The slow cooker is an electric pan that allows you to simmer all types of food and at low temperatures, without altering its flavors or nutritional properties. It is excellent for cooking meat, especially stew and ossobuco, but also broths, sauces, ragù, fish, vegetables, and even desserts.
It is very practical because it can be left unattended to cook for hours, without the risk of burning food. Let’s see which are the best slow cookers currently on the market and how to choose the one that best suits your needs.
Buying Guide to Select the Best Slow Cooker
The slow cooker is an electric pan that allows you to cook all types of food slowly and at low temperature, without altering its flavors or nutritional properties.
It was invented in the United States of America in the ‘7’0, to meet the needs dictated by the frenetic rhythms of modern life, which require maximum time optimization.
It can be left running even while sleeping or while away from work, because there is no need to check the cooking, nor to mix the dishes, which do not stick, do not burn and do not overcook.
Just put all the ingredients in the pot, carefully set the most suitable cooking program for the dish you want to prepare, and let the slow cooker do it all by himself. When cooked, the dishes are kept warm until ready to serve them.
Slow and low-temperature cooking (below 100 ° C, therefore lower than that of boiling water, usually between 60 and 90 ° C) has several advantages: first of all, it preserves the content of vitamins and minerals food; keeps food soft even without using condiments.
Ideal for those who must follow a diet; it is very versatile, it allows you to cook practically everything from meat to vegetables; it is easy to use and can be left unattended while it is running, ideal for those with limited time.
What Is and How the Slow Cooker Works?
As we have seen, the slow cooker is an electric cooker that cooks slowly and at low temperatures. Born in the United States, it was initially used only for cooking beans.
Then when women started working outside the home and therefore had little time to cook, it spread more to cook any type of food because it can be left unattended while it is in operation.
The slow cooker is made up of an external stainless steel electric pot, which must be connected to the socket and has an internal heating resistance, and an internal pot in ceramic or other non-stick materials, in which to put the food to be cooked. Usually, the inner container is removable and dishwasher safe.
It is very easy to use: just put all the ingredients in the internal pot, select the cooking program that best suits the recipe you want to prepare, and leave it running. When cooked, most slow cookers keep the food warm for a few hours.
The Advantages of The Slow Cooker
The slow cooker has several advantages, and the main one is practicality: as we have seen, just put the ingredients in the pot, choose the right cooking settings and leave it running until the dish is ready.
It can remain unattended for hours because it never reaches 100 ° C, and therefore the food does not burn and does not stick. For those who are away from home all day and want to find dinner ready when they return late in the evening, it is the ideal solution.
Also, slow and low-temperature cooking cooks food evenly and without drying it out. It is, therefore, excellent for meat, even the least valuable because it leaves it soft and tender.
For the same reason, you don’t need to add too much oil or other seasonings. Finally, cooking at low temperatures preserves the nutrients of the food.
How to Choose the Slow Cooker?
We have seen what the slow cooker is, how it works, and which are the best models currently on the market, now we need to understand how to choose the one that best suits your needs.
First of all, you need to evaluate the types of cooking possible, especially if you want to cook different types of food. It is important to take into account the size of the pot, in particular the capacity of the internal container.
Do not forget to take into consideration the structure of the slow cooker, the accessories it is equipped with, and its functions.
Two decisive elements in the choice should be the practicality of use and ease of maintenance. Finally, do not underestimate the importance of the materials of the pot, the brand, and the value for money. Let’s see everything in detail.
Types of Cooking
Slow cookers all cook slowly and at low temperatures, but good quality ones offer different types of cooking. Slow cooking always remains the main mode, but there should be at least three time and temperature settings, i.e .:
- very slow cooking at low temperature (78 ° C);
- slow cooking at medium-low temperature (84 ° C);
- sweet cooking (96 ° C).
The choice of times and temperature varies according to the type of food to be cooked, the quantity of food, and the temperature of the external environment. In general, basic instructions are given in the slow cooker’s instructions, but you can also refer to the recipes that are found online.
Some models have other types of cooking, including:
- Sauter Cooking or On a High Flame, to scald and give a light browning to the food, before going on to simmer;
- Steam Cooking, to cook vegetables or steamed rice, using the right amount of water, and the appropriate removable internal grill.
Know, however, that cooking times also depend on the slow cooker’s wattage, which is usually very low, around 250 watts. Pans that have a higher wattage can reach even higher temperatures.
Dimensions and Capacities
Another factor to consider in making the right choice is the size of the slow cooker, on which its ability also depends. We can have:
- Small Slow Cooker, with a capacity of about 2.5 liters and a weight of about 3 kg, suitable for one or two people;
- Medium-Slow Cookers, with a capacity of 3.5 liters and a weight of about 4 kg, suitable for 3-4 people;
- Large Slow Cookers, with a capacity of up to 7 liters and a weight of up to 6 kg, for 5-8 people.
Keep in mind that medium and large slow cookers are quite bulky and heavy (a 4 kg one measures approximately 30 x 30 x 30 cm), so if you do not have enough space in the kitchen, they may not be for you.
The structure of the slow cooker is another important element to consider. All-electric cookware of this type is made up of an external structure, a removable internal container, and a lid.
The external structure should be in stainless steel, a resistant and safe material, while the internal container is usually in ceramic or non-stick materials. Both the external and internal pots should have heat-insulated handles.
Finally, the lid should be made of glass, to allow cooking to be controlled without opening the pan and dispersing part of the heat with it.
Slow cookers can have different functions, selectable through a series of buttons or a touch screen display. The main ones are:
- Cooking Regulation, which more or less is slow, on different preset levels;
- Timer, to better manage cooking times;
- Keeping Warm, to keep the dishes warm for a few hours after cooking;
- Buffer Function, to keep warm at a slightly higher temperature.
Some models are equipped with extra accessories, such as the grill to be placed in the container or the basket for steaming, measuring spoons, ladles, and shovels for mixing the contents, particularly useful for preparing risotto.
The recipe book, included in the package or downloadable online, is also very useful, with precise indications on the cooking methods to be used for the various dishes.
The Convenience of Use and Maintenance
The slow cooker must be practical. For this reason, we recommend you choose a model with LED display and touch keys, which allows you to select the different cooking settings easily.
Also, make sure it has insulated handles and non-slip feet. Also, the inner container and lid should be easy to clean, preferably dishwasher safe.
Materials are very important in a slow cooker. The external container should be made of stainless steel, robust, resistant, and long-lasting material. The same applies to the eventual grill for steam cooking.
The best material for the internal container, however, is ceramic, because it distributes the heat evenly and is non-stick. Finally, for the lid, we recommend the glass, which allows you to check the cooking without opening the pot.