Should I buy a crockpot?
November 11, 2007 3:36 AM   Subscribe

Does a crockpot really improve the flavor of the food or make your life easier?

I am considering buying a crockpot/slow cooker. One of the things I think I like, is that I can put a lot of stuff in it in the morning and will have dinner ready in the evening. But then again: it seems that vegetarian crockpot recipes are mostly stews/soups/chili's. Couldn't I just make the recipe in a regular pot in the morning and reheat it in the evening? I often hear that the crockpot improves the flavors, but so does leaving food in a normal pot during the day or overnight. Does a crockpot really make a difference in flavor or ease of use? I am vegetarian, so the fact that crockpots make nice soft meats is not relevant for me.

Where I live, a crockpot is hip and new instead of old fashioned, so I cannot just go to a second hand store and buy one on the cheap to see if I like it. I also don't know anybody with a crockpot.
posted by davar to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
The crockpot gets left on all day unsupervised, you just have to put the chopped vegies etc in it in the morning and it cooks all day. In a normal pot, wouldn't you have to make sure you turned it off at some stage?
posted by jacalata at 3:46 AM on November 11, 2007

I am a vegetarian. I find that stews (the sort of thing with tomatoes and mushrooms and celery), specifically, get a much richer flavor when I make them in a crockpot. I don't think it's a matter of the soup/stew having time to sit--I think it's a function of the slow cooking.

A note on convenience, though: I've found that I have to saute onions (and anything else that should be sauteed) in a real pot on the stove and then add them to the crockpot to make things taste good. Taking out, deglazing, and washing a second pot/pan/cooking utensil takes away some of the convenience factor.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:49 AM on November 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Couldn't I just make the recipe in a regular pot in the morning and reheat it in the evening?

Not if it is a recipe that needs longer cooking than the time you have in the morning. When I make chili, for example, I either make it on the stovetop, where it cooks for about four hours, or in the crockpot, where it cooks for about 8 or 10 hours. Without the crockpot, that isn't something I can make on a workday.

There are a number of foods that are really nice when cooked slowly; you can do that without a crockpot, but not if you have to be out of the house that day. And that is the benefit of the crockpot for me: I put a bunch of stuff in it in the morning, and when I get home the house smells great and all I have to do for dinner is open up the crockpot and serve the food. I bought a cheap one at Walmart; I don't think I paid more than $20 or $25, so buying new was not a huge barrier. Do make sure you buy one with a built-in timer -- without that, I wouldn't feel as comfortable leaving it running while I was out of the house.
posted by Forktine at 4:11 AM on November 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

My our family the great thing about a crock pot is that it lets us come home from work to a house that smells wonderful and a dinner that is pretty much ready to be eaten. Sure, I had to work for 20 or 30 minutes in the morning to get all the ingredients into the pot. But that's still a tremendous help for the flow of our day.
posted by alms at 5:11 AM on November 11, 2007

I don't think you could really use a crock pot for re-heating unless you had four hours or so to re-heat it. They cook slowly on a lower temperature so they aren't that efficient at re-heating.

It does make a difference in flavor, though, and if you look around you can find recipes other than soups/stews/chilis. I once made vegetarian lasagna in my crock pot and it turned out really good.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:28 AM on November 11, 2007

As a vegetarian, you probably eat a lot of beans.

Do NOT cook kidney beans in a crockpot, unless you first cook them at high temperate for sufficient time.
posted by orthogonality at 5:50 AM on November 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Crock pots make awesome versions of Indian curries.
posted by LN at 5:57 AM on November 11, 2007

I am a vegetarian. I love my crockpot. I also love soups/stews/chilis. Beyond that, things like potatoes are fantastic in the crockpot.
posted by necessitas at 5:58 AM on November 11, 2007

So, does anyone have recommendations for a good (and not too expensive) crock pot?
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 6:19 AM on November 11, 2007

I love my slow cooker too. Word of caution - get a bigger one, even if you're on your own and don't think you'll need the extra size. Most recipes you'll find are for a bigger sized pot.

I'm not 100% sure on this, but I imagine the slow cooker is more energy efficient than the stovetop, but again, I've got no facts to back this up.
posted by backwards guitar at 6:21 AM on November 11, 2007

Speaking from the omnivore crowd, most meat becomes insanely tender and flavorful in the slow cooker. It also really lets flavors penetrate in a way that other methods just can't touch.
posted by zennoshinjou at 6:27 AM on November 11, 2007

Slow-cooking imparts amazing flavor.
It also, as others have pointed out, is very easy to "set and forget" while you're away at work all day.
I would most enthusiastically recommend a slow cooker.
posted by Rykey at 6:37 AM on November 11, 2007

Oh, and as for the small portions piece you mentioned:
Making bigger quantities and freezing the leftovers is an even easier way to get awesome slow-cooking goodness when you don't feel like cooking.
posted by Rykey at 6:39 AM on November 11, 2007

So, does anyone have recommendations for a good (and not too expensive) crock pot?

