With everyday activities involving busy work hours, schools, children, and everything else in between, things can always get a little bit overwhelming especially considering that you still have to prepare dinner when you get home. Thanks to slow cooker, fortunately, meal preparation is practically done as soon as you put the foods inside the appliance.
The best thing about slow cooker is that it is capable of cooking very slowly that your dinner is ready and waiting for you once you set your foot home again after long strenuous day. Not all slow cookers are, however, created equal. Here are 5 of the best slow cooker models you can find today.
The best slow cooker is the one that works well for you. Everybody has different opinion to what constitutes the best, so it always comes down to personal preferences including budgets. You can divide slow cookers into several categories as follows:
Basic: even the most basic slow cooker is still able to turn your favorite vegetables and slices of meats into something tender, tasty, and full of nutrients. Basic model has the least number of features, but it covers all the essentials such as temperature settings including Keep Warm option.
Programmable: one of the best things about programmable slow cooker is that it can handle various recipes from the simple few ingredients to complex preparation which require precise timing and heat. The timer allows you to cook a single recipe in full 24 hours and keep the food warm once the cooking process is done. There is more versatility in programmable slow cooker. If money is no object and you intend to cook various recipes, programmable model is best.
Portable: some models, from either basic or programmable category, come with additional accessories to make the appliance portable. Common additional accessories include over sized handles and rubber gaskets on the lids.
In a world where function-over-form design is sometimes no longer enough, you probably can get fancy slow cookers with myriads of additional features. Just because a slow cooker is more expensive or better looking than the others, however, it does not mean the slow cooker is the best for your needs. The best slow cooker is one with features you actually want to use and save yourself good amount of money.
How To Choose The Best Slow Cooker: Tips & Guides:
Biggest advantage of a slow cooker is, as the name suggests, how slow it can handle and process ingredients. The vast majority of people think that faster is better, but that is not the case with cooking. Slow cooker allows you to prepare dinner (or any meal for that matter) way before you actually need it; for example, you can pour all the ingredients for dinner into it in the morning and set the appliance to work slowly for 10 hours.
By the time you arrive from works and other daily activities, your freshly cooked dinner is ready to serve. Unlike food warmer which heats up already-cooked meals, a slow cooker processes the ingredients slowly so the meal is fresh when you need it; best of all, it does its job without requiring your constant attention. Not every slow cooker can produce meals as delicious as you want, but it does not mean that the best slow cooker is the most expensive one either. Here are some things to consider to get the right slow cooker that suits your needs.
Types of Slow Cooker
Slow cooker comes in two different models: programmable and mechanical. The most basic type is one with a power button and that’s about it. More advanced model features more options including but not limited to timer and temperature dial.
Programmable: with most programmable slow cooker, you should get electronic control and digital display. Typical options include timer (with a display of remaining cooking time). Another good thing is the ability to automatically switch to warm mode when cooking time is up.
Mechanical: there is no timer or any digital display with mechanical slow cooker. It usually has simple dial that allows you to choose low, medium, or high temperature setting. Because it does not have digital display, there is no way to monitor or control time setting. Some models feature automatic keep warm mode, but maybe you have to switch it on manually.
Main difference between the two models is the timer option. As simple as it may seem, a timer brings huge benefit of being able to prepare the food exactly in the time you need it, for examples 5-hour or 10-hour later after preparation. More often than not, timer option comes with delayed-start feature.
In the event you meals only take 5-hours to be ready but you need to leave home for 10 hours, you can set the delayed-start to 5-hours so that the meals are fresh when you get back home. It is also possible to combine timer with delayed start for longer cooking time.
Just because you get programmable model, it does not always mean that the appliance will work better than its more basic counterparts. Excluding the timer-option, there are more features to consider as follows:
Handle: most (if not all) slow cookers have handles of some sort. The best slow cooker, however, has sturdy handle made of durable heat-resistant materials. Regardless of the heat generated inside the cooker, the handle must remain cool to the touch for better safety and comfort.
Inserts or pots: some best slow cookers have ceramic pots, while others have metal ones. Certain models feature metal pots which rest on top of heating base (similar to hot plate). Safe nonstick coating or even stainless steel materials are best because they are safe to use in microwave, oven, or on stovetop.
Lids: while slow cookers can perform without constant monitoring, it is always good to have a glass lid to take a glance at the ingredients being cooked inside the pot. Please put in mind that some ingredients require you to check the texture or degree of doneness for perfect taste. A locking lid also helps prevent spilling when you have to carry the cooker away, for example during travel or picnic.
Capacity: one of the most important features is capacity. Although the best slow cooker is not always the biggest, capacity is huge selling point. Capacity starts from 1.5-quart to more than 8-quart; however, it is recommended to NOT fill the pot to its full capacity to prevent spillovers and over/undercooking issues. As a rule of thumb, a slow cooker of 6-quart capacity is ideal for a family of four.
Temperature probes: the best slow cooker features temperature probe. It is the only way to accurately measure the exact temperature of the ingredient and set the desired temperature in accordance to your personal preference. A temperature probe is often used when cooking meat such as poultry or beef in order to achieve perfect degree of tenderness.
Ease of cleaning: compared to mechanical controls such as buttons and knobs, touch-control panel is easier to clean. Slow cookers with dishwasher-safe pots and lids are also more preferable. At the very least, choose one that has non-stick coating or stainless steel pot to avoid sticky food residue.
