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Slow cookers and Dutch ovens are kitchen equipment for cooking long-cooked meals. So are they the same appliance? No.
Each appliance has got a few features that make it better than the other: hence the need for the slow cooker vs Dutch oven debate.
To help you make the right purchasing decision, we’ll delve into the Dutch oven vs slow cooker debate.
Let’s find out the differences between a slow cooker and a Dutch oven.
What Are the Main Differences Between A Slow Cooker and A Dutch Oven?
The main difference between a slow cooker and a Dutch oven is in the quality of food they cook.
A slow cooker is a kitchen appliance that cooks meals over a long period of time but yields thinner food with less browning due to the slow rate of reduction. While cooking in a Dutch oven also braises food over a long time but yields thicker, browner, more flavorful, and concentrated broth.
The second main difference between a slow cooker and a Dutch oven is in their cooking method.
A slow cooker uses electricity to cook dishes; however, you will first need to heat or sauté the food in a separate pan to brown the food and preserve its nutrients. Meanwhile, a Dutch oven cooks meals on a stovetop or in an oven, and it allows you to begin searing a meal and finish braising it without transferring it to another pot or pan.
To better understand the distinction between these two cookware, let’s look at them individually.
What is a slow cooker? A slow cooker, also known as a Crock Pot, is an appliance for slowly cooking meals over a long period using low heat. A slow cooker uses electricity as its only heat source and can cook food from anywhere around 4 hours to a whole day.
Basically, slow cookers come with three heat settings (low, medium (or keep warm), and high heat) that allow you to control the temperature and time of your cooking. Cooking with a slow cooker yields flavorful meals as there’s enough time for the recipe’s broken-down proteins to seep into the meal.
Because slow cookers allow you to set the time to cook your food, you can set it to simmer for up to 8 hours before leaving for work so you can return home to a perfectly-cooked, delicious, and nutritious dinner. However, Crockpots may not heat evenly as their heating elements are at the crock underneath the pot.
Slow cookers can prepare appetizers for a large number of people. However, they can’t sear meals, so you’ll have to sear meat in a pan before braising it in a slow cooker.
What is a Dutch oven? A Dutch oven is a versatile cookware that can be used to prepare meals like beans that cook for long.
Their versatility ensures they can cook all kinds of dishes using different cooking methods.
Despite cooking meals for long, Dutch ovens cook faster as they're made of cast iron which retains and distributes heat evenly. And their enamel coating prevents food from sticking so they can be easy to clean.
Also, Dutch ovens get heat from external heat sources, so you’ll have to use it on a stovetop or an oven. And you can tag along with them when going on camping trips.
A Dutch oven has exceptional performance, especially when used in an oven. This is because it receives heat on every side to yield very flavorful and thick results.
Also, when cooking in a Dutch oven, you won’t have to transfer its content from one pot to another as it gets hot enough to sear, brown, and sauté in the pot.
What are the advantages of a slow cooker over a Dutch oven?
The advantages of a slow cooker, when compared to a Dutch oven, are that it’s a safe and budget-friendly appliance that’s convenient to use and great for cooking tough cuts of meat.
When compared to a Dutch oven, a slow cooker is slightly more convenient to use. This is because slow cookers are appliances that you can set and leave to run.
Another good thing about slow cookers is that you can program them to begin cooking at a set time and temperature. And you can set them to keep the food warm after cooking.
With slow cookers, dinners make themselves. Dutch ovens don’t afford you such luxury. Furthermore, Dutch ovens heat up kitchens: this doesn’t happen with slow cookers.
Great for cooking tough cuts of meat
Slow cookers are great for cooking tough cuts of meat as cooking for a long time softens the connective tissues of meat.
You can simmer meat such as pork shoulder, brisket, or beef chuck for up to 4 hours at a low temperature. This way, the meat will become very tender instead of hard to chew.
Ease of cleanup and maintenance
When compared to Dutch ovens, slow cookers are easy to clean. This is because they won’t get burnt while cooking due to the low heat. So whether you leave your pot roast or stew to simmer for up to 6 or 8 hours, you won’t return to a messy pot. Dutch ovens require more cleanup as they can’t get a bit messy due to the higher temperature.
Also, unless you’re browning your meal (in which case, you’ll have to use other cookware), you can prepare the whole meal with just your slow cooker so you can have fewer dishes to clean. Furthermore, Crock pots are dishwasher-safe; Dutch ovens aren’t.
After using your Dutch oven for a while, you may have to season it. And they require more routine care.
Slow cookers cost less than Dutch ovens because they don’t offer the same versatility, flexibility, and durability that Dutch ovens do.