I'm not sure whether brand matters, but get one with a removable crock/insert. It's tough to clean them if you can't take the ceramic crock out to put in the sink. Also, I have never used one with a timer or built-in programming, and have never had problems when leaving it on (low) for extended periods of time (>12 hours.) I know many Orthodox Jews who do that all the time so that they can have hot food for Shabbat lunch, and it's never caused safety issues (and rarely leads to burnt food). So if you're trying to scrimp, I don't think a timer function is necessary.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:39 AM on November 11, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies! I am currently a stay at home mom, so I am not in that much of a hurry in the morning, that's why I wondered about the usefulness of a crockpot. I don't really need a time-saver in the morning. I never let my soups and stews simmer for more than half an hour though, so maybe I am missing something already. I do need a time saver during the evening - that's why a crockpot does somewhat appeal to me. Lasagna sounds intriguing. I like oven dishes for days that I am home late, because I can assemble everything ahead of time, but don't like that they'll still need an hour of oven time when I get home (with a hungry child).
posted by davar at 7:15 AM on November 11, 2007

I never let my soups and stews simmer for more than half an hour though

That's the opposite of how I cook soups -- even without the crockpot, I often cook soups, stews, or chili, which I will simmer all afternoon. Long and slow cooking really brings out the flavors, and let you cook beans, barley, etc from scratch. For me, a crockpot is a convenience, not a necessity -- I don't think that there is anything you can make in a crockpot that you couldn't make just as good or better on the stove or in the oven; the advantage, though, is that you can safely leave the crockpot cooking while you go out of the house for errands or work, and I at least am too paranoid to leave pots bubbling on the stove or in the oven if I am not in the house.
posted by Forktine at 7:45 AM on November 11, 2007

Bubbalah - for those who are shomer shabbos crockpots make life much easier. Meals can be set-up before sundown on Friday, and then enjoyed for dinner on Friday and lunch on Saturday!
posted by scblackman at 7:46 AM on November 11, 2007

Nothing ever burns in a crockpot, and the flavour is so incredible. In terms of reccomendations: you can't really go wrong. There's nothing to them, really. Get a big one, get one with a timer if you want it, but it's not necessary. Mine is a big 6qt that is easily 15 years old or older and still works beautifully.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:53 AM on November 11, 2007

I just bought a new Rival one with removable ceramic pot for $17 at Target.
posted by tristeza at 7:59 AM on November 11, 2007

Yes you should buy a crock pot.
posted by neilkod at 8:14 AM on November 11, 2007

Response by poster: I can't stop thinking about crockpot lasagna! The idea of coming home from some after school activity to ready to eat lasagna is just irresistible. If you have any other great vegan crockpot ideas, I would love to know them (I'll also check the archives). Thanks again!
posted by davar at 8:32 AM on November 11, 2007

This question from yesterday may be relevant to you.
posted by box at 8:52 AM on November 11, 2007

Slow cooking is a type of cooking. Like frying and braising. Some things are appropriate and some are not. Slow cooking as a method calls out for certain kinds of dishes. Meats, soups, and stews are some of the best dishes done slowly, but as noted above, beans, curries, even sauces and stocks benefit from a longer and lighter cooking.

We're rather rustic here and don't often bust out the crock pot, but we also heat with wood so cast iron on a trivet or on the surface of the stove is usually how we go.

Here's what we're doing tonight. I've got a sirloin tip roast going into our dutch oven. First I'll grease the cast iron dutch oven with a thin coat of bacon grease on the outside and a thicker one inside. I'll throw that on the stove by itself about an hour. Then I'll transfer that to the electric stove on med-high. Then I'll toss in a half a stick of butter and two small, or one large barely chopped onion and a two or three cups of mushrooms. Saute ten to fifteen minutes. Put cooked onions and mushrooms in a bowl, set aside. In same cast iron add another tablespoon or two of bacon drippings. Throw in sirloin roast and brown all around. Pull out the sirloin and with a paring knife, cut about insert fifteen to twenty quartered slices of garlic clove into the holes. Put the roast back into the dutch oven with a sprig or two of rosemary or sage. Add a can of condensed mushroom soup or 2 cups of stock. Salt and pepper. Then I'll throw in the tiny potatoes we pulled out of the garden a couple of weeks ago, whole, skins-on, and cook that for two or three hours at about 180 (medium on a crock pot). Then I'll add the mushrooms and onions, maybe some carrots and cook another two or three hours. Serve with fresh bread and a salad.

Even if you don't have a crock pot, you can cook like this in your stove, as long as it's in something with a lid. For a beginner it might be a good idea to use a meat thermometer. Just to be sure you're not over or under cooking.
posted by Toekneesan at 8:59 AM on November 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Slow, moist cooking makes tough meat tender and tasty. You can often find crockpots at thrift shops, craigslist, yard sales, etc. They are often on sale for holiday gifts, too. Also useful for keeping food warm at a buffet. I don't like having a lot of small appliances, bit the crockpot has proved its worth.
posted by theora55 at 9:12 AM on November 11, 2007

Rival has a newer model called VersaWare -- not only is the inner pot removable, but you can use it directly on the stovetop or in the oven. Which means you don't have to start off meats/veggies that need to be sauteed in a separate pan.

