The slow cooker: Uncluttered kitchen cooking

As fall nears and the weather cools, I start looking forward to a good bowl of chili while watching my favorite football team play on a Sunday afternoon. My thoughts of chili then progress into musings of stews and soups and all the wonderful things that can be made in my slow cooker.

I like using a slow cooker because it means that I dirty it and no other pots or pans during meal preparation. There are a few exceptions when an additional pan is needed to brown or sear meat, but these instances are rare. After the meal has been served, cleanup is as simple as moving the empty crock from the slow cooker to the dishwasher. The slow cooker is definitely an uncluttered kitchen solution.

If you don’t currently own a slow cooker, there are really only two features that I see as essential components. The first necessary feature is a separate, removable inner crock. The second feature is a temperature indicator that has at least three settings: Off, Low, and High. I have never found use for any of the other slow cooker features currently on the market. A crock pot with these two features also has the benefit of usually costing less than $30 and will last you many years.

The majority of the recipes I make in my slow cooker are in my head. However, I took a trip recently to my local bookstore and saw that there are now dozens of slow cooker recipe books in publication for people seeking printed recipes. Also, a Google search for “slow cooker recipe” yielded thousands of recipes from online sources. If you’re looking for inspiration, here are some of the slow cooker cookbooks on the market:

Enjoy your uncluttered cooking experience!

40 Comments for “The slow cooker: Uncluttered kitchen cooking”

  1. posted by Cody on

    Ok, what’s a blog for if not getting things out of your head and sharing them with the world?
    How ’bout a recipe or two? Throw us a bone here. The only things I ever do with my crock is make beans and chicken broth.

    To start it off, beans is just beans and water, soak overnight, then turn it on low in the morning – they should be ready by dinner (but will need seasoning)

    Broth: I throw a whole frozen chicken in there with some salt. Cook on low for 8 hours. Then get most of the meat out (and use it for a recipe).
    Then I add an onion, carrots, celery, and seasonings (whatever I have) to the bones. Fill the crock with water and let it go 20-24 hours. Strain, and voila, Amazing broth.

  2. posted by Sidney on

    So that you don’t have to buy a book and accumulate more things, you can try recipezaar.com to find slow cooker recipes. They have an entire slow cooker category. You can store your recipes there, and do fantastic searches based on your mood, available ingredients, etc.. It has allowed me to reduce my cookbook clutter to just a few actual books. I’m using my slow cooker tonight on a pork tenderloin; we’re expecting a storm and that’s my FAVORITE time for comfort food. Can’t wait!

  3. posted by cevec on

    I just requested three slow cooker recipe books from the library, as I’m having trouble finding vegetarian slow-cooker recipes online. If anyone finds a good site for those, please share!

  4. posted by Michael on

    Slow cookers are clutter. Do you have an oven? It’s a slow cooker too.

  5. posted by derPlau on

    Ahhh, the fine line between a unitasker and an “uncluttered solution”… pretty clearly crossed here.

    All of these things can be done with a heavy dutch oven in your oven… with the additional benefit that you can actually sear your meat in the dutch oven, and use it for other stovetop tasks as well.

  6. posted by Erin at Unclutterer on

    @Michael and @derPlau — For starters, the slow cooker is much more energy efficient that firing up your oven. Secondly, you can leave it running for hours with little or no regard for it … which I do not recommend with an oven. Thirdly, dutch ovens are heavier and take up the same space to store. Finally, the slow cooker is much better suited to low temperature cooking than a dutch oven.

    Having used both, I greatly prefer the slow cooker and got rid of my dutch oven years ago.

  7. posted by Anne on

    I think the fact that you’re only dirtying the slow cooker has more to do with the type of meal you’re making than with the cooker itself. Almost anything you do in the slow cooker, you could also do in just one pot on the stove or in the oven. Stews, chili, roasts, etc. Not to say there aren’t other benefits of having a slow cooker, but the one-pot-cooking thing is a red herring.

    Also, a word of warning. That stainless steel crock-pot in the picture stinks! The lid doesn’t fit on tightly at all and it either burns the food or allows stuff to boil over. I got it as a gift and got rid of it after a few ruined dishes. I haven’t replaced it with anything because I don’t really see a need for a slow cooker.

  8. posted by Adam on

    Funny, I am giving my slow cooker away after two uses in three years. I will take my Le Creuset French oven over a crockpot any day. I can one pot cook (with or without searing) on stove top, in the oven or in the coals of my grill or wherever. Simple, universal, easy to clean. It is quality that will still function for my kids years from now.

  9. posted by Erin at Unclutterer on

    @Adam — The price point between a slow cooker and a Le Creuset French dutch oven is incredible. If you want to buy me a Le Creuset dutch oven, I will strongly reconsider my recommendation :)

  10. posted by mamacita on

    1. Crockpots are usually easy to find at Goodwill. 2. I have a rule that I don’t turn on my oven when I’m using the air conditioner (which is 6 months of the year on the Gulf Coast), so I get lots of use out of mine in the summer.
    3. I really like barbecue brisket cooked in the crockpot. Any cheap cut of meat is great in there.

