to buy at WS and a crock pot or pressure cooker is NOT one of them!! Good luck and let us know either way what you decide to do!!!

                        1. I have a few thoughts on this.

                          On the one hand I was watching a special on the Food Network this week where they were at a convention featuring new products and they showed this:
                          http://www.westbend.com/catalog.cfm?d...

                          I thought that the griddle feature was cool and that if I were in the market for a crock pot I'd definitely consider this one because I like it's dual functionality.

                          On the other hand, I keep on reading on Chowhound posts that the old crock pots are the best because the temperature settings are lower, the food cooks slower, and it comes out better. I have two ancient crock pots and nothing bad has ever come out of them so maybe there is something to that. I have never seared anything before putting it in. I understand the point of this step but I use the crock pot because it's easy to just dump everything in and through the magic of slow cookery edible gold appears. So to make a long story even longer, I'd consider haunting Goodwill for an old crock pot with the old unsafe food temperature settings and spend the $240 bucks I save on a Le Creuset dutch oven instead.

                          And lastly, get the crock pot disposable liners. I used them for the first time when trailer camping recently and as the Lord is my witness I will never wash a crock pot again. I hope whoever developed these got a big bonus and gets a special place in heaven.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Pate

                            I just put the crock pot insert part into the dishwasher. It nearly always comes out clean. Easy and better for the environment than plastic liners. :-)

                            If you're buying one, just make sure the insert and lid are dishwasher safe.

                          2. I covet the model you mention. Browning meat adds caramelization, and therefore flavor. Think of the difference betweeen crispy browned bits of, say, an oven roasted ham combared with deli ham. I don't know of another model you can brown in, except a weirdly shaped black one called rival versaware, that a friend owns and dislikes. I used a combo steamer, fryer, slow cooker. I wish I'd gotten a larger oval model that would accommodate, say, a pork butt. I love mine. I suggest you invest in a rival smart module, that will switch the slow cooker to a safe "low/warm" because most meats don't need to cook 8-10 hours, in my experience. Amazon has a module for less than $10. Some slow cookers have that capability built in. my favorite slow cooker cookbook is "not your mothers' slow cooker." but your braise recipes can be adapted. good luck!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: torym

                              Do you have a link to the module? I searched for one a few weeks ago and my best conclusion was that these are no longer sold.

                            2. I have a cheap crock pot I seldom use, but a recent thread on using them as a stand-alone stock-pot has me saving bones for homemade chicken stock.
                              dave

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: davebough

                                I don't have a lot of storage space in my kitchen to keep large items, so a cooking gadget had better make sense before I consider it. I may be missing something here, but I can't imagine adding a bulky item like a slow cooker when I have two Le Creuset cast iron Dutch ovens. My large one is a 9-1/2 qt, and I even run out of space in that one, and that's just cooking for 2 people. If I'm braising a couple of chickens or a roast, I always dump in some vegetables, so the pot fills up rather quickly. A lb or two of carrots.... 6-8-10 potatoes... a ton of onions to add flavor - Leftovers of this sort are always wanted.

                                Brown the meat (if desired) on the stove top, then into the oven for all the slow cooking one could want, at whatever temperature one wants. So there I have one piece of cookware that does everything.

                                Oh yea.... now that I think about it I do have a basic slow cooker somewhere in the basement..... I guess I just forgot about it once I discovered low and slow cooking in the enameled cast iron...

                                Slow cooking is awesome! I just don't see the need for a device that does it only on the counter top.

                                1. re: Dave B

                                  It has 2 benefits -
                                  1. it's (in theory) designed to be used unattended. I am willing to leave my crock pot on while I'm at work. I would not do the same with an oven, especially a gas oven.
                                  2. Uses less energy and generates a LOT less residual heat than the oven. I can leave my crock pot on all day in the summer without turning the kitchen into a sauna.

                                  1. re: jzerocsk

                                    jzerocsk - Two very valid points.

