How Do I Choose The Right Crock Pot?
Thirty or forty years ago, there were only a few models of crock pots to choose from. Today there are hundreds if not thousands of options in the world of crock pots. Over the years, improvements have been made, new brands have come to the market, and the world is reinventing what the slow cooker can do. When it comes to selecting a crock pot, you need to know what to look for, what you absolutely need your crock pot to do, and your bottom line. Let’s take a look at a few guidelines for choosing the crock pot that’s right for you:
The Basic Structure
A crock pot is made up of three main parts; 1) the outer shell or base; 2) the inner stoneware or crock insert, and 3) the lid.
The outer shell should stay rather cool to the touch. You should be able to wash off the surface with a damp rag without too much trouble. Look for skid-proof feet on the bottom to keep the crock pot from slipping around the counter top while you’re preparing your meal. The outer shell also houses the controls, so check to see if they are sturdy, well situated, and easy to see.
The inner stoneware section, or ‘crock,’ should be rather resilient and feel sturdy. The crock is not unbreakable, so if you drop it on a solid floor, it may break. However, it should feel solid in your hands. The best crock pots have a removable insert so it makes serving and clean up easy. You’ll also want to be sure you can get your hands on the crock handles and easily lift it out of the outer shell without struggling.
The lid, while simple in design, is one of the reasons crock pots work so well. The best lids have a separate knob protruding out of the top. This separation of materials helps to keep the knob cool to the touch while the rest of the device heats up. The lid should also have a good seal around the outside edge, in order to keep the heat and liquids from escaping. Glass lids used to be the standard, but nowadays the plastic ones are just as nice and they have the added benefit of being lighter, which makes them easier to handle.
What You Need vs What You Want
While the three basic parts come standard on all crock pots; the base, insert, and lid. Beyond those three basic elements, you’ll find some very nice, convenient features you might want to look at.
Your basic crock pot has one switch on the outside of the base, sort of a dial. This switch usually has three or four settings. The standard settings you’ll find are High, Low, and Warm. There is a fourth setting of “Off” on many crock pots today, but years ago, it was common to unplug the crock pot when you wanted to turn it off.
More modern crock pots allow you to control more than those three basic settings. Digital crock pots are designed to give you control over the actual temperature of the crock pot. You can also set a timer to let you know when your dish needs to be stirred, have ingredients added, or is done.
Programmable crock pots allow the user to set the temperature on high, then automatically turn down to low at a chosen time during the cooking process. While it usually seems good to have more control, these added features may make things a little difficult. Depending on your style, this may make crock pot cooking seem more involved, especially when most crock pot recipes are written with simple High and Low settings.
Determining the size of the crock pot is also important. The larger the family, the bigger the crock pot. However, a large stew can still be made in a four or five quart crock pot. You’ll want to consider the area you have on your counter top, too. Also, the shape is important. If you’ve cooking a lot of bigger chickens or roasts, you might want to consider an oval shape. If your crock pot will be used mainly for soup, a deeper model may be just right. If you are cooking appetizers and snacks mostly, a smaller crock pot will probably suit you just fine.
The Bottom Line
Crock pots can range from ten dollars to well over a couple hundred. The most important aspect of picking out the perfect crock pot for you is to look at your budget and find the best value for your money. Look at size, construction of parts, and how well it all goes together. If taken care of, your crock pot will last a lifetime and will pay for itself over and over again. Just remember, you don’t have to get the fanciest crock pot to cook a great meal for your family.