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Slow cookers are a must-have appliance in any kitchen. They offer an easy way to whip up excellent meals like a pro! Cooking comfort; flavourful meals have never been this simple and easy before.
Wondering how slow cookers work?
Read on to find out how they work and to use one. Discover their benefits, safety tips and what makes them so effective.
What Is a Slow Cooker?
A slow cooker, also known as a crockpot, is an electrical cooking appliance that cooks food over a long period at low cooking temperatures. It is generally made of ceramic, metal or porcelain.
Slow cooking is convenient, less stressful and requires minimal effort. One of the great benefits of slow cookers is that you can leave your food unattended for hours on your slow cooker without having to worry about it burning.
How Does a Slow Cooker Work?
A slow cooker creates heat and is similar to cooking with a Dutch oven on a stovetop. Heat is generated at the base of the cooking pot and then moves up the sides. As a result, the food inside gets heated evenly and cooks slowly over an extended period.
The steam generated by the heat creates a vacuum seal on the lid, and any moisture is retained during the slow cooking process and the low and consistent temperatures.
Most slow cookers have the same high, low and warm settings. The cooking temperature ranges from 80 degrees Celsius (175 degrees Fahrenheit) to 100 degrees Celsius (215 degrees Fahrenheit).
For large roasts, stews and soups, the high and low settings work very well. Lean proteins like chicken or pork loin are best cooked on the low setting. And the warm setting is perfect for heating dishes for a party or event.
Depending on the food you are cooking, it could take one to ten hours to fully cook in a slow cooker. Its ability to cook slowly on a low heat setting allows you to put your cooking vessel on before you leave for work, so when you get home, you will have a wholesome slow cooker meal ready to serve.
Components of the Slow Cooker:
All slow cookers share the same basic design and contain three main parts: the lid, the base and the vessel.
The base is the star of the show and contains the heating element linked to a liner. The handles, a temperature knob, and feet keep the slow cooker elevated slightly above your counter.
The liner is a metal part melded onto the base of the slow cooker. It contains heater bands that conduct and transfer heat throughout the cooking vessel. There is a slight gap between the liner and base, allowing airflow to prevent the outside from overheating.
The cooking vessel is the component where you put your food to cook. It is usually made of heavy stoneware, which helps keep the heat constant and evenly distributed.
The glass lid is a crucial component because you cannot reach desired cooking temperatures without it. Certain slow cookers have clips to prevent the lid from moving. Some lids also contain probe holes to allow the steam to escape.
Benefits of Using a Slow Cooker
Slow cooking offers many benefits, and you can make the most out of these cooking pots if you know how to use them properly.
Easy on Your Pocket
One of the biggest advantages of a slow cooker is that it is a low wattage appliance. This means it uses a lot less electricity than a standard stove or oven, helping cut down on your electricity bill.
Slow Cooker Is Energy Efficient
A slow cooker typically retains heat and does not require much energy to cook meals, making them highly energy-efficient. They also do not heat your entire kitchen the way a regular oven does.
Most people do not have the luxury of spending all day in the kitchen. If you are among the many looking for a more convenient and faster way to do cooking, then a slow cooker may be what you need. It allows you to safely and effortlessly prepare and cook meals, saving you hours which you can use to do other essential things.
Economically Smart Choice
Cheaper cuts of meat are a great option to cook at a low temperature in a slow cooker. You do not have to buy expensive high-quality meat that will take all day to cook. The tough cuts of meat will tenderise and soak up the flavours of any spices you add. Saving time and money does not mean you have to sacrifice taste; even vegetables prepared in a slow cooker become flavour-packed.
If you are health conscious, you will be happy to know that you can easily prepare nutritious, low-fat recipes in a slow cooker by poaching and braising.
You are in charge of how long or fast you want to cook your meals by simply using the high, medium or low setting to adjust the temperatures.
Types of Slow Cookers
Slow cookers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. You get manual cookers, programmable cookers with digital timers, and small cookers designed purely for heating dips and sauces. Slow cookers can be round or oval, and their sizes range from one to seven quarts.
What to Cook in a Slow Cooker?
The question to ask is, what can’t you cook in a slow cooker? Because this one-pot wonder can make just about anything and everything. You can braise, bake, cook, poach and roast food.
Meat is one of the most common dishes that you can slow cook. It is vital to thaw your meat in advance or take too long to cook and add unnecessary liquid. When you are slow-cooking meat, heat it to 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) as fast as possible to kill any bacteria.
If you are cooking chicken, keep the skin on so that the meat remains moist throughout the cooking process.
Ground beef needs to be browned and drained before being placed into the slow cooker. It’s also best to remove all grease from the ground beef.
Preparing vegetables may be more time consuming than preparing meat because the vegetables need to be cut the same size to cook evenly. Root vegetables like carrots and potatoes require more time to cook than meat and should be placed at the vessel’s bottom.
