Slow cookers, aka crock-pot cookers are a modern development on the old haybox cooker. They started to become popular in the 1970s but they often suffered, in our experience at least, from being too powerful and over-cooking and burning food. This is happily no longer the case.
Slow cookers are very easy to use, time-saving, versatile and economical. They are fantastic when the adults in the family are out at work all day. Put the ingredients into the machine in the morning, switch on and return home to a cooked meal. They certainly save the cook a lot of energy.
Because they cook slowly for a long time, they are ideal for cooking cheap, tough cuts of meat turning them into meltingly tender pieces full of flavour.
Slow Cooker Energy Usage
Slow cookers are useful for cooking things that you could cook in a low oven or slowly on a hob-top and will use a lot less energy. Their low power, from 100 watts to 400 watts on large models means a low draw.
The thermostat will switch on and off as required to hold temperature but forgetting that, if your 200 watt machine was on for 8 hours it would use 1.6 Kw hours. A conventional electric oven on for 1 hour could use between 2 and 3 Kw hours.
In practice, the machine is likely (especially if equipped with an auto setting) to use half that amount of power.
Slow Cooker Vitamin Retention
Most often they are used to cook ‘all-in-one’ meals like stews or casseroles and they retain vitamins because the vitamins that dissolve into the water which is sealed in by the lid, are consumed as part of the meal. So they’re a pretty healthy way to cook.
What Slow Cooker to Buy?
Basically they all consist of a removable oven-proof dish with a lid set into shell that has the heating element in it with controls on the front. The size varies from 1.5 ltr which would suit someone living on their own to 6.5 ltr models that will happily cater for 8 to 10 people. For a family of 2 adults and 1 or 2 children, a 2.5 ltr to 3.5 ltr cooker will be ideal.
The standard controls give a choice between off, low and high heat. Some have an auto setting which switches from high heat to low heat once the pot has hit temperature. Digital controlled models are available, these usually incorporate a timer and can switch from cook to warm mode after a preset time.
A power-on warning light is a must – it’s easy to forget to switch them on (not that we’ve ever done that! Honest!) and easy to forget to switch them off.
Personally I would avoid fancy digital controls on the basis that they’re not a lot of benefit and something else to go wrong. Basic machines are very reliable.
Buying a Slow Cooker Check List
- Is it the correct size for my needs?
- Does the cooking bowl remove, doubling as a serving bowl?
- Can the serving bowl be cleaned in the dishwasher? (Although we have a dishwasher, it’s always hand washed!)
- Does it have a warning light?
- Does it have low and high power settings?
- Does it have an auto setting? (Well worth it)
- Do I like the look of it?
Generally for a 3.5 litre model ticking the above boxes expect to pay under £20.00 (2016 prices)
Frugal Cooking Methods
- Cooking by Boiling & Steaming – Nutrients, Vitamins & Energy
- Microwave Ovens Guide – Which Oven is Best for You?
- Pressure Cookers Guide – Which Pressure Cooker to Buy?
- Pressure Cooking Retains Nutrients & Vitamins Best
- Slow Cooking – Crock Pot Cooking. Energy Use & Vitamins
- What Fuel To Choose for Cooking in the Kitchen