                                    The summer heat thing.... yes, very good point - Just speaking from personal experience, I don't make many stews, soups, chili, braised dishes etc., in the warmer months, so it doesn't come into play very often for me. But have used one of my grills a couple of times with the Dutch oven on it for a bunch of hours to do the cooking there rather than having the oven fight with the air conditioner. When I grill-braise I place my pizza stone tiles under the pot to buffer the heat from below. Great results with that.

                                    As I have an electric oven, in the heating season I don't worry about going out for many hours with the oven on at 200 or so... even though a rather inefficient way to heat the house, I know the electricity I'm paying for to heat the oven is at least being reused to heat the house. I feel no safety issue here with an electric oven, but perhaps its different for gas? CO2 accumulation? A bubble-over if the heat was too high could ignite a fire because of the flame?

                                    My reason for not liking to leave small electrical appliances like a slow cooker plugged in is probably unwarranted in the grand scheme of things, and from a beating-the-odds standpoint too. Its a paranoia on my part. But something that happened several years ago has made me very cautious about such appliances. Before I tell the story... yes, I recognize this was probably a fluke... and I may be somewhat irrational in my fear of little electrical things being left plugged in, but here goes...

                                    At the time I was a senior in high school. As was the case most days the house was empty all day, except for the dogs. I was the first one home that day and as soon as I walked in the door I knew something was very wrong. The dogs greeted me not in their normal fashion, but totally freeked out. I smelled it right away. The electric can opener that sat faithfully on the kitchen counter top had just decided to go up in flames that day. The can opener was a black melted mass, now fused into the counter top, the cabinets above it black and burnt. The ceiling in the kitchen was black, and there was a soot film all over everything on the first floor. Insurance took care of the situation, but the fact that the house was nearly burned down from a cheap countertop electrical appliance stays with me to this day.

                                    I don't leave my toaster oven plugged in, nor do I let my girlfriend leave the hair dryer plugged in. I peek inside the vent holes on some of these appliances and I see some very flimsy looking wiring. All the stuff from China now.... I just don't trust it.

                                    Anyway... I can't justify my fears about some electrical things and not others, because I of course leave my stereo, alarm clock, humidifier, etc plugged in..... Just call me an irrational, Dutch oven kind of guy I guess.

                                    1. re: Dave B

                                      Indeed - I would be less concerned about an electric oven. A gas oven has gas and an actual flame and things like that. Nonetheless, I can't bring myself to do it with my electric oven (although I have once or twice left it on and gone to bed!). My electric baseboard radiators are probably a bigger fire hazard than my oven.

                                      Pretty scary about that can opener. That's actually why I said "theoretically" - even if it is designed to be left unattended there's still no guarantee it won't burn down your house, so I can't really find fault with anyone that's not comfortable leaving one running all day. I also unplug a lot of appliances when not using them. Maybe I should unplug my can opener!

                                  2. re: Dave B

                                    As the OP on this thread, the reason that I was interested in a slow cooker was for the reason that Jzerocsk states "it's (in theory) designed to be used unattended. I am willing to leave my crock pot on while I'm at work."

                                    I like(d) the idea of cooking something for the better part of the day and have it ready when I get home.

                                    I have 4 LC's of different sizes and, while I love them dearly, it's just not the same. I can't leave them on my stove for 8 hours.

                                    In the end, I still haven't gotten the slow cooker. I'm still not convinced that I'd use it.

                                    1. re: valerie

                                      Not 'on' the stove, but 'in' the oven. Better cooking results, and safer in several ways, I think.

                                      1. re: Dave B

                                        Wouldn't leave them in the oven unattended for that long either.

                                2. I have 3 crockpots....all Rival, and none costing over $50. The Smartpot (and it's not very smart is 6 qts, a 4 qt, and a 1.5 qt that we keep in the trailer. I don't think I would make it through tomorrow without the crockpot. The stuffing will be cooked in the 4 qt pot, 45 minutes on high, several hours on low. No need to take up room in the oven when the turkey comes out. There are days during Fall and Winter that I love the frozen entrees that go right in the crockpot....chicken noodle soup is my favorite.

