What Is A Slow Cooker?
Last Updated on July 14, 2021 by Gabriel Goddy
Slow cooking is known to have lots of benefits to the human body. Every household needs to own a slow cooker, and also know how it works. In this guide, we’ll be considering how slow cookers work. Read through to find out how slow cookers work.
What Are Slow Cookers?
A slow cooker, also known as a crock-pot (after a trademark owned by Sunbeam Products but sometimes used generically in the English-speaking world), is a countertop electrical cooking appliance used to simmer at a lower temperature than other cooking methods, such as baking, boiling, and frying.
The base of the slow cooker is the part you see the most. It has handles, a temperature knob or control panel, and feet that keep it slightly raised off the surface of your counter. The liner is a thin metal insert melded onto the inside of the slow cooker base.
You can’t see or access the electrical workings between the liner and the base, but this houses heater bands that conduct heat around the bottom of the slow cooker. The bands create heat that transfers to the cooking vessel and rises across the bottom and up the sides, uniformly cooking your food. There is a small gap between the liner and the outer wrap of the base for airflow, which keeps the outside from overheating.
This facilitates unattended cooking for many hours of dishes that would otherwise be boiled: pot roast, soups, stews, and other dishes (including beverages, desserts, and dips).
The cooking vessel is where you put the food you cook. It’s usually made from heavy stoneware, which helps keep the heat constant, stabilized, and evenly distributed. Some slow cookers have clips to hold the lid in place for easy, no-spill traveling. The lid is important because you can’t reach the appropriate cooking temperatures without it. Imagine trying to bring pasta water to a boil with a lid and then without it. The lid to your slow cooker works the same way.
How Does a Slow Cooker Work?
Parts: A base with the heating element, vessel, and a glass lid. The vessel is where food gets placed for cooking. It’s typically constructed of heavy stoneware that keeps the heat constant, even, and stable.
Process: Slow cooking is similar to a stovetop or a dutch oven. In a slow cooker, the heat begins at the base and works its way up the sides, then into the food. The steam generated from the heat creates a vacuum seal with the lid. Low and consistent temperatures help to retain moisture during cooking. The liquid does not evaporate or become concentrated.
Settings: Most machines have a low, high, and warm setting. The cooking temperature range is between 175°F to 215°F. The low and high settings will peak at 215ºF, however the low setting cycles on and off that temperature more frequently. Therefore, the high setting will cook the food in a shorter period of time than the low setting. In the warm setting, the Crock-Pot will be between 165 to 175ºF.
- Large roasts: Use the low or high setting.
- Lean proteins: Chicken breasts, thighs, or pork loin work well when braised on low and bone-in for chicken.
- Stews and soups: Use either the low or high setting.
- Warm: Perfect for keeping dishes hot for parties.
How To Use a Slow Cooker
- Fill: A good rule of thumb is that the slow cooker typically needs to be filled at least halfway to operate correctly, but not be filled more than 2/3 full.
- Settings: Typically there are just two cooking settings, high or low. Some units even have a keep-warm setting for when you’re entertaining. What setting you choose depends on the model you have, how fast you want to cook the dish, and what kind of ingredients you’re using.
- Time: Most slow cooker recipes have a time range. Different variables like temperature, thickness, type of meat, and how full the cooker is will affect how much time is needed. Usually, the low setting takes twice as long as the high temperature. Give yourself a little extra time before serving, in case you need to cook for a bit longer
Rules for Using a Slow Cooker
- Use fresh vegetables for the best results. If you use frozen or canned vegetables, you will end up with overcooked meals because they take less time to cook.
- Carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes must be washed and cut into uniform pieces. Place them at the bottom of your pot when cooking.
- Liquids can’t evaporate in a slow cooker, so use half the amount of liquid your recipe needs unless you’re cooking beans, rice, or pasta.
- If you are cooking pasta and other tender food such as peas, asparagus, or squash, add it to your slow cooker in the last 50 to 60 minutes of cooking. Doing this will avoid overcooking your food, and you won’t have to suffer the heartache of mushy meals.
- When cooking with ground beef, make sure it is browned and drained before adding it to the slow cooker. Make sure that you remove all and any grease.
