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Slow Cooker questions

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My husband and I just bought a slow cooker - Hamilton Beach 6 qt Stay or Go (https://www.google.com/shopping/produ...

)

and an Indian food cookbook (http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listin...) to go with it.
I noticed the recipes call for 5 qt slow cooker, so my first question is does it matter if we use a bigger cooker?

Does anyone have experience with the one we bought? Is it any good? Should we exchange it for a better one?

Any recommendations for great cookbooks for slow cookers would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks!

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  1. There are MANY slow cooker threads on both the Cookware and Home Cooking boards. Use the search box at the top right of the page, and the advanced search option once the results page appears.

    If you are looking for good slow cooker results from just dumping ingredients into the pot and walking away, you will be disappointed for the most part. Most successful slow cooker recipes require searing or other precooking of ingredients on the stove.

    1. Welcome to the CH community; I noticed this is your first post. First, the easy answer, you should not experience difficulty because of the 1 qt disparity in slow cooker size. Most of us who use slow cookers use what we have without buying a new one for each recipe. I have no idea what size mine is!
      Take my advice with a grain of salt - you cannot substitute a 6 qt for a 3 qt without expecting difficulties, but subbing a 5 for a 5 should not be problematic.

      What may prove to be more troublesome is the cookbook you've chosen. I read the 1 star reviews on Amazon and found there was serious dissatisfaction with the book. It is important to note that the reviewers did not sound like they were the grudge-against-the-world types, they sincerely wanted to like this book but found problems. Errors of spicing, timing mistakes, quantity errors were all noted. EX: rice using 2 1/2 C rice and 1 1/2 C water will not yield an edible product. If you are an experienced cook, you may make adjustments. From what I read, there could be unexpected pitfalls for a newbie. I wish you well on your adventure and hope my caution is misplaced.

      NB: there is a blog dealing specifically with slow cookers - "A Year of Crock-Potting" which you may find helpful. As greygarious noted, there are loads of slow cooker threads on CH.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Sherri

        Thanks for your helpful replies! I'm thinking of returning the slow cooker for a Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven now:

        (http://www.amazon.com/Lodge-L8DOL3-Pr...

        )

        as a trusted friend told me that he barely uses his slow cooker bc he never feels like braising meat in the morning, and I have a feeling I'd feel the same way. He suggested a Le Crueset dutch oven but as they are so expensive I'm looking at the cast iron one instead.

        That was interesting about the cookbook - i must admit I didn't even look at the negative reviews because it was a friend who recommended the cookbook. However, I see your point. Need to give it some more thought.

        Thanks again for your replies and I'll be sure to search for related posts before I post a question again.

        1. re: zoeanderson

          Don't give up yet!

          I absolutely love my slow cooker and find it so useful for cooking soups, beans, stews, making stock (chicken, veggie), and so many other things. you can poach chicken to use in other recipes, make oatmeal overnight for breakfast, make jams and apple butters. I make a big pot of soup and freeze some of it so I don't have to cook during the week or can bring to work for lunch.

          Try finding some good slow cooker cookbooks at the library so you can test them out first. My favorites are:

          - Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker - by Beth Hensperger.....comprehensive, and excellent!

          - Slow Cooker Ready and Waiting - by Rick Rodgers...this was my first slow cooker book and everything I've made from here has been excellent

          - 50 Simple Soups for the Slow Cooker - by Lynn Alley (she has written other slow cooker books as well). Very simple but lovely soups. I am surprised how good this book is!

          1. re: poptart

            I want to know what kind of slow cooker you have. And do you think the one we got would be okay if we decide to keep it? The negative reviews are all about the rubber and how it retains the smell of the food, or imparts its smell into the food... i don't know if I should believe it or not.

            Thanks for the cookbook recommendations!!

            Zoe

            1. re: zoeanderson

              I have a Cuisinart 4 qt. It's a good size for lots of purposes, but being smallish and round, you may not be able to fit larger roasts in it. The model I have is older, about 6 years old and not digital but it does have a timer that switches to "Warm" once the time you choose for cooking has elapsed.I think that is a super helpful feature!

              I am relatively pleased with the Cuisinart but it's not perfect. I bought it mostly for the size and "warm" feature, plus it was on sale. If yours wasn't too pricey, you might first decide whether it has the features you want (ie timers etc) and if it is the size you'd like. If so, then it would be good to jump in and try it out.

