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A slow cooker is an electrical appliance with an insertable cooking pot used to cook food at low temperatures for long periods of time. With 2 or more settings, a slow cooker can cook your meals in 6 hours to 10 hours using the Low setting (200°F or 93°C) or 4 hours to 6 hours using the High setting (300°F or 149°). You can use the slow cooker to:
- Bake a cake
- Prepare and heat up chocolate or cheese fondue
- Make overnight oatmeal in large batches
- Smoke your favorite cuts of meat
Slow cookers will vary in size and range from 1 quart to 10 quarts. The first slow cooker cost $25, a basic slow cooker today is twice the price. Mid-range slow cookers will cost you more than $50 but less than $100. Premium models of this appliance will cost you over $100 and may even reach the $200 mark. Depending on what make and model you have, an average of 8 hours of using the slow cooker will use 1.2 kWh to 1.7kWh of electricity. This means that running your appliance is cheaper than using a conventional oven and will only cost you $0.16 to $0.22 instead of $0.30 which is what an oven will cost you.
This kitchen appliance is also used to make soap and potpourri. Experimental chefs can also choose to make different types of infused oil with a slow cooker. Here are the other ways to use a slow cooker:
The slow cooker can be used to make bread. In a mixing bowl, combine your flour, yeast and salt with a whisk before pouring your warm water that is a temperature of 105°F (41°C) to 115°F (46°C). Use a wooden spoon to stir this mixture until your dough becomes a ball. Cover your dough with plastic wrap and leave it to proof overnight. The following day, line your slow cooker with parchment paper. On a flat surface covered with dough, flatten your dough then fold it onto itself. Put your dough in the slow cooker and cook the bread for 2 hours on High. The bread will be cooked when it a temperature of about 190°F (42°C).
Another way to use a slow cooker is to bake a cake. Prepare your slow cooker by coating it evenly with a layer of cooking spray. In a mixing bowl, whisk your dry ingredients together and in another, mix your eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla extract followed by water. Pour your wet ingredients into your bowl with the dry ingredients. Pour your cake batter into the slow cooker and set it on Low. Your cake should cook in about 3 hours and after you have turned off the slow cooker, you can let the cake rest for ½ an hour and then serve.
You can make a dip using your slow cooker too. Using the bowl of your slow cooker, add your ingredients and toss them to combine well. Covering your appliance, cook your dip on Low for 2 hours to 3 hours or on High for 1 hour. Check on your dip every 30 minutes so that it does not overcook. Stir your dip and season.
A slow cooker can be used to make fondue. For cheese fondue, toss your Gruyère and Swiss cheese with your cornstarch in a mixing bowl. Smash your garlic then add it into your slow cooker with your cheese, wine, lemon juice, and seasoning. Cover your slow cooker and cook your fondue for 15 minutes on High. Remove the garlic and cook for another 45 minutes making sure to stir your fondue at 15-minute intervals. Afterwards, you can use the Warm function and serve your fondue with an assortment of vegetables, bread, meat, or fruit.
To make chocolate fondue in the slow cooker, heat up your appliance on High. When it is hot, put your chocolate, milk, vanilla, cream, and salt into the slow cooker. Cook this on High for 30 minutes before using Low to whisk any remaining clumps. Use the Warm function and serve with fruit, cake, or candy.
Also, the slow cooker can make granola. Prepare your slow cooker by coating the inside of your appliance with cooking spray. Add your oats, nuts, salt, and dried fruit into the slow cooker and stir to combine. Pour your coconut oil and sweetener into the slow cooker and stir until combined well. Cover the slow cooker but without closing the lid completely and let there be about 1 inch to 2 inches of space. Cook the granola on High for 2 hours to 2 ½ hours and stir every 30 minutes. Transfer your granola into a baking sheet and let it cool before transferring the mix into an airtight container.
Another way to use a slow cooker is for a big batch of hot chocolate. Pour your milk cream, dark chocolate, and milk chocolate into your slow cooker. Close the lid of your slow cooker and use the Low setting for 2 hours. Stir your hot chocolate halfway and when it is finished, stir again then leave to cook for 15 minutes to 20 minutes. Ladle your hot chocolate into mugs and add marshmallows, cream, or chocolate shreds as garnish.
