How to Choose the Best Slow Cooker
As a busy, working single mom, I am stretched thin. Most days, I’m dealing with kids, my business, my personal self-care, and barely keeping my head above water. By the time dinner rolls around, I’m exhausted, so I’m always looking for faster ways to do the meal. My secret weapon? A slow cooker. I’m happy to share my secrets to shopping for the right one with this slow cooker guide.
A slow cooker is perfect for a weekday evening meal because it allows for quick and easy prep I can do earlier in the day, when I have more time and energy. Since it also brings out food flavors wonderfully and uses less electricity than ovens, I consider a slow cooker a “must-have” appliance for every kitchen. In fact, I have three slow cookers that I use, depending on the type of meal I’m making.
Use this guide to arm yourself with the details you’ll want to consider when purchasing a new one – and to see how it stacks up with an instant pressure cooker, too.
There are a few sizes to consider when buying a slow cooker.
- Smaller slow cookers are great for dips for parties and family gatherings.
- Household meals for smaller families calls for a three or four-quart cooker, but if you want leftovers this will produce little to none of those.
- For a family of four or more, or when you want to make large batches of food, a common six-quart cooker should suffice to feed everyone. It’ll also probably give you leftovers for dinner the next night.
Of the three I own, the six-quart gets used the most, since I can make chicken noodle soup, turkey breast, and a wide variety of other tasty slow-cooker meals.
When considering a new slow cooker, it’s important to pay attention to the heating options available. Most slow cookers, like the one I often use, have a removable insert with a base that distributes heat evenly. But some do not. I highly recommend a cooker with a removable insert to ensure that your meals are properly cooked. A removable insert is also far easier to clean, too.
I also prefer slow cookers with warm, low and high settings. That way I can control the level of heat. For shorter cooking times, a high setting is fine, though meats may end up with a tougher consistency. A low and slow heat setting generally tenderizes meat (especially less expensive cuts) better. I always try to go with a low setting to ensure I get the result I am looking for, especially for beef, chicken and turkey. An added benefit to longer cooking is that it gives ample time for the wonderful aroma of what you’re cooking to fill the kitchen.
Slow cookers usually come in oval or round sizes. I’ve owned both over the years, and I honestly haven’t noticed a difference in performance. I have found that oval sizes better accommodate a whole chicken or turkey breast, so that is my go-to size.
Another thing to consider when choosing an oval or round shape is thinking about how you organize and store things in your kitchen. Whether your slow cooker is typically left on the counter, or placed in a cupboard or cabinet, choose the shape that fits best in your space.
Timers on a slow cooker can be your best friend. For families who are out of the house most of the day, having a timer on the cooker is very important.
Cooking begins when you set the timer, and this will ensure meals aren’t over or undercooked. If you’re home most of the time, you may not need a timer, since you can turn your slow cooker off and on when you need to. Some slow cookers even come with bluetooth capabilities so you can control them remotely.
Slow Cooker or Instant-type Pressure Cooker?
You’re probably wondering which device is the best to choose for your household, a slow cooker or a pressure cooker. Honestly, if you can, I say both are great to have on hand. If you’re stretched for space in your kitchen and don’t have room for both, consider storing one in a pantry or in the basement or a closet. I love having both appliances available so that I can adjust my meals according to my family’s weekly schedule. Anything that puts less stress on this busy mama!
If you have little time to prep for a slow cooker in the morning, an Instant Pot is a great solution to put together a yummy, quick meal at the end of the day. For soups, stews, and meats that could use a slower cooking temperature, a slow cooker is a perfect solution for that.
There are many things to consider when selecting a cooker. At the end of the day, I’m a fan of slow cookers because they make our home lives much easier and, let’s face it, we all need more easy.
Happy slow cooking!
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