              Also, looking at some of the bigger slow-cooker books (like the "Not Your Mother's" one, which has a good range, not just the typical "American" slowcooker cuisine) you can get an idea of what it can be used for. She has recipes for roasted veggies (summer veg and winter root veggies), and cooking beets, baking potatoes etc.

      2. Welcome to ChowHound. :)

        I'm a huge proponent of slow-cookers; I have several sizes. They're a terrific way to cook but they're not "dump-n-go" if you want great food. If you've never cooked with them (and have a smallish family) I'd suggest a 1.5- or 2-qt to learn on, then purchase larger when you know how/what you like to cook.

        But what I "hear" in your post is not that you have a burning desire to crock-pot, but that you want to try new recipes/methods (and I may be wrong on that, if so, apologies). I might suggest that you start from the aspect of "I'd like to learn to cook Indian dishes like _______" and look for cookbook suggestions; use your current cookware until you see what limitations it causes, then buy the new device/pot/grill/etc.

        Just my 2 cents. More than happy to lead you to good crockpot threads or help advise on recipes. :)

        (edited to correct egregious typo lol)

        2 Replies
        1. re: DuchessNukem

          Hey - thanks! I think you are right. I just feel the need to expand my repertoire. I'm interested in Indian Cooking, and new ways to cook meats. I want to make more soups and would love to make apple butter.

          I have two kids ages 7 and 1.5 so I've got to figure out dishes that they will eat but that I would like too. My husband is trying not to eat so much meat,, so I can't start cooking meat all the time...

          The kids keep me pretty busy and it's hard to get any really involved cooking in, so that was another reason for my interest in the slow cooker. I thought, if this can make my life easier some how, maybe it's worth it?

          But not i'm thoroughly confused! I don't know if I should just try it out or return it?

          If you want to lead me to some crockpot threads that might clarify this for me, I'd appreciate it.

          I'm an incredibly indecisive person so I can tell this is going to be a hard one to figure out.

          Thanks!

          1. re: zoeanderson

            Your family may do okay with the 6-qt; slow cookers work okay when filled at least 1/2 full, better 3/4 full. Just be prepared for some failures that only the adults may (or may not) eat (freeze individual portions for lunches if edible), but you will need a backup plan when trying new recipes. That's why I suggest a smaller pot to start; you can trial-then-perfect recipes, then move up to the larger pot; you'll still find uses for the 2-qt pot.

            Here's a few threads on busy family cooking that may give some ideas:

            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/832372
            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/863756
            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/875519

            And here's a search string on "make ahead meals" suggested by greygarious in another thread:

            http://www.chow.com/search?query=make...

        2. What kind of stove do you have? I find that I could often take or leave a slow cooker if I'm cooking with an electric stove, but it seems like with a lot of gas stoves, the flame won't go low enough or isn't even enough to simmer reliably, especially if it's a small amount of food.

          1. The cookbook you bought is pretty good. You should definitely try out the aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower curry dish). Not a meal you'd make and leave all day, but great for lazy days around the house when you don't feel like cooking.

            The Company's Coming series also does a good basic slow cooker book, and I found it very useful when I was first starting out using my slow cooker. I found it helped to broaden my horizons on what could be made in a slow cooker and also prepared me a little for more complicated uses.

            1. Don't give up on your slow cooker. I love mine, and have beef stew cooking in it right now. It's true that many recipes require some prep work, but many do not. For example, I don't do any browning to my pulled pork or meatballs. The Skinnytaste blog has a lot of great slow cooker recipes, and she will state in advance if the recipe can be a "dump and drop."
              http://www.skinnytaste.com/search/lab...

              Also, there are plenty of vegetarian dishes that can be made in the slow cooker. Just Google "vegetarian slow cooker recipes" and you'll get a ton of results. Good luck and enjoy experimenting.

              1. A Dutch oven is definitely more versatile than a slow cooker. If I could have only one cooking utensil, it would be a Dutch oven or a large, lidded saucier (a.k.a. chef's pan). You can bake bread in a Dutch oven. Cook's Illustrated recommends the 6.5 qt enameled Tramontina sold at Walmart ($40 a few years ago). Ever watch America's Test Kitchen or Cooks Country on PBS? That dark green one is the Tramontina.
                There are endless threads on the cookware board about Dutch ovens, with a lot of LeCreuset Lemmings. Years ago the choice was LC or naked cast iron (Lodge, Wagner, et al).
                The many affordable brands of enameled cast iron available today work just fine. You have to treat them gently, but you can't roughhouse with LC either. Put a towel into your sink to set the DO on as you hand-wash it, and you'll be all set. Remember that these pots are heavy when empty, and a full one with weigh 8-10 pounds more. Think hard before choosing anything over 7 qts.

