Slow cookers are kitchen appliances that make cooking foods much easier, but with one catch—they cook slowly. But despite the lengthy cooking times, slow cookers are one of the best ways to prepare food without hassle or worry.
How Slow Cookers Work
Slow cookers use much lower temperatures to cook food than traditional methods such as baking, broiling, or frying. The lower temperature is what makes the cooking times so long: what might take 40 minutes to cook in a conventional oven may take eight hours in a slow cooker. Even so, using a slow cooker can actually save you time.
- Conventional high-heat cooking: Conventional high-heat cooking requires constant monitoring of the food you’re preparing. You have to wait for the oven to heat up and then stand guard as the food cooks to make sure nothing catches fire.
- Slow cookers: With slow cookers, you prepare the food, place it in the cooker, and sit back and relax. You do nothing until the food is done. And because slow cookers use such low temperatures, you don’t need to stand by in case of fire—you can cook worry-free.
The Parts of a Slow Cooker
Slow cookers contain just a few simple parts:
- Lid: A dome-shaped cover.
- Crock: A ceramic “pot” in which food is cooked.
- Cooking rack: A metal rack that slides into the crock and makes it possible to keep ingredients separate as they cook. Not all slow-cookers come with racks.
- Base: A metal container into which the crock fits. The base contains an electric heating element and has a control knob or touchpad on the side.
Slow Cookers in Action
When a slow cooker is in operation, the electric heating element within the base provides a gentle and continuous heat source that surrounds the ceramic crock on all sides. Most slow cookers have two heat settings: low (around 200°F) and high (around 300°F). The ceramic crock absorbs and transmits heat to the food, cooking it slowly and reducing the likelihood of scorching or sticking.
The lid also plays an important role in slow cooking. The lid is designed to catch condensation produced when the food heats up. This condensation runs down the inside of the lid, where it forms a water seal along the seam between the lid and the ceramic crock. The water seal helps to lock flavor and heat in the food.
The Benefits of Slow Cooking
Slow cookers have many advantages over conventional cooking methods such as baking, boiling, braising, and stewing.
- Ease: Slow cookers are very easy to use. You can prepare ingredients, place them in a slow cooker in the morning before you leave for the day, set it to the low setting, and have a cooked meal waiting for you when you arrive home.
- Versatility: Slow cookers can make all sorts of food—pot roasts, stews, bread, dips, dessert, and more.
- Nutrition: Slow cooking preserves the vitamins and minerals destroyed during high-heat cooking. Using a slow cooker also lets you better control the fat, sugar, and salt content of your meals than you can cooking pre-packaged foods.
- Cost: Slow cookers are inexpensive to run, since they use less electricity than a conventional oven. They also introduce less heat into the kitchen, allowing for lower air conditioning costs in summer.
- Taste: Slow cookers produce terrific-tasting food that’s never dried out or overdone.