- If you plan to add dairy products such as sour cream, milk, or cheese, only do so toward the end of cooking. If you don’t, the recipe will likely not turn out as planned.
- You must add fish, scallops, shrimp, and other seafood during the last 15 to 30 minutes of cooking. That way, the food will have the kind of tasty consistency you want.
Choosing the best slow cooker setting
Slow cookers come with different temperature settings – basic models will have only high and low settings, while premium models may have a medium and/ or auto setting. Each setting tends to suit different foods:
- High setting
This is recommended for cooking pale meat such as chicken. It cooks the meat faster (in three to six hours) and at a slightly higher temperature.
- Medium setting
Use the medium setting for cooking cuts of red meats. This setting is useful for cooking more quickly without losing all the benefits of slow cooking, but the results won’t be as impressive as cooking on low for longer.
- Low setting
This is recommended for cooking cheap cuts of red meat, as it breaks down the connective tissues and gets better results than cooking on the medium or high setting. Cooking in this setting usually takes around 10 hours.
- Auto cook
This setting starts cooking on high, and after an hour switches to cooking at low heat.
- Keep warm
A keep-warm or hold setting can be handy, especially if your dinner is delayed – it prevents food from drying out while stopping it from getting cold.
Advantages of Slow cookers
There are multiple advantages that you can get from your Slow cooker;
- Benefit your health and nutrition
The type of cooking and recipes encourage you to eat more vegetables. This means you are generally getting more protein, fiber and your macronutrients get an overall bump in the right direction.
Slow cooking also means more tender food. So, your meats will be easier to digest.
Additionally, bone broth is one of the most used recipes. The benefits of bone broth are well documented but they include a reduction in joint pain and inflammation, it helps with digestion, stops the spread of infection and it helps you develop stronger bones, hair, and nails.
- Slow cooking can save you money
Firstly, the ingredients. The way the slow cooker works means that you can buy cheaper cuts of meat that still produce tender results. The slow cooking process melts the collagen within the meat meaning that it is soft and tender. In other methods of cooking, you would have to buy more expensive cuts of meat to get similar results.
There is also the energy cost that we need to consider. If we used an oven, for example, the comparable cost is much higher…even if we are cooking longer in a Slow cooker. No energy is wasted using a Slow cooker and it uses little of it.
- It’s easy to cook and learn
Even the most basic of cook can follow simple recipes and still produce great results. The level of skill required on most recipes is quite basic. This means that it is very accessible to most people without a massive education hurdle to overcome.
You can’t beat walking in from a hard day’s work to a home-cooked meal. That is essentially what you are getting here with a Slow cooker.
Simply put in the ingredients, turn on the heat, and return a few hours later. Simple.
- The smell
The odor of cooking is contained within the vessel. This is an advantage as it means your household does not smell of food…strong, pungent smells. It is contained within the vessel and is only released when it is opened.
- It’s safe to cook food in
Slow cooking kills the pathogens in meat that can cause illness. The general cooking temperature of a Slow cooker is between 170 degrees Fahrenheit and 300 degrees. Meat must be cooked above 140 degrees to cook safely. Food can continue to be heated at slow temperatures until you are ready to eat it rather than dropping into the danger zone of bacteria formation.
- Condensation. The condensation of steam on closed lids causes water to drip back down into your meal all day, diluting your spices and flavors—leaving you with bland food. If you are cooking hydrated vegetables such as tomatoes, it can get really soupy when you are not even making soup.
- Overpowering flavor. Another concern is the overpowering flavor left by fresh spices such as thyme and cinnamon after they have been simmering for hours. It is best to use less than what the recipe calls for.
- Doesn’t work for every recipe. Certain recipes are not suited to slow cooking in a slow cooker. Recipes that require large cuts of meat for instance or any ingredient needing browning before cooking and recipes with a lot of different ingredients are usually not worth it
The slow cooker is not just efficient for you, it’s efficient for your home. A small slow cooker uses approximately the same power as one and a half 100 watt light bulbs. Because it cooks with contained heat, it uses less energy. And since it’s an appliance that’s intended to be used unattended, there’s no need to worry about it while you’re gone. There is no reason not to get a slow cooker.