                8 Replies
                1. re: greygarious

                  Good points here. Thank you. I am now wondering if you can do everything with a dutch oven that you can with a slow cooker. What is the benefit of the slow cooker over the dutch oven? What can the slow cooker do that a dutch oven can't do?

                  1. re: zoeanderson

                    My experience has been that a slow cooker is a lot more versatile than a cast iron Dutch oven. ( I have two different sizes of slow cookers as well as a Le Cruset dutch oven. )First, if you use Reynold slow cooker liners with your slow cooker, cleaning it is a snap compared to washing and drying an enameled cast iron Dutch oven. You can make lasagne using a liner in the slow cooker and barely need to wash the slow cooker. Second, I would take the warning that there is no time savings because you have to braise ingredients before placing it in the slow cooker with a grain of salt. There are many, many recipes that don't require it and therefore get you to where you want to go (tasty food ready with minimal preparation). For example, you can cook a turkey breast in the slow cooker simply by rubbing spices on the skin and placing it in the cooker. You can make great pulled pork, by simply rubbing coarse salt on a pork butt and slow cooking it for 8 hours on low. You can "bake" a half of ham by placing it cut side down on a mixture of brown sugar and flour. The best part is that you don't have to keep checking on its progress and the food will stay warm after its cooked.

                    I have been using a slow cooker for at least 5 years without a cookbook because I find it more productive to do a web search for crock pot recipes when there is something specific I want to cook. . For example, if I want to prepare steel-cut oatmeal using the slow cooker, I would do a search for "steel cut oatmeal" plus "slow cooker recipe." Overnight oatmeal preparation is, to me, one of the best uses for a slow cooker and a dutch oven would not be the right equivalent.

                    To help you make up your mind, you might want to search the web for slow cooker recipes of your favorite dishes -- say chili or spaghetti sauce and see how the prep time compares.

                    Good luck

                    1. re: honu2

                      Thanks everybody. This discussion has been very enlightening. I love the idea of just rubbing meat with spices or salt and then putting it in the slow cooker. We often make stock just in a soup pot so don't really feel the need for that, though might be nice to just leave it on over night...hmm.

                      I don't usually have a lot of time in the morning during the week, but occasionally. Usually, the best time for me to start to cook something is in the afternoon, or late evening.

                      I'm tempted to try out the slow cooker but wonder if the model I got is any good, and if i might get more use out of a smaller one?

                      I can't imagine cooking 5 qts of steel cut oatmeal (in a 7qt slow cooker), for example.

                      I'd love to use the slow cooker for Indian food, pulled pork, chicken, beef, and for cooking beans. I could see the size coming in handy for main dishes, but for cooking beans and steel cut oatmeal I'd probably want a smaller one. Maybe I just don't use the slow cooker for those things...? Or maybe I get a smaller slow cooker for doing oatmeal and beans and keeping food warm, and just plan to buy a larger dutch oven for meat?

                      I don't even have room for one slow cooker in my kitchen so I want to get two different sizes. I do have a cast iron dutch oven (with skillet lid) that's probably about 4 qts...

                      Welcome to my world of confusion!

                      if you all are sick of these questions, I don't blame you!

                      Thanks again...

                      1. re: zoeanderson

                        The biggest question is how much you like braises because that's what works best in slow cookers and you can't braise in the short time you have in the late afternoon/early evening unless you get a pressure cooker (which might be a good idea). If you love braises, you can do it overnight in the slowcooker and then just have it keep warm during the day. Or, you could do the braise in the pressure cooker early afternoon.

                        Don't get two crock pots, especially if you don't have space. Overnight oatmeal can be made in huge batches and refrigerated/microwaved. If you are sure you want two, get this instead:

                        http://www.amazon.com/Hamilton-Beach-...

                        The small is fun for fondue. I bought slow cooker from Costco, it had a small one included. We use it on a rare occasion for fondue and hot dips but honestly, if it broke, I wouldn't replace it.

