Am I better off with a dutch oven or a slow cooker?
Ok- I can spend $15 on a hamilton beach slowcooker ( ie crockpot) or spend $50-75 on a dutch oven- help me
1) Can the same dishes be prepared in both?
2) Which is the better investment?
3) Do electric slow-cookers run up the utility bill?
Thanks for your heartfelt advice!!!!!
Don't let the naysayers get you down. I have a basic 2 setting slow cooker and have always found it adequate. Sure, I wouldn't mind more control and the ability to change the capacity, but it does just fine for the bulk of things I use it for.
You can definitely get a good dutch oven for much less than that- look at TJ Maxx, Home Goods or Marshalls if they have those near you because you can get some awesome stuff at amazing prices.
If you really only had to pick one... probably the dutch oven. Many great braising recipes start with browning the meat, which you can't do in a slow cooker. Of course you could do it in another pan and do twice the amount of cleanup. Also many of those recipes do have you stir, or add ingredients, which is tougher to do with a slow cooker because it takes longer for the cooker to come back up to temperature.
OTOH there's nothing that beats coming home after a long day to the lovely smell of a slow cooker meal, ready to serve. It almost feels like free food, because there's usually next to no prep, especially if you do it the night before and set it to cook in the morning.
As for running up the utility bill, I wouldn't imagine so, but I honestly don't know. If you're comparing the energy used for a slow cooker recipe to a dutch oven recipe, I'd have to think it wouldn't be much different. Probably more for the dutch oven because you're heating the entire oven vs just the small space you heat for a slow cooker.
The 6.5 qt Tramontina enameled cast iron Dutch oven, at Walmart, is under $50 and a Cooks Illustrated best buy. An enameled DO is a better investment than the less expensive black uncoated cast iron (because acidic foods cooked in the latter have a metal taste), although there's a place for both in the fully-equipped kitchen. The DO is more useful than the slow cooker. You can get a very basic, two-setting small slow cooker for $15 but it won't be very useful. Anything worthwhile would cost at least as as much as the more-versatile Tramontina.
You can get Dutch ovens for way less than $50-75. Lodge has them. Also Walmart has their own private label. And I don't think I've seen a $15 slow cooker in a long time but maybe I'm not looking. More like $30-40. I have Dutch ovens and a slow cooker but if I could only have one, it would be the DO. I can't think of anything I can prepare in the slow cooker that I can't also do in the DO but with more supervision. Even an inexpensive DO should last ages but then my inexpensive slow cooker does also. Re electric bill, I'm only guessing that the slow cooker uses less than the stove/oven since it's heating a smaller space.