With a minimal amount of prep time, a meal ready when you get home, and only one pot to wash (even better put it in the dishwasher!), slow cookers are time-saving appliance for many busy families.
One pot meals from soups and stews, to casseroles are hot and ready when everyone is home at the end of the day.
But where slow cookers really shine is their ability to tenderize less expensive cuts of meat, as a result of their long, low temperature moist-heat cooking.
What to look for when buying
- Inserts – avoid those that do not have a removable liner. Slow cookers where the insert and the heating unit are fused together are hard to clean. Inserts come in ceramic or metal, although both do a good job of conducting heat. Just remember for ceramic, not to place a hot stoneware insert into the fridge as a sudden temperature change can cause it to crack. As well, don't put a cold insert into a preheated liner - let them heat up together, or it can crack.
- Lids - most are made of glass or clear plastic, with glass being the better option since its added weight keeps the lid on a bit tighter, thereby retaining heat. Some come with a locking lid, but this is only used to keep food from spilling while transporting. When cooking, lids are designed not to be airtight, some steam must escape to prevent pressure build up. Although if you're not regularly transporting your crock pot, those locks can be cumbersome and just get in your way so I would avoid those machines that have them.
- Capacity/shape - capacities can range from 1.5 to 8.5 quarts. For a family of four, 6 quarts is recommended.
Slow cookers come in both round or oval shapes. The shape you choose should be dictated by what you’re cooking. Whole chickens, a large roast, or ribs will fit better in an oval shape. But when making soups, stews, casseroles, or beans, the shape doesn't matter as much – either will due. For the most versatile use, an oval shape is your best bet. The key to size (and shape) is that the slow cooker need to be at least half full, and not more than ¾ full. Cooking too little or too much food in the slow cooker can affect cooking time, quality and the safety.
- Timer - lower priced models will just have an on/off and warm button. Which is usually all that is enough for most families. But for just a little more money the convenience of having a programmable timer on it can really be a time saver (and prevent over cooking if you come home later than expected) . These models usually have a feature that once the timer goes off, it automatically switches to the ‘keep warm’ setting.
- Extra Features to Consider (but may not be worth the added cost) - 1) roasting racks to let you roast meat and poultry or steam vegetables, 2) wrap-around cord storage, 3) sear function. 4) temperature probe – by inserting the probe into the meat, setting the temperature you want the meat to reach, the slow cooker will switch to the keep warm setting once that temperature has been reached.
Slow Cooking Tips
If you are using the low cooking time (ie. 6-8 hrs), for best results (if it’s possible) set your slow cooker on high for the first hour, and then turn the heat setting to low to finish cooking.
During cooking, remove the lid as little as possible. Every time the lid is lifted, about 15-20 minutes of cooking time is lost.
When cooking a roast or chicken, elevate the meat off the bottom of the insert with a bed of carrots and onions cut to fit, along with 1 cup of water. Just be sure there is enough clearance at the top, so the lid does not touch the meat at all.
This does two things: keeps the bottom portion of the meat from sitting in boiling water which can overcook it, and it flavors the broth that's created which you can use to make a gravy, or a soup stock for the next day (discard the veggies as all their flavors have been extracted).
To ensure food safety, if the power goes out during the cooking process and you are not at home, discard the food even if it looks done – you will not have known how long the power had been out.
GFC Tried & Tested Recommendations
Other items you may be interested in
Cookbooks from America's Test Kitchen are one of my all time favorites. More than just a collection of great recipes, they teach you how to cook, why a certain ingredient behaves in a certain way, and the food science behind it all.
While the recipes in these cookbooks may not all be gluten free, they are a great learning foundation to start from and most can be easily substituted and tweaked to be gluten free.
All the products that we have recommended have been tried and tested in our Gluten Free Club Test Kitchen, and have been chosen as our top picks based on their:
- Quality of the task they are designed to do
- Quality of manufacturing/Longevity
- Best value for your money
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