                                  1. Resurrecting this thread to ask:
                                    Should I be concerned about *potential* lead on my Rival 6 qt. white ceramic crock pot insert? It was made in China.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: Gio

                                      Gio, glad you asked that question, something I am wondering also though I haven't purchased a slow cooker yet. Had one for years, used it a lot, and now looking to buy one but feel that they aren't as well made as they used to be (flimsy lids with plastic, etc).

                                      I am looking to get a smaller model, 3 or 3.5 quart, but it seems impossible to find these models at an actual store. I'd rather see it in person before buying but if anyone has recommendations I'd love to hear!

                                      Thanks.

                                      1. re: poptart

                                        Hi Poptart....I found the following on line yesterday from the Dietary Management Assn.:
                                        "Following a foodborne illness outbreak (lead poisoning) affecting a California family in 1971, the FDA tightened restrictions on these dangerous minerals, which were cropping up in ceramics imported from other countries. The minerals were in the pigments used in glazes. By all reports, this is not a concern today due to FDA control.

                                        Generally, crock pots cook foods at low temperatures, ranging from 170-80°F. Prolonged cooking time compensates for the relatively low temperatures, resulting in safe food, according to the USDA. The USDA provides several food safety guidelines for slow cookers:

                                        Begin with defrosted meat (not frozen).
                                        Cut meat into small pieces (i.e. do not cook a whole roast in a crock pot).
                                        Fill the cooker one-half to two-thirds full. Less or more may result in unsafe temperature management.
                                        Add water or other liquid, and always choose high-moisture recipes for crock pot cookery. Steam is part of the secret to biological safety during prolonged cooking.
                                        Although isolated occurrences of chemical-related foodborne illness have been reported in the US, cookware is generally safe.
                                        http://www.dmaonline.org/fppublic/con...

                                        Also, there is a simple but specific lead a "Household Lead Testing Kit". one can buy: http://www.leadcheck.com/LeadCheckSwa...

                                        1. re: Gio

                                          Thanks for that info, Gio. Good to know the low cooking temps help.

                                    2. I have been waiting for a product like this. I can brown and sauté the night before, put entire pot in refridge, wake up, pop it in the cooker, set the timer... and see you when I get home. Even if I decide to go out to dinner, not to worry... its just keeping it warm. YOU can't beat that. I can cook pot roast, chicken cacciatore, lamb stew (Irish and Italian), any pasta sauce, meatballs and sausage, roasted chicken soup, glaze a ham..(let ham cool, put on glaze and pop under broiler) options are unlimited. Cook pork, chicken or beef for Spanish tortillas, tacos. Cook two meats together, chicken for Saturday, pork for Sunday. I think you get the picture. This is going to save me tons of time and money especially on weekends when I golf.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Onepotmeals

                                        A few months ago I decided that I wanted to use a slow cooker again. I figured that my old Hamilton Beach from the 70's or 80's was kaput (which never stopped me from keeping it in much needed space in my pantry) and so out I started reaching a new one.

                                        After much pondering (yeah... you all know what I mean), I decided on the All Clad Slow Cooker with the ceramic insert ($149.00 minus 20% at BBB.) The ceramic insert was very very heavy and I was afraid to get it near the sink for fear of cracking it. My husband felt the same way about it. It worked beautifully for three or four times and then died on me - right at the start of a beautiful a lamb daube. Back it went to Bed and Bath and then the procedure started all over again.

                                        I decided on the cheap Hamilton Beach Stay/Go, about $30.00. I have had great results with it. I couldn't find it in a store, and so I ordered it from Target.com, but resented paying about $18 (?) for shipping. Also, I prefer to buy at a store rather than online. Walmart has the same model in stainless, but I refuse to shop there even though it is very close to our vacation home. None close enough to San Francisco to make a trip worthwhile.

                                        Then I decided that I wanted one for our vacation home, sins of someone with two kitchens.