                    2. re: zoeanderson

                      If you have time earlier in the day to prep for dinner and then are out until dinner time, the slow cooker is the way to go. But, if you're around before dinner and have time for a braise, then the dutch oven does give you better results than the slow cooker. I use both and couldn't choose just one because they're useful for different occasions. The other things I use the slow cooker for: stock; anything where slow moist heat is helpful eg bread puddings; reheating/heating already cooked foods; keeping foods/drinks warm for large dinners; soups/beans soups; steel cut oatmeal, as honu2 said below. I only have one oven so it's nice to be able to make something like a bread pudding, while the oven is being used for turkey/meat.

                      There are a lot of bad crock pot/slow cooker recipes out there--I'd say the majority I see are. But, if you take the right steps, you can get good meals out of them. You can't just dump and go. It doesn't work in the oven, it doesn't work in a crock pot.

                      1. re: zoeanderson

                        Things a slow cooker can do that a dutch oven can't:

                        1) Cook food while you're away from the house, at work, etc.
                        2) Cook food overnight without leaving stove/oven on unattended
                        3) Cook food during the hot summer months when you don't want to heat up an oven

                        I have two older slow cookers and I use them weekly for soups, spagetti sauce, chili, various chicken dishes, etc. I have the Indian Slow Cooker book and have made several nice dishes, vegetarian, from it. I wouldn't give up on your SC yet. Give it a try using the book you purchased or ones you find online/at your public library.

                        1. re: tcamp

                          I was going to say all this, only I couldn't have said it as well.

                          1. re: tcamp

                            These are exactly the reasons I have a slow cooker. I probably use it more in the summer than in the winter, because I don't have central a/c and don't want to heat up my kitchen.

                            I prefer my Dutch oven on low heat in the oven for braised dishes, but the slow cooker has its uses. I have room for both, fortunately.

                      2. I don't know if this suggestion will work for you, but I often do the preparation the night before, stick the crock pot in the refrigerator, and then start it cooking the next day. That way I'm preparing two dinners at one time in order to have zero prep time the next day. It's always a pleasure for me to walk in the door after a hectic day and have dinner ready.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: honu2

                          "It's always a pleasure for me to walk in the door after a hectic day and have dinner ready."

                          The best reason to have a crock pot. Prepare when you have time, come home to dinner.

                          1. re: chowser

                            Not only to have dinner ready -- but on the crazy days when everyone's on a weird schedule, dinner is hot whenever they manage to get to it.

                            I don't use mine even weekly, but I really like having one on hand.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              Exactly. For a busy family, it's very helpful.

                              I know some people love the dump and go approach and think the recipes on crockpot365 are great. And, I think a lot of those type of recipes are the ones that give slow cookers a bad name. Some just have no appeal to me (randomly clicking on some of the links):

                              http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2008/...

                              http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2008/...

                              I think too many people think that's what should be done with slow cookers and it's not. But, a good braised short rib, pot roast, pork shoulder, soups/stews can be made in one, if you put in the time. I might use mine a couple of times a week in the winter. That and an immersion blender make the best split pea soup.

                        2. A bigger slow cooker is good because a lot of the things that do well in a slow cooker also freeze well.

                          If you are new to slow cookery, do not believe that you always have to brown meat before cooking it. I have been using the following generic recipe for 40 years: start by putting 1/2 cup of flour in crock. Add any dry ingredients you are using (garlic powder, paprika, salt, curry powder). Add an 8-0z can of tomato paste, stirring nicely so it doesn't lump. Gradually stir in the liquid you are using (water, wine, beer, tomato juice, stock). Add meat and any other solids. Good combinations are 1) Beef, beer, onions, and portobello mushrooms. 2) Beef, onions, mushrooms, dry onion soup mix, and red wine. 3) Beef, lamb, or chicken, onions, a bag of frozen peas, curry powder, garlic powder. 4) Beef, onions, potatoes, carrots. 5) Beef, potato, onions, carrots, sweet red pepper, paprika. 6) Chicken, onions, canned tomatoes, green peppers, a little peanut butter, red hot pepper. Add extra water as needed to get the gravy you want. Cook for a long time until meat is very tender.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Querencia

                            Hot diggity dog! thanks for these tips. I'm starting to get inspired to take it out of it's box now...

