Cooks Illustrated Best Kitchen Tools: Crock Pots and Slow Cookers

January 5, 2014

Slow Cookers


Crock-Pot Touchscreen

Cook’s Illustrated “highly recommended” choice for best slow cooker satisfies fully their quest to find a regular-sized/feeds-six slow cooker that delivers “Cadillac performance for a bargain price.”

The Crock-Pot Touchscreen got top marks for ease-of-use (read: don’t need to be a computer scientist to work the control panel), a glass lid so you can monitor wazzup, and a timer that goes to 20 hours, even on high. Cook’s reports that food cooked perfectly. And this is, I believe, all we need to say on the subject.

Given that it’s WAY cheaper than the runner up, the All-Clad Slow Cooker with Ceramic Insert, and that the timer on the more expensive one only stays on high for a maximum of six hours before switching to the warming mode, the Crock-Pot slow cooker wins hands down.

Slow Cooker-1
Too bad we hadn’t read the review before we bought our All-Clad. That 20-hour timer thing would have vastly simplified many meals. (I have, on several occasions, stumbled through the dark to re-boot a batch of 24-hour baked beans, fer instance.)

Small Slow Cookers

Now this makes a lot of sense to me: a small slow cooker for smaller families or smaller kitchens. Of course, you are still looking for a model that is consistent, easy to use, good-looking, low maintenance, and cheerful first thing in the morning.


Cuisinart 4-Quart Cook Central 3-in-1 Multicooker

Viola! Meet the perfect contender in the newly emerging field of “multicookers”: slow cookers that can also brown, saute, and steam food. The Cuisinart Multicooker can accommodate about half the quantity of food of its larger brethren and also has… wait for it… a programmable timer that can cook on high for up to 24-hours before automatically switching over to “keep warm.” According to Cook’s everything (brown/saute/steam) works according to plan with the benefit of being able to sear food before cooking or reduce sauces afterward without mucking up another pot.

Portable Crock Pots


Crock-Pot Lunch Crock Warmer

Okay, not sure why exactly we would give over cabinet space for a portable crock pot, unless all those Facebook postings about the evils of microwave ovens are true. However, if you find yourself in need of a little base and insert to carry and reheat food somewhere with electricity yet not your home or using a microwave oven, this Crock-Pot Lunch Crock Warmer is apparently the best portable crock pot on offer, recommended “with reservations.”

Pros: It works. The crock pot heats quickly to 140 degrees and after a couple of hours hits a max of about 175 degrees and stays there until you shut it off. You can also leave the base at the office and just schlep the 20-ounce insert back and forth from home.

Cons: Since the lid can leak after multiple heating/cooling cycles and trips through the dishwasher, Cook’s recommends putting the insert into a zip-lock bag for transport.

Bonus: Slow Cooker Tips and Tricks

Here are five slow cooker tips and tricks to ensure that your slow cooker meals are as fantastic for your health and palate as they are for your time management resolutions.

  1. Fill your slow cooker to the right level to make sure you hit the timing in the recipe and to keep your food safe. Overfilling (over 2/3 full) can result in a slower-to-temp ramp, leaving your food (especially meat) in the dangerous “luke-warm” zone where bacteria are most comfortable and breed happily.
  2. Pick your weapon: use the correct size. Most slow cooker recipes are created with a 5-6 quart slow cooker in mind. The key is to make sure that the vessel is neither under- nor over-filled (see gross bacteria warning above).
  3. Use only thawed food and bring liquids to a simmer (microwave works great for this) before adding them to the pot to jump start the initial “heat up” process. Cut meat into pieces to make sure they don’t take too long (see icky bacteria insights above), or end up being undercooked entirely.
  4. Glass lids help avoid the temptation to lift the lid and peek, letting precious heat and moisture escape. Don’t peek!
  5. Invest in one of the new multicookers for maximizing flavor. There’s nothing like some toothsome carmelized bits from searing and sauteing right in the pan and then deglazing with whatever liquid you add, all without the added step (and mess) of using another pan, to amp the “wow” factor of your next easy-peasy culinary masterpiece.

For more slow cooker tips and tricks and for some KILLER slow cooker recipes, check out these top-rated slow cooker bibles from America’s Test Kitchen:


Slow Cooker Revolution

and the follow up volume:

Slow Cooker Revolution, The Easy Prep Edition

With recipes for everything from Chicken Soft Tacos to Poached Salmon and even Cheesecake, you may never pull out your frying pan again!

More “Cook’s Illustrated Recommends”

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy R January 5, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Any tips for cooking Osso Bucco? Thanks for another great review!

Reply

kathy January 6, 2014 at 3:13 pm

Hey Nancy!
Thanks for the kind words.
While I can’t find anything specific in our Cook’s materials on slow cookers and Osso Buco, you might find this interesting: http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/slow-cooker-osso-buco.aspx. And with the new multicookers that are out there, you could do the braising, deglazing, and sauce reduction steps right in the slow cooker!

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