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Slow Cooker Questions

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!