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Should I get a slow cooker...and what brand?

I frequently make soups and stews during the winter months. My Le Creuset Dutch ovens work perfectly for this task, but require a bit of checking every half hour or so to be sure that nothing's scorching or about to boil over. No big deal, but recently have been thinking about getting a slow cooker? Would there be any significant benefits of doing so? Which slow cooker do you like?

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  1. As you noted slow cookers don't need to be checked all the time, you mix your ingredients, turn it on and you're good to go. Pretty much any soup or stew recipe is well-suited for the slow cooker--during the week you can put stuff together beforehand, even the night before, then in the morning put the insert into the element and turn it on, and when you get home from work there's dinner. I use mine regularly all year round, and there's dozens of books and websites with recipes. I have always owned Rival Crock Pots, the most basic version. I have it hooked up to an appliance timer so if I have a recipe that doesn't need to go a long time I can set the timer to turn it on. My only warning is that new slow cookers tend to run hot and you'll see recipes that call for, say, a whole chicken to cook for 8-10 hours. In a new slow cooker you'll have a heap of mushy meat and bones if you let it go that long. My rule of thumb is to take two hours off the least amount of hours at minimum. I've gotten great whole chicken in my Crock Pot in a little over four hours.

    1. Slow cookers make life easier and can be had for as little as $15, so why not get one. The benefit is freedom.

      Don't fret about which one to get, just get a cheap one. The one I use most is a medium size (3 1/2 quart I think, but am not sure), white, hi/lo setting, $15 on sale.

      If you end up using it a lot, and wish it had a browning function or a digital timer, then I'd recommend searching out the exact model to fit your needs. If you use it so much you're looking at it daily, you might want to get a prettier one.

      I have a huge one with a timer, stainless steel, yada yada, and I use it maybe once a year. It's too big, too heavy, and the timer has been useless because I'm never away from the house when the food is ready. I have a tiny one that I thought would be good for small batches of things, but it gets too hot, likes to boil and spit and make a mess--only thing it's good for is superbowl food set on warm.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mlou72

        I have two Rivals. One is large (not sure of exact size) that I use all the time. A few years back my mother offered me a smaller one that she never used and I was about to say thanks but no thanks when I thought about the frequency of parties I host or attend where superbowl type food is served. I use it for queso, artichoke dips, really any kind of dip you want to keep hot. I even brought it on a camping trip recently (we car camp with electricity and water supplied to each site).

      2. This may be overkill for you, but if you entertain it's a nice way to keep 3 dishes at serving temperature:

        http://www.amazon.com/Sensio-13408-Be...

        1 Reply
        1. re: ferret

          These are available for only $40 from Sam's Club - a BARGAIN!

        2. Forgot you asked about brand... only one my mother or I have had is Rival Crock Pot. Haven't had one break on either of us yet. And the only reason she threw out her old orange one was because I told her the new ones had a removable crock. Hamilton Beach makes some really interesting ones though, like locking lid for travel, or removable stovetop safe crock for browning.

          Perfect time of the year to buy one, they'll be on sale through the holidays. I'd never pay full price for one, just wait for a sale.

          I was going to suggest getting an oval shaped one, but it looks as if most are now. My mom used to have a tall cylindrical one, it was hard to fit many cuts of meat or a whole chicken.

          Let me just suggest looking online at Walmart and Sears to get you started, solely because they seem to have a gigantic selection.

          A slow cooker needs to be 1/2 to 3/4 full to work properly. For me, 4 qt. oval works the best for everyday; enough for 2-3 people plus leftovers for 3-4 days depending on what I've cooked. My 6 qt. is for massive roasts or a lot of company.

          2 Replies
          1. re: mlou72

            Excellent advice about the new crocks running hot. I found out about that the hard way. You idea about the appliance timer is an excellent work around.

            1. re: mlou72

              I'm still using my Mom's 1970s orange/tangerine Crock Pot. She passed it on to me when she bought on with removable crock. I have used it Reginald for about 20 years and she did before so the sure last. Nothing fancy to bust.

            2. I have a Cuisinart. I bought a great cookbook for slow cookers: Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger. You might get a hold of a copy before buying a cooker, just to get an idea of the great things you can do with it. I imagine a library has a copy; or you can examine it at a bookstore. If you buy a cooker, you'll probably want to buy the book too. Hensperger's books are not simply a collection of recipes, but compendiums of information, tips and additional companion recipes.

              I have made several recipes, and have consulted it multiple times.

