A 3.5-4L model is ideal for couples and single people while 4.5-6L models will serve the average family of 4-5 persons well.
Programmable slow cookers are recommended for those who intend to leave their cookers without supervision.
Rectangular or oval slow cookers tend to be more space-efficient compared to round slow cookers.
Basic high and low settings are more than sufficient to cook food well.
Bright indicator lights on a slow cooker are useful in telling you when the cooker is working, preventing you from accidentally leaving it on when not in use. Control switches that are accessible and clearly labelled are a must.
Good slow cookers will always have clear, snug-fitting lids, either of glass or plastic.
Introduction to Slow Cookers
The slow cooker is a busy person's best friend in small kitchen appliances. It's a one-pot convenience that can be left to cook safely from morning until night at low temperatures without the need for constant monitoring. This means you get to come home to a complete, hot meal. The best slow cookers are able to tenderise inexpensive cuts of meat, sear, saute or caramelise ingredients, eliminating the need for a second piece of cookware.
Slow cookers use less energy compared to electric stove tops or ovens, and are fairly easy to clean. They are practical purchases, usable all year round: you can make filling winter meals in a jiffy and in the summer, cook pot roasts and other such dishes without heating up the kitchen.
The key consideration in buying a slow cooker is size. The more people you cook for on a regular basis, the bigger the capacity you'll need. A 3.5-4L model is ideal for couples and single people while 4.5-6L models will serve the average family of 4-5 persons well. A slow cookers should only be filled from half to two-thirds of its capacity when cooking. Consider storage space as well.
Rectangular or oval slow cookers tend to be more space-efficient compared to round slow cookers. It's important to remember that prolonged heat-up and cool-down times in a slow cooker can encourage bacteria, so check on which slow cookers are able to heat water and food the fastest even while on low heat settings. In addition, slow cookers with minimal crevices or cracks in the overall design of the body are easier to clean and prevent food or dirt from getting trapped. Stainless steel slow cookers may need more wiping down to maintain their finish.
The crock/insert of a slow cooker is where the food is cooked, making it a big factor when you're purchasing. The type of insert depends on what cooking tasks you want to accomplish. Most slow cookers feature stoneware crocks. These are heavier, but sturdier and highly functional for frequent home use. Models with aluminium or stainless steel inserts are generally those that allow for browning, searing or caramelising ingredients in the cooker itself. Other crocks have non-stick coatings and some models can be placed in an oven or microwave for reheating. Crocks with large handles allow for more efficient lifting and transferring, and removable inserts are the easiest and quickest to clean.
Another important point when looking at slow cookers is whether you want a mechanical or a programmable slow cooker. The main difference between the two is a timer. While both kinds have adjustable temperature controls, mechanical slow cookers have to be monitored and manually turned off after cooking time has been reached. Programmable cookers, on the other hand, can be pre-set to begin cooking at a specific time and for a specific number of hours, after which the cooker automatically shifts to keep-warm mode.
Mechanical slow cookers are less expensive than programmable ones, but there are some programmable models within a reasonable price range that you can invest in, as well. Programmable slow cookers are recommended for those who intend to leave their cookers on for the day without supervision. While the fancier slow cookers have variable temperature settings which will prove useful for different kinds of recipes, you'll only really need the basic high and low settings in order to cook food properly.
Bright indicator lights on a slow cooker are useful in telling you when the cooker is working, preventing you from accidentally leaving it on when not in use. Control switches that are accessible and clearly labelled are a must. Some more modern slow cookers have LCD display panels and touch pad controls. While these can be easily wiped or cleaned, they can be more prone to damage.
The Lid of a Slow Cooker
Good slow cookers will always have clear, snug-fitting lids, either of glass or plastic. Clear lids are necessary for you to be able to check on what's cooking without having to remove the cover. Loose lids release steam, which slows down the cooking process and will allow food to splash onto your counter top. Do a quick survey on the cost and availability of replacement lids for the slow cooker model you're considering, too. Lids are often dropped or banged onto surfaces, causing them to crack or break and rendering them useless. It's always best to be prepared.