Finer vegetables like peas, spinach and kale should be added in the last 15 to 30 minutes of your dish.
For best results, use fresh vegetables. Frozen or canned vegetables will result in overcooked meals because they generally cook faster.
Canned beans are great for cooking on a slow cooker. They should be added in the last half an hour to keep their shape.
Stews and soups, like beef stew, are designed for this cooking pot because they come out perfectly with low and slow cooking. Make sure you cover your soup ingredient’s with water and bring it to a boil first before adding in more liquid.
When you’re cooking shrimp or fish, add the seafood in the last 15 to 30 minutes of your dish so that your desired taste can be achieved.
If you are looking to add dairy products like cream cheese, sour cream or milk to your slow cooker recipe, make sure you add it towards the end of your cooking. This will prevent it from losing its flavour and texture.
To get your pasta on point when using a slow cooker, add it in the last hour of cooking. It helps to prevent overcooked, mushy pasta.
Grains like oatmeal and rice porridge can be cooked overnight on low heat in your crockpot for breakfast the next morning. Old fashioned oats are best to cook in a slow cooker, but instant oats can also be used.
Want to bake a fresh loaf of bread? Use a slow cooker! Make sure to use less heat as it allows the bread dough to rise.
Slow cookers can make divine desserts like rice pudding, hot fruit desserts, cakes and indulgent puddings. You will find many slow cooker friendly recipes for desserts online.
Slow Cooker Tips
- Avoid opening the lid. No matter how tempting it is, do not open the lid repeatedly. Each time you open the lid, you lose steam and add 20 minutes to your cooking time.
- Always use a thermometer. Check your dishes internal temperature to see whether they are evenly cooked. Allow for further cooking time if needed.
- Never fill your vessel more than two thirds full.
- Do not reheat food. A slow cooker should never be used to reheat food. This should be done in a microwave or a stovetop. All leftovers from your slow cooker meals should be placed in shallow containers and refrigerated within two hours of the meal.
- Never immerse the base in water. If your slow cooker doesn’t have a removable base, use a soapy sponge or cloth to clean the inside.
Slow Cooker Safety
Although slow cookers are designed to cook over several hours on low heat, it is essential to take safety precautions.
Regularly test your slow cooker to check whether the heating element is working and cooking food to an appropriate serving temperature. Your food should cook to 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) within four hours to kill all bacteria.
To test your slow cooker, fill it with half to two-thirds of cold water, cover it with the lid and cook it on the low setting for eight hours. Using a food thermometer, check if the water is 85 degrees Celsius (185 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher. If the temperature is anything lower, the heating element is not working, and it is not safe to cook meals.
Remember to keep in mind that older slow cookers will wear over time instead of a new slow cooker.
Slow Cooker FAQs
To answer any further questions you may have regarding slow cookers and how they work, we’ve compiled a few frequently asked questions to help you.
How Do I Convert a Stovetop or Oven Recipe to a Slow Cooker Recipe?
Slow cooking is adaptable to a wide range of recipes because it uses low cooking temperatures and retains moisture throughout the cooking process. If your recipe calls for the oven to dry food, it most likely won’t work in the slow cooker. Also, if your recipe calls for very high oil temperatures to fry things quickly, a slow cooker is not the best option.
Do You Need to Put Water in a Slow Cooker?
No. You do not need to add a liquid to every recipe unless you make a stew or a soup. This is a common mistake, and liquid from your ingredients (meat and vegetables) will leak into your slow cooker base.
Can You Put Raw Meat Into a Slow Cooker?
Yes, you most definitely can! Some recipes call for browning the meat before you put it into the slow cooker. However, this step isn’t always necessary. It just helps retain the rich and bold flavours of the meat.
Is It Safe To Leave a Slow Cooker on All Day?
According to Crock-Pot, is it safe to leave your slow cooker unattended on a low setting over several hours, even if you are not at home? Crock-Pot mentions that it is safe for use on your countertop over long periods.
Why Won’t My Potatoes Cook in the Slow Cooker?
There are two reasons why your potatoes are not cooking- your slow cooker is either not hot enough, or there is not enough liquid in the pot. Cooking time for potatoes in a slow cooker is a maximum of four hours, but they need to be covered with liquid.
What Is the Difference Between a Crockpot and a Slow Cooker?
Crock-Pot is the name of a brand that was introduced to the market in the 1970s. It has a stoneware pot surrounded by a heating element, whereas a slow cooker is usually a metal pot placed on a heated surface.
Use Your Slow Cooker
Slow cookers are efficient, and besides being so simple and easy to use, they also offer a wide range of cooking methods making your life so much more convenient.
Thanks to their quick prep time and cooking the food for you whilst at work, they are great for working families. All you have to do is come home, relax and enjoy a meal with your family.
What are you waiting for? Get ready to start cooking with your slow cooker.