Slow-cooker, crockpot, pressure cooker, tagine… These awesome appliances are a staple in most American households (83%, according to Consumer Reports) as a fantastic way to create delicious, homemade meals with ease.
The simplicity of use allows you to bundle in your ingredients and set the timer so your dinner can cook away while you’re at work, walking the dog, or picking the kids up from school, fantastic in today’s constantly-moving society!
But while all crockpots are slow cookers, but not all slow cookers are crockpots… What is a slow cooker, and how do you use one?
Benefits of Using a Slow Cooker
There are so many reasons to love using a slow cooker, but the main reason so many households turn to this device is the convenience they offer. No longer do you have to slave over a hot stove after a long day at work; with a slow cooker, you can come home to a delicious meal prepared while you were out.
Slow cookers also allow you to utilize cheaper cuts of meat thanks to the longer cooking times. Over several hours, even the toughest meats will tenderize nicely, with enriched flavors and fall-off-the-fork qualities that rivel the softest sirloin.
They are also generally more economical to use than cooking on a stove or in the oven. Most slow cookers are electric powered but use far less electricity to run than a conventional electric oven, allowing you to save on your energy bills as well as on the groceries!
Different Types of Slow Cooker
Before you jump head-first into the slow cooker universe, it’s worth taking some time to get to know the different types of slow cookers and their unique pros and cons.
A slow cooker is a general name for any electrical, countertop cooking appliance that’s been specifically created to cook at lower temperatures for longer. They’re specifically famous for dishes such as pot roasts, soups, and stews, but can also be used to make incredible desserts and snacks the whole family will love.
Slow cookers first rose in popularity in the USA during the 1940s, coinciding with women beginning to work outside the home. The convenience of preparing dinner for the family without needing to be in the kitchen all day led to the success of the slow cooker.
Early slow cookers would be a round or oval cooking pot with a tightly fitting lid. They were usually made from glazed ceramic or porcelain with an outer shell of metal that contained an electric heating element. The covers are generally clear so you can peak at your food without letting precious heat or moisture escape.
A crockpot is a type of slow cooker. It was first introduced in 1970 as a ‘bean cooker’ by Rival Manufacturing Company. Over time, the brand name “Crockpot” became synonymous with slow cookers and overtook the patent.
Crockpots, and crockpot-style slow cookers, take the same basic form as a generic slow cooker with a porcelain or ceramic pot inside an outer heating unit.
Crockpots heat from the bottom and sides of the unit, providing a more thorough and even cook at lower temperatures. Most have two or three heat settings: low, high, and warm.
These Moroccan dishes feature a cone shape and are usually made out of ceramic or clay that adds an earthy, rustic flavor to the plate.
The trick to using a tagine is to layer up your ingredients in the correct order – a base layer of onions and veggies, then garlic, meats, spices, and softer veg – and using minimum water or liquids during cooking.
Modern tagines – like these from Una Casa – can be used on almost any stovetop or in the oven for a diverse and convenient slow-cooked experience.
Tips for Cooking in a Slow Cooker
Although all slow cookers are slightly different, there are some general top tips on how to use a slow cooker that can be applied:
- Liquid doesn’t escape in a slow cooker, so be careful not to use too much
- Don’t lift the lid too often
- Ensure the inner pot and outer pot are at the same temperature before cooking
Tips for Buying a Slow Cooker
If you’re ready to enter the wonderful world of slow cooking, take care when picking the best slow cooker to ensure you get one that’s fit for your needs!
Consider your kitchen space and how many people you’re usually cooking for to get the right size. You should also think about the flavors you want to achieve… A tagine, for example, will offer a vastly different taste experience than a crockpot.
But no matter the differences, one similarity reigns when looking at the different types of slow cookers: They all make delicious, easy, homecooked meals that you will love!