[box] This month, I'll be starting a series of posts that will comprise a Crock Pot 101 class. After the first two lessons, I'll release a new class with every 50 new subscribers on the Mom University email list! I have about enough material for at least 10-12 more lessons...I'd appreciate it if you can help me get the word out![/box] Lesson 2: Purchasing a Crock Pot
Okay, so you're ready to roll with slow cooking after reading lesson 1. Or maybe you already have one collecting dust in your garage or tucked away into a corner. By the way, did you know that slow cookers first came onto the scene in the 1970s---I remember my mom getting one, you know in the 70's butternut yellow color---and cooking with it for a little while. As with the rest of the country, crock pots fell out of style for a couple decades before making a comeback in the 90's. If you inherited one of those 70's crockpots, then it's time for an upgrade.
But if you're like me and got one for your wedding in the 90's, things have changed. The 90's version may look something like this. Look familiar?
There is a noticeable difference between crockpots made before 2000 and after. I found this out when I cooked a pot roast for our church's summer cooking Bible study a couple years ago. My newer one looks like this:It is oval in shape, purchased about 4-5 years ago. I thought it was pretty cool because it came with a "keep warm" function. For this class, I began playing with it a lot more and because it cooks things a little faster, I usually stick with the lower end of the recommended cooking times. This weekend, I made stew, tri-tip and salisbury steak. They all turned out fabulous.
However, there is one thing that bugs me. If you look at the settings, you can see that high heat has two time settings, 4 and 6 hours and low heat has 8 and 10 hours. But I am stuck if I want to turn my crock pot on high for an hour or cook something on low heat for 4 hours. I have pretty much just ignored the time designations and just focused on the heat settings. Because I stay at home, it's not a big deal. My husband bought it because it was on sale at Costco and as I was finding myself using a slow cooker so often, we thought it would be nice to have an upgrade. If you work long hours from home, this keep warm feature is helpful. It keeps food at about 145 degrees F, which is a safe temperature.
Even though it's pretty standard now, make sure any slow cooker you buy has a removable crock. I have a mini one that doesn't. Im not sure if they have ones like that without this feature anymore , but it is a pain to wash.
If you do a lot of cooking with a crock pot, you may want to check around for other features, like temperature probes, insulated traveling cases, retractable cords, latches on lids, electronic temperature monitoring, more cooking ranges, digital settings and LCD panels, or models that reserve power. I have only heard about these. I don't know about them mainly because what I have still works. I have found the basics fully sufficient for me. If you just cook at home, then you don't need fancy bells and whistles. Just think about what you would need it for. Round cookers are usually less expensive than the oval ones that are good for roasts.
As for size, I would say choose the larger one. Even if you have just the two of you, you can double a recipe for a smaller cooker and have leftovers for another night. Or you can make adjustments if it is too little by add extra of an ingredient, like vegetables. Generally, I use a 5-qt. slow cooker for meals to feed my family of 5.
If you have an old crockpot and you're not sure if it's doing it's job, you can try this test from the Hillbilly Housewife to see if it is actually cooking foods at the right temperature. Fill your crockpot with 2/3 cold water. Cover. Turn heat on low for 8 hours. Using an accurate cooking thermometer, check water temp quickly (keeping the lid open too long can alter the actual temperature). It should be 185 degrees F. If not, then your food is not reaching a safe cooking temperature. Or if it's too high, then it's cooking too high and you may wish to shorten your total cooking time. What is more of the bigger issue is if it is not cooking high enough, this may be a safety issue for meats. Time for a new slow cooker!
Hmmm, I think that's about it for choosing a crock pot. Before I go though, I encourage you to check out the post on Bethany's Chili. A crock pot is great for just heating up canned ingredients. This is a nice, thick hearty chili that our family loves. I hope you'll enjoy it too!
Part of the Crockpot 101 series.