  11. posted by claudine on

    I just received a slow cooker as a gift – I would never have bought one, but now that I have it I’m glad. It is nice to come home to a prepared meal and to not have to ‘work’ after work. I got one that has a thermometer you can stick into your roast – when the meat has reached its ideal set temperature, it will stop cooking and just keep it warm. Have had excellent results so far. My only gripe is that it takes up too much room… I don’t like it sitting out on display on my countertop, so I think I will have to clear out a shelf in my cupboards to fit it in.

  12. posted by verily on

    I feel much safer leaving a slow cooker on and unattended than a big oven. It’s also convenient if you have an office that loves its potlucks. Easy way to keep food warm.

    I also have a dutch oven and I find myself using the slow cooker much more often. If it weren’t for no-knead bread, I’d probably just give the dutch oven away.

  13. posted by Melissa A. on

    I have “Fix-It and Forget-It” but I don’t really like it. My friend bought it for me though. The “vegetarian” section is not vegetarian at all (beef broth is meat based people!) :P But I like having a crock pot even though I don’t use it much.

  14. posted by JW on

    The number 1 feature of a slow cooker for me is that (mine) turns off after 8 hours and is reasonably safe to leave unattended.

    Throw some meat and veggies in on the way to work, and come home to a great smelling house and hot dinner.

  15. posted by Adam on

    @Erin – This is the Dutch oven I have and use and is more in volume line with the crockpot I have (and am giving away) and the one you have displayed. Granted crockpots may be a good choice for some people, but not for me. I like more control over my cooking than “set it and forget it”. I did my homework and found a Le Creuset outlet close by where I didn’t pay $199. I found one (of many) with a cosmetic blemish that cost me just under $120. There are other brands of enameled cast iron Dutch ovens that vary in price as well. One has to think of it as an investment not an expense. It isn’t disposable product that get thrown out it will last for generations.

  16. posted by derPlau on

    Although it seems intuitive that a slow cooker is more energy efficient than an oven, it’s not necessarily true: the slow cooker is on all the time, while an oven is effectively off much of the time once it’s up to temperature. See some back-of-the-envelope calculations here.

    As to whether a crockpot is “better” at slow cooking than a dutch oven in an oven, that’s a pretty subjective evaluation; I much prefer my dutch oven (a $25 cast-iron one bought at Target several years ago) to a crockpot I used to have.

    And if your priority is on reducing clutter, the greater flexibility of the dutch oven solution would seem to win hands-down: yes, it takes up approximately the same amount of space as a crockpot, but I’ll bet you can also use it in place of at least one other pot you’ve got,.

  17. posted by Kimberly on

    I love my slow cooker. I have used at least once a week for the last five years, when the weather in SoCal stays down in the low 70s. The only items I would add are a on/off timer and a ‘keep warm’ function. I used a simple lamp timer to turn it on, for those days that I am gone longer than the 8-10 hours on low called for on the recipies. My new crock pot has a timer as well as a ‘keep warm’ function, for after the cooking is finished – this is great, because even the best recipies can dry out when cooked for too long.

    I had a dutch oven for a while, but I found that what I required was a good chili pot with higher sides: in with the chili, out with the dutch oven. In the end, my preference for a crock pot was largely an issue of not wishing to burn down the house while I was at work.

  18. posted by Martha on

    I want to put in a vote here for a Chambers stove. These stoves aren’t made any more but you can find them all over the place – online at various prices or in people’s houses for very cheap. They were manufactured from the 1920s or 1930s into the 1960s. They cook on retained heat — in other words, you turn on the heat for half an hour, then turn it off and the food in the oven keeps on cooking. It can’t burn because the heat is not actually on, and it uses almost no energy because it’s only on for half an hour. In the top is a “well,” which is like a slow cooker embedded in the stove. You can cook stews, veggies, beans, porridge, etc. in the well, during the day or overnight. You can also cook these things in the oven, using slightly more energy, as well as chickens, etc. It’s like an energy-efficient slow cooker. People who have Chambers stoves tend to be fanatically devoted to them, they are so easy and convenient.

  19. posted by Jasi on

    @Sidney: Totally agree with you. Slowcookers rock, if you have good recipes. And there’s no sense in getting cookbooks. It’s just more clutter.
    @cevec: Try hacking veggie Indian recipes. An awful lot of them could be slowcooked with some preparation. And they’re super delicious. I’ve done a great Saag Paneer in my crockpot. Give it a go.
    @Melissa A.: Hated FIaFI cookbooks. Found the recipes too “Ketchup and Campbells” for me. Need something for a more sophisticated palate.

    Good article. But please don’t push buying a ton of books as an uncluttering solution.

  20. posted by Kaylee on

    One more must-have feature for crockpots: a timer. Since my work day is 11 hours (including commute) and most crockpot recipes are only 4-7 hours, the timer is essential. Kimberly’s suggestion of a lamp timer is an excellent “add-on” if your crockpot doesn’t have the timer built in.

    Allrecipes.com is a great place for slow cooker recipes and any other recipe you might want.

  21. posted by Porkaholic on

    I love my slowcooker and use it almost weekly. I don’t really see why you need any features other than low-high-off. Do you people not own clocks?