Before you forget, another thing to put into account is warranty. Many popular brands offer warranty that covers repair or defective parts/accessories for several years. Nobody wants to make use of the warranty service because they do not wish their appliances to be damaged or broken, but at least the warranty gives you peace of mind for as long as it is valid.
Best Slow Cooker Buying Guide
With an abundant of options in the market, it is not an easy undertaking to choose the best slow cooker for your specific needs. A slow cooker may not seem like much, especially among other modern appliances in today’s kitchen, but it does give an advantage like no other. As far as meal preparation is concerned, this particular kitchenware is probably the only one with the ability to make regular cooking – a process which otherwise can be finished within relatively short period of time – longer.
In many cases, people want to cook very quickly indeed, yet there are instances when longer cooking process is best to improve flavor and retain nutrients, all without hassles. Take rice and stew for examples; they require low heat and long cooking process to achieve the best possible degree of tenderness, doneness, and flavors. This is where slow cooker comes in.
People have different needs in all matters including cooking. When it comes to slow cooker, there is no one-size-fits-all rule. Everyone has personal preferences, but one thing is certain: there is always the top slow cooker for anybody. This appliance comes in all sorts of sizes, colors, and assortments of features to cover the increasingly high and varied demands. Before you rush to the market and purchase one, put the following factors in mind to help you shape an informed decision.
Slow cooker comes in 3 different sizes as follows:
1.5 – 3.0 liters: enough for up to 2 people
3.0 – 5.0 liters: suitable 3 to 4 people
5.0 – 6.5 liters: for 5 people or more
Please consider that the stated capacity in the packaging is probably a little bit exaggerated. Most (if not all) slow cookers boast their greatest possible capacity, but there is a big difference between possible capacity and usable cooking space. In many cases, slow cookers can only provide about two thirds of the stated cooking capacity.
For example, a 6-liter slow cooker gives you only about 4-liter in real life usage; there is no way you want to fill the cooking bowl to the top – you can, but the performance won’t be as good as you expect. Another thing to consider is to read the information carefully as some products state the capacities for either raw (the ingredients) or cooked meals.
Programmable vs. Mechanical
Main difference between mechanical and programmable slow cooker models is the timer. From the outside, a programmable model most likely features control panel consisting of few buttons and a screen. The mechanical type typically features a simple knob to adjust heat settings.
Both of them have temperature adjustability, but a mechanical slow cooker (due to the lack of timer) requires monitoring every so often to see if the meals inside are done. It also requires manual shut-off. On the other hand, programmable model allows you to set the cooking time so it will automatically turn off (or switch to Keep Warm mode, if available). It does not require monitoring at all.
Programmable slow cookers are more convenient, but they tend to come at higher price tag than their mechanical counterparts. More advanced models even have Delayed Start function, which comes in handy if the meal takes quite short time to cook yet you won’t be home again until later. Certain brands even have temperature probes or variable temperature settings for the sake of precision cooking.
Programmable or timer is recommended for those who tend to leave the appliance running for many hours. The best quality slow cooker is not always necessarily a programmable model because in reality, however, what you need really are basic High and Low heat settings to get the job done.
Although indicators are not exactly required for the cooking process, they play major role to determine the final results. Blinking lights or audible alerts make you understand what the appliance is currently doing; it can be cooking, keeping warm, increasing/decreasing temperature, broken, on/off, and so on. Indicators prevent you from leaving the appliance on while not in use.
Because slow cooker may take a while until it reaches the desired temperature, it may look like as if the appliance is not working during the first few minutes. Without indicators, you won’t be able to tell what it is doing unless you do constant monitoring.
Fancy models usually feature screen to display the remaining cooking time, current temperature, desired temperatures, and preset settings. LCD is the most common screen; it is bright, readable, and easily cleaned. More affordable option would be simple lights that emit different colors for specific tasks. Lights are not as attractive as LCD, but the good thing is that they are less prone to damages or smudges.
Shape Affects Performance
For many people, the shape of slow cooker is just for cosmetic purpose. Many of the best slow cooker models are in oval-shaped. There are several good reasons for this:
It is easier to fit ingredients of any shape and size into an oval-shaped cooking pot
Oval or round pot has zero crevices, which minimizes the possibility of dirt built-up
Because there are no corners, oval or round cooking pot tends to have more usable cooking space
Common materials for cooking pot are aluminum and stainless steel. If possible, choose one with safe non-stick coating for easier cleaning.
Clear Glass Lid
When using slow cooker, it is best to minimize the frequency of opening the lid as it will release heat and slow down the cooking process even further. Therefore, clear glass lid is recommended so you can still monitor the meal inside without opening the lid.
Another thing to consider is the fact that the lid more likely bumps into tables, walls, chairs, and other hard objects around the house, so choose one made of strong materials such as tempered glass.
Prices range from around 3,000 to 20,000 Rs; some high end models are probably more expensive. Just like many other types of products, prices do not always determine performance but you can use them as indicators of build quality or brand popularity.
There is no one-size-fits-all rule in slow cooker; the best one for you is the one that meets your needs without any bells and whistles you never use. More features are not always more useful. Choose wisely depending on what you need and what you can afford.
At the end of the day, the best slow cooker is one that serves you well without braking the bank. There needs to be good balance between functionality, performance, durability, and price. You can get basic model for less than 3,000 and advanced model for more than 10.000; the more expensive is not always the better option. You may not need all the features and use the entire capacity, so be a smart buyer and think about what you actually need rather than what you want.