              I think slow cooking is something everyone should at least try a few times. I hope you have fun.

              2 Replies
              1. re: sueatmo

                Sueatmo - do you have the Cuisinart that browns meat? I saw one in the W-S catalog that is tempting me. We buy our beef by the half so I have lots of roasts and such to deal with.

                1. re: cleobeach

                  OK, I had to go check my manual! No, it doesn't brown meat. I wouldn't do that anyway though. I would always want to brown meat in my CI skillet, adding the ingredients to a warmed up slow cooker. I have 4 temp levels, including HIgh.

                  If you want to do mainly roasts, consider an oval shape, and how big you want the cooker to be.

              2. I use mine when I don't want to have to check on my stovetop Dutch oven, or even if I have to leave the house. Slow cookers are very convenient.

                I would spend enough money to make sure that you have a couple of features, including at least two settings, an automatic "warming" cycle when the cooking is done, variable time settings, and at least enough volume that you are not underfilling (less than half) or overfilling (leave at least one inch) at the top. Mine is a Rival 4 quart that cost about $35 new.

                I did have some problems with the cover knob disintegrating, so if you can find a cover made of all glass that is best. I have actually purchased two replacements for mine in nearly ten years, and the all glass option has lasted, as there is no plastic handle to melt.

                I also have a few very inexpensive smaller ones, and I don't tend to cook in those, but heat queso or barbecue sauces instead. The temps on those are harder to control, and the volume is even too small for my small family (3).

                I was looking at fancier models that allow browning in the insert rather than a separate pan, and also at a pressure cooker (Cook's Choice) that allows browning and even works as a slow cooker in addition to a pressure cooker, but there is no real reason for me to spend any more money. I simply brown things in a separate pan when needed, Not too much trouble to wash one more pot, and it helps me avoid upgrading to a $100 to $150 model.

                1. I have three and my favorite is the Hamilton Beach 3 in 1 because it has 3 different sized bowls and is so versatile. In fact I have considered getting rid of other 2 6 quart ones and getting another 3 in 1 one to replace them. Only reason I haven't is that my 6 quart models are programmable.

                  1. CI did a test in August, I believe. They highly recommended the Crock-Pot Touchscreen, model # SCVT650-PS, which is about $130.

                    Here are some of the tester's comments: The control panel is extremely easy to use, and the timer counted up to 20 hours, even on high. Sunday gravy thickened to the correct consistency, pot roast was tender and sliceable, and onions caramelized perfectly.

                    I'd also highly recommend their newest book, Slow Cooker Revolution which explains the pitfalls to avoid when converting recipes to slow cooker format. And the recipes in the book have consistently been winners for my family of eaters. It kind of gives you a whole new way of thinking outside the box with the slow cooker. And I need more of that, since I have to work all day. I LOVE using my slow cooker!

                    1. I have not browned meat for a slow cooker recipe in 40 years. I have a generic recipe: start with a dry crock, put 1/2 cup flour in it, mix in dry ingredients depending on what you're making (curry powder, garlic powder, paprika, dry onion soup mix, salt) then carefully stir in an 8-oz can of tomato sauce so it doesn't lump. Then stir in your liquid, again, depending: water, tomato juice, stock, wine, beer) then add your solids (cut up beef, lamb, chicken breast, vegetables---chopped onion, whole onions and carrots and potatoes for stew, sweet red pepper for goulash, a bag of frozen peas for curry, mushrooms for Beef Burgundy or Beef in Beer, sauerkraut and potatoes to go with pork, etc). Add enough more liquid that the pot is 3/4 full. Cook until everything is done. In this way you can make a dozen or so different stewey entrees. If you're working you can assemble all of this in a big bowl in the refrigerator the night before then before you go to work in the morning dump it into the crock, turn it on, and forget it until dinnertime. (Note: the newer pots do seem to go faster so you can use a timer to delay the turn-on for a couple of hours.)

                      1. More: Buy a BIG slow cooker because much that you cook in it freezes well, providing future dinners: spaghetti sauce, chili, barbecued beef. For the latter put 2-3 pounds of any beef in crock with two 8-oz cans of tomato sauce, 1/2 cup each vinegar and dark brown sugar, a chopped onion, chopped green pepper if you like, salt, garlic powder, and 1 tsp each of cinnamon and clove (sounds weird but do it), a little hot red pepper. Add water halfway up the meat. Cook until the meat is falling apart. Pull the meat apart using two forks or an old-fashioned potato masher. Correct seasoning. BBQ beef freezes like a dream and having it on hand is like money in the bank. Eat it on hamburger buns. Definitely get a slow cooker.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Querencia

                          I also put clove in my beef BBQ recipe.