  22. posted by Anonymous on

    Porkaholic,

    I do own a clock. What I don’t own is a remote control for my crockpot which would let me turn it off while I am still at work! Hence, for those of us with work days longer than our crockpot recipe, a timer is essential.

  23. posted by jen on

    My mother-in-law just introduced me to crock-pot liners. I didn’t even have to wipe out the pot when I was finished cooking. I just removed the bag, put the roast and vegetables on a plate, and threw away the liner…it was so easy!

  24. posted by Sabrina on

    I recommend Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow-Cooker for vegetarians, those looking for healthy food, and those just wanting to get away from ‘cream-of’-based cooking.

  25. posted by Jessi on

    I’m a renter with a tiny funky kitchen with no oven, and no room for one. My slowcooker is my friend! I use it a lot to cook big batches of beans and lentils to stock my freezer with. I want to cook more actual soups, stews and casseroles with it, though. I’m a little nervous of cooking meat in it. Are there guidelines somewhere about what setting and how much time you need to cook the meat safely?

  26. posted by Jessi on

    answering my own question: the government says it’s safe to cook meat in a slow cooker. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_...../index.asp

  27. posted by Emily on

    I’d love to use a slowcooker when I am at work but am so nervous about leaving it on all day with no one home. Is it really OK?

  28. posted by John on

    Our slow cooker doesn’t use any crockery. It has a metal non-stick dish that sits on a hot-plate kinda thing. We can use it to brown meat and then transfer it onto the hot plate to slow cook.

    It’s probably not as efficient as a crockery-based cooker, but it’s nice to not have to dirty extra pans.

  29. posted by bobbquackenbush on

    Use a slow cooker to make homemade stocks! Just use your favorite recipe, and use the crock for the stock instead of on the stove burner method. Even a small slow cooker can make a pint of stock a day. Best $20.00 I’ve spent in the kitchen in years.

  30. posted by Trippy on

    Try this blog for tons of crockpot recipes:
    http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/

  31. posted by Christine on

    I would definitely second the recommendation of “Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker.” There’s a ton of healthy and sophisticated recipes, and they’re honest-to-pete vegetarian (no chicken broth here!).

    Crockpots are a summer life-saver when you don’t have AC at home. One of my good friends actually sets up her crockpot on the front porch so that it doesn’t heat up the house too much, and I like that I can move it as far away from the bedroom as possible so that I can still get to sleep at night. (After two years of doing this, she has yet to have anybody steal her dinner).

  32. posted by Mary Rex on

    I just ran home at lunch and threw a bunch of stuff in my crockpot. Recipes using chicken parts do well in just 4 hours. I filled the pot about 2/3 full with yukon gold potatoes & zucchini cut in large chunks, green beans, onions and tomatoes chopped, a bay leaf, some seasoned salt and about a cup of tomato sauce, and 1/2 cup of water. I browned 6 skinless chicken thighs and put them on top with some more seasoned salt. Everyone raved about it last time. I love my crockpot.

  33. posted by Mary Rex on

    Oh, and put it on low. I am sure that the crockpot saves energy, especially in the summer. I have a cast iron dutch oven that I love also in the winter when I want to warm up the house. Last year during a 4 day power outage I used mine to cook over a fire in the fireplace.

  34. posted by Mander on

    We just bought a new house and don’t have a stove yet, so we’ve been cooking on one of those electric hot plates plus the crock pot. You can make just about anything in the crock pot–even bread, I’ve been told–and it is a lot more effective than the hot plate. I make lots of stew, chili, soup, curry, and pot roast in mine. We don’t own a dutch oven, and while I plan to buy one at some point, for now I’ll stick with the crock pot.

  35. posted by julie on

    Can I use a normal oven for slow cooking?

  36. posted by Rachel on

    I found a great blog that has great information too about crock pots and some good recipes that have been tested. If you want to check it out its at http://crockpotmeals.myreviewguide.com
    I think I would rather use the crock pot for slow cooking any day and it doesn’t heat the house up like the oven does.

  37. posted by work on

    Slow cookers are just “the way to go!” in my mind. I am quite happy with cutting a few veggies and adding meat in the morning. It makes the house smell so delicious all day long. My favorite is cooking up a roast in the crockpot on Sundays.

    Thank you Cody for the comment and recipe for broth. I would like to try that!

  38. posted by Mark on

    With football season back…I can agree with you about the chili from the crokpot

  39. posted by Wendy on

    There’s nothing better then coming home knowing that dinner is hot and ready.

    Check your local library for slow cooker cookbooks.

  40. posted by Kay on

    Love crockpots! You can make stews, rice dishes, bread, soups, hot beverages, meatballs, wings, mac ‘n’ cheese…the list goes on! Not at all a unitasker, and safer than leaving the house with the oven or stove on.

    For a pot roast, I season a roast with salt and pepper, throw it in the crockpot with a can of beefy mushroom soup, some red-skin potatoes, a chopped onion and baby carrots. Four hours on high or eight hours on low, and you’ve got a tasty pot roast without a messy kitchen!

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