                                        Rather than pay for shipping from Target.com, I basically started the whole thinking, researching, blah, blah, blah all over again.thing. I decided to give All Clad another chance and went with the Williams Sonoma cast aluminum $$$$$$ model. It is light, ridiculously expensive, and cleans up easily. I do like it, but don't think it is worth $249.00. I have browned some things in the insert, but if it calls for browing more than one ingredient, veggies, meat etc.. or if the meat is too much to brown in one batch, you have to take it out of the insert and use a plate anyway until everything is ready to go into the cooker. If I have too much meat or chicken for the insert to brown all at once, I fine that sometimes it is faster and easier to use a frying pan too. So truthfully, being able to use the insert on the stove isn't a great advantage to me.

                                        I do love that it cooks well and the light weight insert is easy to manage and to wash.

                                        P.S. After all of this, I finally pulled my old Hamilton Beach out of the pantry, dusted it off, tested the temperature and have used it a few times when I want to make two batches at one time. I REALLY REALLY had intended to toss it after over 20 years of inactivity, but drat, at the last minute it saved itself.

                                        I never leave the slow cookers unattended as cooking speed varies and recipes that say will take 8 plus hours, are often done in 6 and visa versa. I have left in on overnight for soup. I do leave the house for a few hours when it is on, so that part is convenient - no more watching the stove for a hyper-active simmer.

                                        So, if you are counting (and my husband is), I now have THREE slow cookers, all cooking about the same!

                                      2. I finally received the slow cooker. I will say, it is the cadillac of all slow cookers. The cast iron alum pot is fantastic. It browns without burning, and it is super non stick. And yes, browning the meat makes a huge difference in the flavor. It intensifies the flavor in the sauce/gravy. I just made Arroz Con Sausage tonight, delish. I cooked it half way on the stove, then the remainder in the slow cooker, then kept it on warm till my husband got home late. He went crazy, it was sooo good. Rice was perfect. I never cooked rice in my favorite pressure cookers. Rice is not about the speed, but how you cook it. Now I can truly make one pot meals with this slow cooker. Specifically what I like, is that I can do all the prep, get it set up and put it in the slow cooker to finish. I am not staying in the kitchen the entire time on my feet, exhausted till it’s done. I start dinner earlier and go about my day. BTW, the high temp is a very low simmer. I cooked 1 ½ inch thick pot roast with orange glaze, in 2 hours on high. You don’t need to add as much liquid as you would for a pressure cooker. So the time to reduce the gravy was minimal. Did I say I love this pot?

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Onepotmeals

                                          How do you make your arroz con sausage? Sounds good!

                                        2. i can recommend "not your mother's slow cooker" http://www.amazon.com/Your-Mothers-Sl... for more modern, less "add a can of condensed soup and cook the c**p out of it" recipes.

                                          Slow cookers are well worth the cost in Florida, for keeping the kitchen cool and using WAY less energy. I think that all-clad model is amazing looking, but you can spend $50 and get a perfectly serviceable slow cooker. I prefer oval. Cook's Illustrated recommends "Crock-Pot Touchscreen Slow Cooker." You don't need a Mercedez to get to the grocery store. A Sonata will get you there for less money.

                                          Pressure cookers create pressure inside the (sealed) pan, lowering the boiling point, cooking food faster. You can make a lamb stew or beef broth that would take all day on the stove top, in just an hour in a pressure cooker. Don't buy a cheap one, and never fill above the "fill line." for safety sake.

                                          Slow cookers are slow. Pressure cookers are fast. I have both, but I use the slow cooker more often.

                                          1. I purchased a Hamilton Beach with transport lid and the ceramic is so badly cracked after only 10 uses I have to throw it out for saftey issues.
                                            I am looking into the one from william sonoma because I think the cast aluminum is better for the health of my family and I think that when you can afford quality get it.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: dannysjunk

                                              Dannysjunk, we went through several different cheaper slow cookers before I broke down and bought the ceramic insert version of the Williams-Sonoma. The key is, it doesn't cook HOT. That's the whole idea! I had cheaper ones, even with a 'low' setting, that would have the chow bubbling away after an hour or so. That's NOT what they are supposed to do :). I suppose the aluminum insert version would be nice if you want to brown in the darn thing, but I do that in an ancient, seasoned, cast iron dutch oven over gas, then deglaze the contents into the ceramic slow cooker, which I think works better in the long run [though it requires wiping out the cast iron oven ...