                          I freeze a lot of beef and pork BBQ

                          1. re: Querencia

                            I love your base recipe, Q! Will try it, thanks. I agree, get a big slow cooker. I have never owned a crock pot, but have had a West Bend slow cooker for over 30 years. It's oval, comes off the base so I can start something on the stove and cut the cooking time in half if I want. I can also brown on the stove with it, then add other ingredients and transfer to the electric base. Try to get one with a glass lid so you can check the temperature and progress without lifting it and losing heat. Another use for slow cookers is making chicken stock--it's not cloudy if you can keep the temp. to barely bubbling and let it go 4+ hours. And of course any soup is great. Love the cookbook recommendations, thanks everyone.

                          2. I don't have time for slow cookers. They are a waste. Put your money into a good pressure cooker, Fagor is a good choice, you will wonder what you did without it.

                            1. I have a "vintage" Rival crockpot (like this: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-Rival...
                              )and a newer, larger horizontally-oriented crock. I find myself using the vertical one most frequently for soups, stews, meat sauce, apple sauce, etc. Neither of mine have timers so I bought a digital timer I use when needed.

                              Unless you really want to cook large quantities, don't go too big for storage and fill purposes. Also, thrift stores and garage sales often have crocks priced very cheap. I am still mentally kicking myself for not buying one exactly like my vertical pot for $2 at a garage sale recently.

                              1. I have a 20 year old Rival with a removable crock. It is a round 5 quart size which seems to be the perfect size for my needs. I thought about replacing it but most of the ones I looked at were bigger and I just don't think I need bigger, even for my family of 5. It is very basic - high and low settings. I'm a stay at home mom so programmable isn't anything that I really need.

                                1. Gosh yes - GET ONE! I've got a 6 quart cook and carry. It's FANTASTIC. 2-3 times a month I use ours to make a big pulled pork. Just drop it in there, fat side up, set to high and wake up to a mouth-watering aroma. It's done once the pork is between 200-205 degrees. Easy and amazing. Just shred, pour lots of extra virgin olive oil on it, and season with sea salt or kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Awesome!

                                  1. Even reading this thread, I'm still unclear about the utility of a slow cooker if you work from home, as I do, and can check a pot. If I am at home anyway, how is it easier than putting something on the stove? Serious question.

                                    4 Replies
                                      1. re: sweetpotater

                                        I also work from home part of the time, but can't always leave the phone to check on food when it needs to be checked on; however I mostly use my crockpot as an extra burner on the stove when I have too many things going at once and for overnight cooking where I need something ready first thing in the morning.

                                        1. re: marcyfitz

                                          I don't understand when people say they cook dinner in it overnight. Then you put it in the fridge and reheat it? Why not put it all in the slow cooker in the morning? Because of the prep?

                                        2. re: sweetpotater

                                          Two reasons why I use a slow cooker while working from home;
                                          1) for cooking dishes overnight and those needing 24+ hours such as bone broths
                                          2) I use the slow cooker in a shed to keep the heat and cooking smells out of the house.

                                        3. I just bought a super cheap $30 dollar crockpot many many years ago. Probably more than 6 or 7 years ago, and it's still working wonderfully to this day. No problems at all.

                                          I have since then bought a more expensive, horizontal (instead of vertical) slow cooker for doubly the price. It has more nobs and settings but I don't find it any better than the old one for what I use. I don't need the precision and so many speeds, just the off, warm, low and high work perfectly on my old slow cooker.

                                          I would say just to get a cheap one if you're just making soups and stews. If you're making more like pastas, lasagnas and meatballs, I would go for the more expensive one.

                                          1. DEFINITELY GET ONE!

                                            While I prefer to cook on stove and oven the Slow Cooker just makes life so much eaiser - it makes dinner while I sleep, while I am at work, running errands etc.

                                            Make sure to get one that is programmable but don't worry about other features like browning settings and what not - they are not worth the time IMHO

                                            I have a KitchenAid brand programmable multi-cooker but the extra features don't work (It was a defect but I did not realize for too long to return it because, well, I never even tried to use them forever)

                                            as a convenience item they are great - I am sure you will still choose to use your range and cookware often but the SC is a good option to have on hand