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Buying a Slow Cooker

Choosing the Best Slow Cooker for Your Cooking Style

Relatively inexpensive and easy to use, slow cookers can save you both time and money. Both a small or a large slow cooker provide virtually one-step cooking — you just combine all the ingredients, put on the lid and start cooking. The best slow cooker can roast, bake, cook and steam. It's ideal for making soups, stews, dinners of all types, dips, desserts, potatoes, and even bread.

Most slow cookers have three parts: a base containing a heating element, a cooking insert and a lid (usually transparent). Slow cookers range in size from 1 qt., perfect for appetizers or small servings, to 10 qt., suitable for feeding a crowd. They come in multiple sizes with many features: a triple slow cooker contains three individual chambers, while double slow cooker has two. Round slow cookers are great for cooking soups and stews, while oval ones can be better for cooking cuts of meat.

Many chefs seek out a programmable slow cooker so they can set a precise cooking time and avoid overcooked dinners that wind up in the trash can. You may want to seek out models that have a keep-warm setting, cool-touch exterior, hinged lid, heat-resistant handles, non-stick interior, and parts safe to clean in a dishwasher.

Tips for Using Your Slow Cooker

Use a low setting on your slow cooker as much as you can; it will help to bring out the flavors of the ingredients. Avoid removing the lid to check progress on your food since you'll allow heat to escape and lengthen cooking time. You'll also want to avoid overfilling the pot, since the ingredients may steam rather than simmer, compromising results. Some owner's manuals recommend underfilling the pot by one-quarter to one-half to prevent spillovers and provide perfect results.

Prep your recipes in advance by using a food processor to prepare vegetables or seasonings before you add them to the pot. Make sure you defrost frozen meats in a refrigerator before adding them to the slow cooker — you'll lower the risk of bacteria forming before the meat reaches a safe temperature. Remove fat from meats before putting them in a slow cooker to avoid pools of oil in your soup or stew. Liquids won't evaporate in a slow cooker as they do with other cooking methods, so you may need to transfer it to other cookware and reduce them to a glaze or sauce.