It's a bit pricey, though, at about $70. Which is why it's still on my wish list, and not in my pantry.
posted by spinning jennie at 9:32 AM on November 11, 2007

Nothing ever burns in a crockpot, Er... *raises hand sheepishly* .... I've managed to burn something in a crockpot. I will acknowledge that it takes particular dedication to the cause of hating the kitchen to manage it though.

As you can guess by the above, I'm a terrible cook, but most of the stuff I make in the slow cooker tastes really good. My three staple recipes are chili, beef stew, and soup beans, but now I'm eager to try the crockpot lasagne!
posted by happyturtle at 9:49 AM on November 11, 2007

There's an added bonus to buying a crockpot with a good removable ceramic insert: you can use the insert with the lid to bake amazing crusty bread in your oven. Put the ceramic insert into your oven and preheat at 500 degrees. Drop your risen dough into the insert, give it a few squirts with a spray mister, and plop on the lid. After about a half hour you'll have a spectacular round loaf. The crock pot works like an oven within your oven, providing even heat and locking in moisture while baking.
posted by maryh at 10:03 AM on November 11, 2007 [5 favorites]

N'thing the suggestion to get a crockpot with a removable insert, and adding the suggestion to buy a new one even if you do stumble across an old one at a thrift store or garage sale.

The old ones were often pretty crappy, with a single heating element halfway up the walls of the nonremovable liner. The liner being glass or some other poor conductor, it would overheat and scorch food near the heat source unless the food was an excellent heat conductor (namely, very watery things like soup and thin stews). I had one in college ~30 years ago and got so frustrated with it I eventually ditched it. I think the new models are much better engineered, so avoid anything done up in Harvest Gold or Avocado Green. I guess that goes without saying anyway, huh?
posted by Quietgal at 10:14 AM on November 11, 2007

I've been daydreaming about ricecookers and using their crock pot and risotto functions.

Anyone happy with using a rice cooker in this manner or should I just get a dedicated crock pot? (They're cheap enough.)
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:58 AM on November 11, 2007

Google "haybox" for an alternative lower-energy, lower-cost solution to preparing food early and having it cook slowly. It is easy to make one with real hay, or an old quilt, or children's outgrown winter clothing or...
posted by Idcoytco at 11:02 AM on November 11, 2007

Response by poster: Sometimes I so wished I lived in the US! New crockpots for 17 dollars? Crockpots in thrift stores! And that VersaWare model looks ideal, but alas, not available over here. The cheapest slow cooker I can find is 60 euro's.

Idcoyto, I actually considered alternative solutions like a haybox, but I don't think haybox lasagna will work...
posted by davar at 1:32 PM on November 11, 2007

Yes, you should get a crockpot. They're an excellent way to make a big, cheap cut of meat into something delicious.

I make a chipotle beef brisket in mine which is amazing - the recipe is here. It goes well with these green onion and corn pancakes which are not made in a crockpot, but easy enough to make on a frying pan or griddle.

If you like leftovers, crockpots are a good way to fix a big batch of stew or chili that you can enjoy for a few days.
posted by Ostara at 3:27 PM on November 11, 2007

One downside of crockpots not mentioned here is that they have the ability to make you feel hungrier than you've ever felt before. Coming home at 4 in the afternoon to the delicious smells of whatever's stewing makes the hour(s) until dinnertime unbearable.
posted by msbrauer at 4:50 PM on November 11, 2007

Not to derail...actually, this might be more of a re-rail. There's a lot of meat-based advice above - is there more word to be had from the vegetarian crowd? I've got a crockpot, and I've had a hard time finding vegetarian recipes that aren't in soups/chilis line or which don't particularly appeal, so I understand the OP's reluctance on that point.

In fact, with one or two exceptions, I've used it almost exclusively in the way that maryh describes: for making bread.
posted by averyoldworld at 10:31 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Crockpots are the best! I have a Rival Crockpot brand one that was about $20 at the grocery store. It has a removable ceramic container where the food goes that you can remove and wash in the dishwasher.
Everything I've made in has been amazing. Soups, stews, chicken, etc. Chicken soups are rich and the meat just falls apart from the tenderness.
posted by fructose at 11:11 AM on November 12, 2007

The meal mentioned above. On a plate.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:06 PM on November 12, 2007

My Rival crockpot, with removable insert, was $10 at a grocery store. One benefit I would add as a mom with small children as I think it's safer to have food cooking in a crockpot at the back of the counter than bubbling away on a burner all day-my toddler is quite the climber and I worry about stuff on the oven for very long ('cause I don't really want to just stand there and watch it cook).

I love doing lentil soup in the crockpot, and other bean type soups. You will be amazed at how much better most soups taste after being cooked for hours, whether on the stove or in a crockpot.
posted by purenitrous at 9:10 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

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