Use your slow cooker to make your own infused oil for cooking. Add a cup of oil with ½ to ¼ cup of chopped herbs into your slow cooker. Using the High setting let it cook without the lid for 1 ½ hours to 2 hours. When the slow cooker turns off, leave the oil to cool for about 20 minutes. Then, use a sieve lined with a cheesecloth or coffee filter to strain the herbs and transfer your infused oil into a jar. You can store your infused oil in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
A slow cooker can be used to make lasagna. Using a large skillet, cook your meat, onions, and garlic on medium-high heat. Add your tomato sauce, paste, and seasoning. In a separate bowl, toss your cheeses together. Add a layer of meat to the bottom of your slow cooker followed by a layer of uncooked lasagna. Top this with a layer of cheese and repeat. Cover your lasagna and cook it on Low for 4 hours to 6 hours.
The slow cooker is also a mashed potato maker. Peel your potatoes and chop them into chunks before putting them into your slow cooker. Add broth and seasoning into your slow cooker and cook the potatoes on High for 3 hours to 4 hours. You can also cook the potatoes on Low for 6 hours to 7 hours as long as you make sure to stir every hour. When the potatoes are tender, mash them and add butter, cream cheese, herbs, and seasoning. Use the Warm function to serve later or transfer to a bowl for consumption.
An alternative use for your slow cooker is to use it to make overnight oatmeal. Place your oatmeal, water, milk, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg into your slow cooker and stir it well. Cover the slow cooker and cook your oatmeal on Low for 7 hours to 8 hours. You can also choose to cook the oatmeal on High for 4 hours. When your oatmeal is done cooking, stir again before transferring to a jar or into a bowl. Overnight oats can be refrigerated for 1 week or frozen for 2 months.
The slow cooker makes peach cobbler too. Prepare your slow cooker by coating it with cooking oil. In a small bowl, add your peaches and ¼ cup of sugar and mix ingredients until the peaches are evenly coated. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, milk, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Pour your batter into the slow cooker and spoon sugared peaches on top without mixing it. Use your slow cooker on High and cook for 1 ½ hours to 2 hours.
A slow cooker is also a potpourri maker. Add 2 cups of water into your slow cooker as a base and add oranges, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and rosemary. Leaving your lid off, use the High setting and let this heat up for 3 hours to 4 hours. Add water as needed and store potpourri in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. When you are going to use it, simply take it out and re-heat it.
Alternatively, your slow cooker can smoke meat. Mix your sugar, seasoning, and spices in a bowl and rub this over your brisket. Refrigerate your meat in a plastic bag for 30 minutes or overnight. In your slow cooker, mix water, Worcestershire sauce, barbecue sauce, and liquid smoke. Place your brisket on top of the sauce and top with sliced onions. Cook the brisket on Low for 6 hours to 7 hours. Afterwards, let your meat rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
Your slow cooker can be a soap maker. With the appropriate protective gear, start by placing your coconut oil in the slow cooker and letting it melt. Add olive oil into the crockpot and let that warm up as well. In a small container, slowly add your water to your lye and stir this continuously. After this has dissolved, pour this into the oil and use a hand blender to gently stir and blend this. Your soap will reach the trace stage when it looks like pudding, when this happens cover your appliance. Let your soap cook on low for 40 minutes to 50 minutes. Pour soap into molds and let it set overnight or for a whole day. Remove from mold and let it dry out for another day.
A slow cooker is also a yogurt maker. Add your milk into the slow cooker and let it cook on High until it reaches a temperature of 180°F (82°C) or for about 2 hours. Afterwards, let the milk sit in the slow cooker for 2 hours to 3 hours to reach a temperature of 109°F (43°C). Add in your yogurt starter and use cover your slow cooker with a towel instead of the lid. Let this set for 9 hours to 12 hours then refrigerate for consumption.
What are the common mistakes of usage of a slow cooker?
Using and learning how to use a slow cooker for the use cases above can be challenging if you do not know your appliance well. There are common mistakes that you need to avoid such as:
- Adding too many ingredients into the slow cooker. In order to prevent spillage, do not fill your slow cooker to the brim with ingredients.
- Choosing the wrong type of meat. A slow cooker is the best appliance for thick cuts of meat so do not choose a tender cut. Otherwise, it will fall apart instead and will not be juicer.
- Cooking chicken with its skin. In the slow cooker, chicken skin becomes gelatinous instead of crunchy. So if you are going to slow cook chicken, take off the skin.
- Going hard with alcohol. Adding too much wine or liquor will result in the alcohol tasting harsh and overpowering. A slow cooker does not reduce alcoholic beverages like other cooking methods so only use little amounts as described in recipes.
- Lifting the lid of the appliance too often. Unless noted in the recipe like some of the use cases above, do not open your slow cooker’s lid. It will lose heat quickly and take more time to heat up.
