There are a few considerations to bear in mind when shopping for a slow cooker. Regardless of individual cooking needs in relation to recipes or serving amounts, there are several brands and models available to choose from.
A good first step in shopping for slow cookers is to find a good slow cooker recipe book. This will give the shopper a clear idea of the size requirements and styles of cooking the new slow cooker will need to have to produce the desired results. Additionally, the user can make a judgment on how much use the slow cooker will actually get.
Once the types of meals have been loosely determined, the size of the slow cooker will be the next consideration. Small slow cookers measure at 1 to 2 quarts while the largest are usually 7 to 8 quarts. It is important to remember that just because a slow cooker is large does not mean that every meal has to fill it to the top.
Although larger slow cookers will offer more versatility, they are not always the best choice. The size of the slow cooker purchased should correspond to the amount of people being fed by a meal and the amount of food the user wants to cook at one time. Since the cost of larger slow cookers is higher than the smaller, money could be wasted by buying one too big.
If the use of the slow cooker is to be limited to soups and stews, a small to medium, round or oval slow cooker should suffice. The larger rectangular models should be considered if traditionally oven-baked meals are the goal such as larger cuts of roasted meat. The larger rectangular slow cookers can also be used for stews and soups but it is difficult or impossible to safely cook a large piece of meat in a small slow cooker.
The type of temperature control to look for can also be determined by the desired recipes in a cook book. Although most slow cookers have a simple Low-High dial, there are some other options. Griddle style slow cookers usually offer more detailed heat settings since the griddle can be used for other cooking purposes. Programmable slow cookers have the most complex system that can allow for preset temperature shifts while cooking.
Convenience and time saving are central themes of slow cookers and can also be influenced by the design of the crock or cooking insert of the appliance. Some are stationary and others are removable. Removable models are easier to clean and also can transfer to the dinner table for serving.
The versatility of the slow cooker is also determined in part by the material of which the crock is made. The most variation is found in metal crocks which are usually found in oval or rectangular slow cookers.
Metal crocks are usually detachable and can be used on the stove-top, in the oven or broiler when the recipe calls for multiple cooking methods such as browning. Although they cannot be used in the microwave, they can transfer to the table for serving and the refrigerator for storing.
Ceramic crocks are the most common in both detachable and non-detachable styles. They can perform all the variations of use metal crocks can in addition to microwaving, except stovetop and broiler use.
Cast aluminum crocks are inherently non-stick and when detachable, can be used for all functions except microwaving. Slow cookers with this type of lining are usually the most expensive.