Therefore, the price of a slow cooker ranges between $50 and $350. Plus they’re energy-efficient since they cook on low heat which is cheaper than cooking in an oven (it’ll cost around 6 cents to slow cook a meal for 8 hours while it’ll cost you 72 cents to run an oven for 3 hours).
Also, you can buy tougher cuts of meat (which are cheaper), and tenderize them with a Crock-Pot without running your energy bill.
On the other hand, Dutch ovens cost between $50 and $1,300.
A safer option
Generally, it’s unsafe to set and leave food to cook as this is the most common cause of kitchen fires: it accounts for 34% of kitchen fires.
That said, using slow cookers and other portable cooking or warming units are responsible for only 4% of all kitchen fires as opposed to 13% when cooking with an oven.
What are the advantages of a Dutch oven over a slow cooker?
The advantages of a Dutch oven, when compared to a slow cooker, includes its versatility, durability, and ability to cook more quality dishes.
Versatility and flexibility
Although there are many slow cooker recipes, when it comes to versatility, Dutch ovens are more versatile.
This is because you can braise, brown, stew, fry, sear, bake, sauté, boil, and roast in them. Added to these, you can still use your Dutch oven for campfire cooking.
A slow cooker is only ideal for cooking meals on low heat with a preference for moist food. And it may not be able to brown foods as the unit doesn’t get hot enough.
Also, you can cook meals using your Dutch oven at a precise temperature if you’re using an oven. But if you have a basic slow cooker, you can only set the cooker to low, high, or medium heat: it doesn’t allow you to set it to the exact heat setting.
When compared to slow cookers that are mostly made of ceramic, Dutch ovens are made of cast iron and enamel coating.
When used carefully, the durable materials and rugged construction make Dutch ovens resilient to last for decades (upwards of 20 years). This is opposed to modern slow cookers that are expected to last for six to ten years depending on your usage.
A meal that you can cook for 4 hours on low heat in a Crock Pot may cook for half (or even less) the time in a Dutch oven.
Even when you slow cook meals on high heat, a Dutch oven may still cook in 25% less time than a slow cooker.
When compared to a slow cooker, a Dutch cooker cooks higher-quality meals.
When cooking sauce, slow cookers have a slower rate of reduction due to their low cooking temperatures. When vapor reaches the lid, they condense and drip back down into the broth. It, therefore, leaves you with thin and runny broth, lower-quality taste and less concentrated flavors.
To thicken the dish (stew, for example), you’ll either have to sear it on a stovetop or another cooking appliance before slow cooking it. Another option will be to use a thickening agent such as cornstarch slurry. But both are too much work.
Conversely, Dutch ovens cook more delicious and flavorful meals. Stew cooked in a Dutch oven will be more evenly cooked and thick. They’ll also brown foods better than slow cookers because they heat from all directions.
Also, when there’s a power outage, it can affect the quality of your meal if you’re cooking with a slow cooker. Dutch ovens are dependable as power failure isn’t an issue for them.
Great for one-pot cooking
Dutch ovens were originally designed for one-pot cooking so that travelers of old wouldn’t need to take a lot of equipment with them.
With slow cookers, you’ll have to sauté or sear meat in another pot before using your slow cooker. You can begin searing your meat in a Dutch oven and still finish cooking without using another cookware (unless you’re transferring the Dutch oven from the stovetop to an oven).
Which One is more Usable in a Kitchen between A Slow Cooker and A Dutch Oven?
A Dutch oven is more versatile than a slow cooker in the kitchen because it can perform more cooking tasks. A Dutch oven can fry, boil, braise, stew, brown, sear, and roast food. Crock pots aren’t optimized to sear and roast meals.
And if you’re asking, “Is a Dutch oven the same as a slow cooker?” Although they’re both referred to as slow cookers, they’re different.
A slow cooker is an appliance that cooks meals using low heat for a long time while a Dutch oven is cookware for cooking long-cooked meals in an oven or stovetop. Since they both use a similar cooking method, a slow cooker is a good alternative for A Dutch oven and vice versa.
What foods can you cook in a slow cooker?
You can cook the following foods in a slow cooker;
- Cheese sauce
- Pot roast
- Spaghetti Bolognese
There are also many slow cooker recipes that you can explore. Here are some of the other different uses of slow cookers.
What foods can you cook in a Dutch oven?
Dutch ovens and slow cookers cook similar meals. So added to the meals you can cook in your Crock Pot. here are a few of the meals you can cook in a Dutch oven. There's also electric bacon cooker for bacons.
- Fried bacon
- Mushroom stew
- Baked beans
- Noodle soup
- Tomato sauce
- Fried eggs
- Scalloped potatoes
- Chicken stock
- Chicken stew
- Roast chicken
- Fried chicken
- Pulled pork
- Mac ‘n’ Cheese
Can a slow cooker and a Dutch oven be paired together?
