Slow cookers are a wonderful option for busy cooks who want flavorful, healthy meals without having to spend all evening standing over the stove. Simply prepare the ingredients and let them simmer until done. With so many available models, choosing one can be a daunting task. Here are five simple questions to ask yourself before you head to the store.
1) How many people are you cooking for?
Slow cookers come in a wide variety of sizes. To cook properly, they should be filled at least half full. If you are cooking for one or two people, consider a smaller cookeror prepare larger meals and freeze the leftovers for another time. A three to four quart model should be plenty for two, and larger families (or frequent dinner hosts) may want to consider the six quart size.
2) What design elements are important to you?
This is the area where you will find the most options. Try making a list of the times and places that you will get the most use out of your cooker, so you can narrow down the field.
Many modern slow cookers feature a removable pot which can be easily cleaned (some are even dishwasher safe). Look for rounded edges on the inside, because square corners can be difficult to clean. When saving time cooking meals, there’s no reason to add it on to the clean up time! A removable crock also allows you to put your meal together the night before and store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook.
When considering the lids, take a look at glass options. They are a convenient feature so you can check the progress of your food without dropping the temperature. A high dome allows you to cook some larger foods that may not fit down below the rim of the cooker, such as large roasts or whole chicken.
Some models are heavier than others. While light cookers are more manageable to tote to pot lucks or other events, heavy models are more resilient. Consider where you will be using yours when you make the purchase.
3) What temperature controls does the unit have?
Some slow cookers simply have an on/off button; however this will not prevent your food from overcooking or burning. Make sure the cooker has a “warm” setting in case you are not ready to eat when the meal is complete. Some will switch over automatically after a set amount of time. At least two heat settings (high and low) are helpful so you can change the speed of the process.
4) How much space do you have available?
Do you have room to leave your slow cooker on the countertop, or will you need to store it somewhere else? While large models can be convenient to cook with, storage can be problematic in small kitchens. Assess your space before making a new purchase.
5) How much can you afford to spend?
The price range can go from as little as $20 to over $250, so be aware of your budget before shopping. Digital programming can increase your flexibility, but will also increase the price tag. If you opt for a simpler model, you can expect to cut costs.
With a little research, you can find the best slow cooker for your family and be on your way to flavorful stews, roasts, dips, and more!