Slow Cooker – What Is It?

A slow cooker or crockpot is a small kitchen appliance designed to cook food slowly over an extended period of time. It is a stand alone appliance and sits on the kitchen counter or table.

Currently, slow cookers are electric and must be plugged in during the entire cooking time. This is good because it frees up your stove top and oven, but you’ll need a place where the crock pot can be plugged in and left undisturbed for many hours. In one of my small apartments, this meant that the crock pot had to be somewhere other than my teeny tiny kitchen.  I usually placed it around the corner on our dining table…. did I mention that this kitchen was teensy?

The crock pot consists of a removable round or oval cooking pot made of glazed ceramic or porcelain. The cooking pot has a close fitting lid, sometimes fitted with a steam vent. The removable crock is surrounded by a housing, usually metal, containing an electric heating element which is controlled by a thermostat. As mentioned earlier, the cooking pot is separate from the housing and can be removed for adding ingredients, serving the meal, and or cleaning.

The ceramic pot, or ‘crock’, acts as both a cooking container and a heat reservoir. There is a wide range of sizes for slow cookers varying from 16 ounces (2 cups) on up to about 7 quarts.

It is important to read the directions included with any slow cooker. Often, due to the placement of the heating elements, there will be a minimum recommended liquid level that should be used to avoid uncontrolled local heating.

Many crock pots have two or more temperature settings (e.g., low, medium, high, and sometimes a “keep warm” setting); others may have continuously variable temperature options. As a general rule of thumb, a slow cooker is designed to heat food to 170°F (77°C) on low and up to perhaps 190-200°F (88-93°C) on high.

Some crock pots automatically switch from cooking to warming (maintaining the temperature at 160°F-165°F ) after a fixed time or after the internal temperature of the food, as determined by a probe, reaches a specified value.

Basic cookers, which have only high, medium, low, or keep warm settings, have to be manually turned on and off.

Others have settings for high and low (e.g., four hours high, eight hours low) which allow the cook to choose a cooking time after which the cooker automatically switches to “keep warm” mode.

The most advanced cookers are programmable, allowing the cooker to be programmed to perform multiple operations (e.g., two hours high, followed by two hours low, followed by warm), and also to delay the start of cooking.

Crock pots cook using a combination of heat, slow cooking time, and steam, resulting in savory tender meats. They are suitable for many single dish recipes including but not limited to: stews, chili, soup, pot roast, roasted poultry, sauces, beverages, and more.

For best results use recipes that are specified for crock pots. Recipe conversions can be a challenge, so if you decide to experiment, don’t try a new conversion recipe without testing it first!

All in all, a crock pot is a convenient addition to any cook’s kitchen.