Yes, you can pair a slow cooker and a Dutch oven in your kitchen even though they cook similar foods.
Slow cookers are great at simmering meals for a really long time to yield flavorful dishes while a Dutch oven can also fry, sear, and roast food items (three tasks slow cookers can’t do) to yield more flavorful results.
What are the instances where you can use a slow cooker and a Dutch oven together?
You can cook tough cuts of meat in your slow cooker to softening the hard tissues before cooking your stew in a Dutch oven. Here's how to use a slow cooker.
What are the instances where a slow cooker and a Dutch oven should never be used?
First, when you want to prepare a pot of delicious stew, you can use your Dutch oven instead of a slow cooker since the latter is more efficient at yielding more quality and flavorful results.
Second, if you’re not cool with the idea of leaving an appliance running while you’re at work, you may not need to bother about getting a slow cooker.
And finally, you can slow cook meals without using a slow cooker; simply put your ingredients in your Dutch oven and regulate the temperature of your oven to low heat.
What to Consider when Buying A Slow Cooker and A Dutch Oven?
These are the most important factors you should consider when buying a slow cooker or a Dutch oven.
What type of cooker should I get?
There are two types of slow cookers; manual and programmable slow cookers.
Manual slow cookers are cheap as they come with basic settings. Also, they don't have timers: so instead of setting the precise cooking temperature and time, you’ll have to choose between low, medium, or high heat settings.
Programmable slow cookers are more expensive as they give you more control over your cooking. They have timers for you to set the precise cooking time. Also, when the set time is up, they can automatically switch to the ‘Keep Warm’ mode. Manual slow cookers aren’t capable of this.
For Dutch ovens, all models aren’t the same. There are seasoned cast iron models as well as enameled cast iron and aluminum models.
Seasoned cast iron models are easy to clean and can last a lifetime: you can heat them on coals or campfires. Enameled cast iron Dutch ovens have better heat retention and distribution, but open fires ruin their looks. While ceramic and aluminum models are lighter than cast iron models and are made of anodized aluminum and non-stick coating.
What shape is the best?
The cookware shape you should go for depends on what you often cook and your living condition.
Oval and rectangular slow cookers are very versatile as they can fit almost any food item. For example, if you plan on cooking items such as ribs and whole chicken in your Crock Pot, an oval- or rectangular-shaped Crock Pot will be great, whereas other shapes won’t fit. But if you plan on making mostly soup and stew with your slow cooker, any shape will work.
Wider and shorter Dutch ovens give you a larger cooking surface and are great for searing meat. However, if your cooktop has got small burners, there might be poor distribution of heat. In this case, a narrower and taller Dutch oven will be a better fit.
What size is right for me?
If you cook for a couple or only yourself, you can make do with a 1.5- to 3-liter model, but this won’t cook a whole chicken. If you intend to cook a whole chicken (5 lbs) with your Crockpot, go for a 5- to 6.5-liter unit: this can also cook for more than five people.
The same goes for Dutch ovens, but you’ll have to consider the size of your oven to be sure your desired Dutch oven will fit on your rack.
How much should I pay for cookware?
You can get slow cookers for as low as $50 but if you want a premium programmable model, expect to pay over $100 as they come with more features and functions.
Although you can get Dutch ovens that cost around $60, they may not be durable. However, you can get a Lodge for less than $100. But if you want a more quality premium Dutch oven like those made by French brands – Staub and Le Creuset, expect to pay over $300.
What Are the Best Brands for Slow Cookers?
The five best brands making the best slow cookers are Black and Decker, Hamilton Beach, Crock Pot, Cuisinart, and All Clad.
Black and Decker
Black and Decker makes some of the best countertop appliances. Their slow cookers are low-priced but don’t compromise on quality. However, their units tend to take a longer time when cooking.
Hamilton Beach also makes some of the best slow cookers. They have some programmable units that are reliable and very efficient in cooking flavorful meals. This has earned them excellent ratings from their customers.
Probably the most popular slow cooker brand, Crock Pot makes some of the most efficient and reliable slow cookers. Their models are easy to clean and use. Plus they’re highly functional. Although they’re more expensive than most other models.
Cuisinart is a reputable brand making some of the best slow cookers. Their units distribute heat evenly through the cooking area, and they’re easy to use and clean up.
All Clad Is another brand making some of the best mid-priced to high-end slow cookers. Their models come with digital controls and timer. They’re also efficient at browning foods.
What Are the Best Brands for Dutch Ovens?
The five best brands making the best Dutch ovens are Le Creuset, Staub, All Clad, Lodge, and Milo.