Slow Cooker 101

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Need a Slow Cooker 101? In this series, Know Your Kitchen, we’re going over the appliances you own so you can feel confident using them like a pro! Here you’ll find all the answers for what a slow cooker is, how to use it, how to convert recipes, and more! 

slow cooker with spoon

My Favorite Slow Cooker

This one does it all! Similar to an Instant Pot, this slow cooker can sear, sauté, and quickly transform into a slow cooker making it the ultimate all-in-one appliance that’s equally as beautiful as the dish prepared in it!

Benefits of a Slow Cooker

Slow cookers are a classic kitchen appliance that, when understood properly, can make home-cooking so much easier. They’re great for cooking in bulk and for prepping ahead of time. You can enjoy meats, soups, stews, pastas, dips, and even desserts! Slow cookers allow you to set it and forget it, and even cook from frozen! Yes – a slow cooker is the tool to give any beginner cook, as well as a trusty sidekick to any seasoned chef.

What is a Slow Cooker?

A slow cooker is an electric countertop cooking appliance that does exactly what it sounds like it does…cooks slowly! 

It’s made up of a large pot with a heating element inside and a ceramic or stainless steel insert. The food is placed into the insert, the pot is covered with a lid, then it’s cooked for a long time at a low temperature. 

The heat starts on the bottom of the insert, then slowly moves up into the food. The lid traps the heat and moisture in the pot and the condensation that forms on the underside of the lid falls back onto the food as it cooks. This keeps the food super moist even as it cooks for a long length of time. 

What’s the Difference Between a Slow Cooker and a Crockpot?

There isn’t one! Technically, there is no appliance called a “crockpot”. CrockPot is the brand that developed the first slow cooker. Now, even though there are other brands that make slow cookers, the terms “slow cooker” and “crockpot” are still used interchangeably to refer to the same appliance. 

The Best – The OG

Slow cookers have changed over the years, but to this day, if I can find an old, original CrockPot at a yard sale, I’ll grab it. The designs may not be contemporary but the heating elements and functions of the older pots cook much more evenly than new ones from your local Target.

What is the Point of a Slow Cooker?

  • Ease: Many slow cooker recipes are dump and go. No fancy layers or fuss, just dump the ingredients and continue on with your busy day.
  • One-Pot Meals: Many slow cooker recipes are one-pot meals. This means no need for side dishes, and no need for extra dishes. All the cleanup you have is the slow cooker insert.
  • Keeps Food Warm: Planned for dinner at 5 and didn’t get home until 6? No problem. The slow cooker keeps food warm and ready for when you are.
  • Great for Tough Meats: Slow cooking is the best way to break down tougher cuts of meat so they’re fall-apart tender in texture, and retain their moisture in the process. No babysitting required.
  • Develop Deep Flavor: Soups and stews that have longer cooking times develop great flavors.

Bonus Points: Food can be covered and stored in the insert in the refrigerator.

Is the Slow Cooker Insert Oven-Safe? What is it Made Out Of?

Most slow cookers you find have inserts that are made of either ceramic or nonstick cast-aluminum—both of which are oven-safe up to 400ºF. Keep in mind that the insert is the only part of the slow cooker that is oven-safe. The rest of the pot and the slow cooker lid cannot be put in the oven.

To make sure you are taking the best possible care of your slow cooker, I recommend checking your specific manual before putting the insert in the oven. 

The Crockpot Slow Cooker
Ninja Lovers Slow Cooker
Instant Pot Slow Cooker

Is An Instant Pot a Slow Cooker?

It can be! The primary purpose of the instant pot is actually opposite that of a slow cooker and is technically a pressure cooker. It’s designed to cook food quickly under high pressure. The magic of an instant pot, however, is it can serve a number of different purposes in the kitchen including slow cooking, steaming, and even sautéing. So, although an instant pot is not technically a slow cooker, it can absolutely be used as one! 

Have more questions about slow cookers?

Have more questions about slow cookers? Be sure to follow along in this series where we’re sharing tips and tricks for converting recipes into slow cooker meals, how to slow cook frozen foods, and so much more!

slow cooker pot roast

FAQ’s

Can you sear in a slow cooker?

Most slow cookers, no. A traditional slow cooker does exactly what it says…cooks slowly. Searing means you are cooking something quickly at high heat. Some slow cookers now offer that function, but not all. Be sure to read the functions of the product. In certain recipes, you may be instructed to sear meats before adding them to the slow cooker. This helps them get that crispy exterior that the slow cooker can’t achieve. 

Can you cook ground beef in a slow cooker?

Totally! You can put raw ground beef into the slow cooker and it cooks perfectly. You can use ground beef in a specific recipe or you can cook it on its own to add to another recipe. The main thing you need to know is that cooking anything in the slow cooker does require a liquid. So even cooking plain ground beef will require the addition of water or broth. This prevents the beef from drying out or burning on the bottom of the insert. Also, keep in mind that by cooking the ground beef in the slow cooker directly, you will not be able to drain any excess fat.

What’s the difference between a liner and an insert?

When we talk about an ‘insert’ we’re talking about the actual ceramic or metal pot that is inside the heating element. When we say ‘liner’ we’re referring to the disposable crockpot liners available at some grocery stores, that provide a quicker clean-up in some cases. Please note that not all liners are oven-safe, and not all liners can be safe for all slow cookers.

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our favorite

Slow Cooker Recipes

These are tried and true classics sure to make their way into your meal rotation and stay there!

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Slow Cooker Chicken Stock

Slow Cooker Chicken Stock

oven baked chicken meatballs served with sweet and sour sauce

Sweet and Sour Baked Chicken Meatballs

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