- Misusing herbs. Putting fresh herbs into your slow cooker from the start can cause them to wilt or burn over time. To use the flavor of your herbs correctly, opt to use dry herbs first. You can top your dish off with fresh herbs instead.
- Mixing in too much liquid. Adding too much liquid can take away from the flavor of your dish. When you are cooking meat or poultry, add just enough liquid to cover your ingredients. Any more than that is unnecessary unless stated in the recipe.
- Not defrosting ingredients. Make sure that all of your ingredients are defrosted before cooking them inside your slow cooker because the heat inside this particular appliance is not equipped to kill bacteria.
- Opting not to grease the slow cooker. Spraying your slow cooker with some cooking oil is the best way to ensure that no ingredients will stick to the pot and make it difficult to clean.
- Putting raw meat into the slow cooker. The best way to extract flavor from your meat is to braise, sear, or brown it before placing it inside the slow cooker for hours.
- Reheating food in the slow cooker. A slow cooker does not have high heat like other appliances which is why reheating food inside this kitchen tool can be dangerous for your health. In general, you do not want perishable food at 40°F (4°C) to 140°F (60°C) for 3 hours or more.
- Throwing in dairy ingredients too soon. Dairy products that are simmering in the slow cooker for hours can break or curdle which can ruin your entire dish. It is best to add your diary towards the end of your food’s cooking time.
Avoid these errors to take care of your slow cooker and use it for its various use cases efficiently.
What is the history of usage of slow cookers?
Before discussing what a slow cooker is today, let’s look at where it came from. Before the Crock-Pot or slow cooker became a must-have appliance, it was patented by Irving Naxon in 1940. This inventor called his invention the Naxon Beanery and designed this appliance to slowly cook cholent, a Jewish meat and bean stew, on Fridays. This did not become popular among the masses which is why Naxon sold his invention to Rical manufacturing in 1970. An employee, Marilyn Neill, immediately recognized the potential of this device and the Crock-Pot debuted in 1971. Since then, slow cookers have become all the rage and are a kitchen staple.
Do the use cases of a slow cooker change based on type?
Yes, the use cases of a slow cooker change based on the type of slow cooker you purchase. Slow cookers come in different shapes whereas round slow coopers are best for soup, stew, casserole, and dessert. Oval-shaped slow cookers are the best type for ribs, roast, or small fish. Then there are rectangular slow cookers that can be used for all of the aforementioned use cases.
This appliance is available in different sizes too. Mini slow cookers do not take up much space and can slow cook small portions. Medium-sized slow cookers are great for making appetizers and dips that serve 3 to 4 people. Larger slow cookers are the type that you will need to cook cuts of meat. Then there are extra-large slow cookers which can cook a whole chicken and big cuts of meat.
A slow cooker’s cooking pot will be made out of ceramic, metal, or cast aluminum. Ceramic pots are microwave and oven-safe, heavy, and are not meant to be put on a stovetop or under a broiler. Metal slow cooker cooking pots are made in the shape of a rectangle or oval and does not cook food as evenly or be used in the microwave. The cast aluminum pots are the most expensive because they can be used on a stove or in the oven and are non-stick. However, you cannot put cast aluminum pots in the microwave.
Your slow cooker can also have different programs or settings. Some models only offer basic controls which let you turn your appliance on and off or choose between a Low, Medium, or High cooking temperature. Other models offer various programs where you can choose a specific temperature, exact time, and whether or not to keep your food warm.
Which slow cooker is best for cooking beef stew?
The best slow cooker for cooking beef stew is a rectangular slow cooker with a cast aluminum cooking pot and different cooking settings. With its deep sides, exact times, and cooking pot, you can cook your beef stew evenly and in a large quantity.
Does a slow cooker have more use cases than an oven?
No, for the slow cooker vs. oven battle, an oven wins and has more use cases. A slow cooker does not have the high heating capacity of an oven which limits its use cases. Additionally, a slow cooker is relatively smaller than an oven so you can dry or grill larger quantities of food in an oven.
What are other kitchen tools with various use cases similar to a slow cooker?
Other kitchen tools with various use cases similar to the slow-cooker are the:
- Multi-cooker: This appliance is used to brown, bake, boil, grill, steam, and roast food with different programs and settings.
- Dutch Oven: A Dutch oven is a pot and lid often made out of a heavy-duty material that retains heat and distributes it well to cook food inside its chamber.
- Pressure Cooker: This kitchen tool uses trapped steam to heat up and cook food.
These appliances may have use cases similar to a slow-cooker but have use cases specific to the kitchen tool. You can learn more about the 5 uses of these 3 appliances here.