                          2. Hi, and welcome to Chowhound! As you can probably tell, by reading the responses to your OP, folks here have a huge range of experience and opinions :)
                            I like my slow cookers, and use a few times per month. We are a household of 2, and I often make 6-8 servings of a recipe. We have one each of 3-qt and one 6-qt sizes. To be honest, if I needed to choose between a slow cooker and a dutch oven, I'd pick the dutch oven. We live in the PNW, and our summers are rarely very hot. But, my hubby (dh) is very frugal about power usage, and the slow cooker uses less electricity than the oven.
                            In response to your original question, the model which you have purchased, is the same as my brother has... it works perfectly fine for a family with two young children :) And you'll have similar results for your recipe, as using the 5 qt. model. Most recipes include a recommendation of vessel size so that the cooker makes sure s/he has a large enough container. But slightly larger will be ok.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: KarenDW

                              We are in the PNW too - Portland, OR - so yes, more often then not, throughout the year, I'd rather have the oven on warming the kitchen than the windows open and fans on. :)

                              Thanks, that's good to know about your brother's SC!

                              Someone told me recently that a dutch oven is not great for slow cooking recipes because the finish can wear off from prolonged cooking.

                              Has anyone found this to be true? Or does that only happen to people who don't season their pots correctly or something?

                              1. re: zoeanderson

                                if the finish comes off during prolonged cooking, there's something intrinsically wrong with the pan.

                            2. Another point in favor of a slo cooker is that you can make a lot of delicious soups with little or no meat.

                              As has been mentioned, look for a recipe for what you want to cook on the internet. Save the recipes you like and that work for you and in a little while you'll have a cookbook - your own.

                              The blog previously mentioned is probably this one.
                              http://stephanieodea.com/
                              She also has a couple of cookbooks out.

                              Be a CHOWHOUND !!

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: yayadave

                                I'm trying out this recipe today!!

                                http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2009/...

                                1. re: zoeanderson

                                  Thanks Zoe,

                                  This sounds like chicken Mosca which was created and adored at Mosca's restaurant in southern Louisiana on I believe highway 60. It was wonderful and the idea of doing this in a crock pot is brilliant.

                                  1. re: zoeanderson

                                    Hello again. Chiming back in now that I've tried cooking a couple recipes with the slow cooker. That chicken recipe was good, but my husband thought the chicken came out dry. Didn't bother me too much, but he was right.

                                    Also been making steel cut oatmeal in there which is awfully convenient but it doesn't come out that great. It's really mushy, which is okay, but the part that bothers me is that the edges get really crusty.

                                    Does anyone know of a way to prevent the edges from drying up? I use Bob's Red Mill oatmal (1 cup oats, 4 cups water, 1/2 teas salt) and set it on low for about 8 hours. it usually ends up with a little water left in the middle and dry and crusty on the sides...

                                    Thanks,
                                    zoe

                                    1. re: zoeanderson

                                      What parts did you use? Breasts tend to dry out. Thighs work well in a slow cooker

                                      1. re: GH1618

                                        I used a chicken breast with bone and skin in, two legs and two drumsticks or something. hard to remember now.

                                      2. re: zoeanderson

                                        Chicken breasts are destroyed in a crockpot. Thighs and drums hold up better, but, still, even dark meat is fully cooked after an hour or two and nothing good comes from continued cooking.

                                        1. re: zoeanderson

                                          I have multiple slow cookers - I'm chronically ill, and they are great for days that I'm not feeling so well.

                                          One thing that makes things more likely to dry out is that the newer slow cookers cook at a higher temperature than the original ones - some of my newer ones definitely get pretty hot. When I am cooking things that I'm worried about drying out like chicken, or I need to be able to leave a meal for a little longer than usual, I cook it in an older slow cooker. Mine is from the early 1980's - and I've never had a problem with things drying out when using that one. I picked it up at a thrift store for $3 - still in the original box. If you regularly want to do chicken or be able to let things go a bit longer and have the storage space for another one, I would recommend looking for one.

                                    2. Recently bought a smaller 3.5 qt. Cuisinart slow cooker to supplement the big one (family is now down to two retired people). Very happy with the cooker, so far. Found a Weight Watchers cookbook at library with cooking for two type recipes. Sorry, don't remember name of cookbook, but, I will try to find it. Made black bean and sweet potato soup and it was very good (and healthy).

                                      1. i have this exact slow cooker, and it has been great - enjoy it!