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How to make the easy slow cooker your personal chef and best friend

You’ve no doubt heard how easy slow cookers are to use, but did you know they can also be your personal chef?
And your best friend!
However, there are so many makes and models with extra bells and whistles that sometimes choosing the right one is frustrating.
Especially if all you have is one simple requirement such as keeping your parent safe in the kitchen.

parsnip, celery onion garlic in a slow cooker

This post contains affiliate links.

This guide is designed to help you understand the why’s and when’s behind choosing the right slow cooker for you.
For this, I’m digging deep into 4 areas.
Those who;
~ are caregivers for someone with physical or cognitive special needs
~ prefer gadgets
~ adore lasagna
~ need an unique gift

We’ll talk about the features you need to take into consideration but may think of them too late, for example someone with arthritis, or only eats medium rare meat or has a fussy eater. 

Why a slow cooker should be on your team in the kitchen

With changing demographics, today’s families have less time than ever to prepare and eat nutritious meals together. 
Often both parents work long hours, and perhaps one is also a caregiver to one, or both of their parents. 
We’re busy and we have responsibilities.  
However, families also want and need to eat healthier meals. 
We want and need opportunities to step away from the wheel of ‘doing.’ 
And, we want and need moments to reconnect with ourselves and each other. To laugh and appreciate the simplicity of ‘being.’ 
Today, more than ever, it’s important to grab some time out from the busy-ness of life.

For all of these reasons, and more, the slow cooker makes total sense.
Think of your slow cooker as a personal chef, taking care of your main meal while you work. 
Think of your slow cooker as back up when meetings run late, or traffic snarls hold you up. 
Think of your slow cooker as a friend giving you the night off.

The hidden benefits of your slow cooker

birds-eye view of a slow cooker with vegetables for a stock

Imagine arriving home and your kitchen smells as if someone dedicated their whole day to chopping, sautéing, blending, and stirring.
Mmm . . . what a great way to shake off that crummy day!

Many people think slow cookers are for large families. But today, with timers and blue tooth technology, slow cookers are designed and made for singles, students, and seniors. Not to mention parents, homemakers, career-movers. 
Best guess, that covers almost everyone! 

How many people do you know
~ work long hours,
~ prefer to eat less takeout food, 
~ can’t face a sink load of dishes right after their meal.
This is when and why the slow cooker concept shines.

How slow cookers work

Just like it says, slow cookers cook your food slowly, without burning or turning food dry.
The heating element, placed either below or around the insert (ceramic or stainless bowl), is what does the cooking. Whatever liquid you add into the slow cooker is heated and because the lid stays on, food slowly cooks in both the steam and stock. The longer the food cooks, the deeper and more complex are the flavours.
Essential oils from spices and herbs have time to release and nutrients stay in the broth which also add to the flavour.

The most basic, practical slow cooker has at least three temperature settings, OFF, LOW, and HIGH.
But others may also have WARM and even SEAR.
Then there are ones with timers, temperature probes and blue tooth wifi capabilities.

And because the lowest temperature is factory set to regulated food safety guidelines, there is no more risk of contamination than if you used a frying pan.

How to choose the best slow cooker for you

knob and temperature settings on a crock pot

Like all good things, there’s both a long and a short answer to this question.

First, the long answer:
In North America slow cookers are sold in imperial measurements (Quarts) ranging from 1.5 to a whopping 8 quart size.

A good rule to follow is;
1.5 quart is good for dips and warming food
3 quart is ideal for singles and seniors
3 or 4 quart is perfect for two adults, university students and those who like left overs for lunch
5 or 6 quart is best for young families while
7 or 8 quart
is the only one to buy for hungry families, or those who like extra meals to freeze or dehydrate.
Note: in Europe and Australasia, slow cookers are sold in metric measurements.

As a general guide, keep your math simple and aim for one litre per person in your household.
For example, a 3.5L slow cooker serves 2-4 people, the 5L capacity serves 4 – 6, and 5.7L will serve 6 people.
However, I’ll also add to that simple theory.

There are two more aspects to remember while shopping, especially if you’re hovering between two sizes.

The first is in how the units are sold.
You need to know that a 5-quart slow cooker won’t yield 5-quarts, or 20 cups, of food.
Actual useable cooking space in all cookers is less because the insert takes up space and you must leave sufficient room at the top for food expansion and bubbling hot liquid. 
All slow cookers are the same.

The second consideration is in knowing yourself. No matter if you’re single or have a young family, do you also like to roast the occasional chicken or beef, or cook up enough beef chilli for the next three months?
If so, then the 3 or 4-quart won’t work.
That whole chicken won’t fit, and you will need more space for all those ingredients.

And the not-so short answer is . . .  
Most people are happy they bought the 6-quart for everyday general cooking.
Those who bought the 4-quart wished they’d bought a 6 quart.
And, just in case you need one more argument to help you decide; most cook book recipes are made with the 5.5 to 7-quart size in mind, so anything smaller requires some heavy-duty conversions.
(Not that I want to sway you . . . )

Choosing the right slow cooker size is not exactly rocket science, but consider the appetites of your family as well. Active teens can easily devour 2-3 servings in one sitting. 

Now that’s the easy part. Next up is figuring out the right design for your lifestyle.  

What design is best for your slow cooker lifestyle

Because design is a huge subject to dive into, I’ve broken it into three distinct sections:
~ Those who care for someone with special needs.
~ Those who love to experiment with gadgets.
~ Those who want plain, simple and perfect for lasagna night.

mixed green and white vegetables in the slow cooker with water

Slow cooking for those with special needs

According to statistics, in 2015, more than 34 million Americans looked after another adult – without being paid.
More than 15 million people cared for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, and close to 40 million people were responsible for someone else with a disability.

These staggering numbers deserve first honourable mention on this list.  
You may or may not know that I’ve worked with clients in Orthotics (orthopaedic bracing) and Prosthetics (artificial limbs), so disabilities hold a special place for me.
I appreciate appliances that provide a sense of accomplishment and make life easier for those with any form of physical disability or cognitive disorder.

I’ve found two that work for two very different reasons. One is better suited for more independence, and the other, for less. 
West Bend is better suited for anyone who still needs and strives for independence.
My second slow cooker choice is made by Crock Pot. This appliance is a dream for caregivers who also work full time. 

West Bend's Versatility Oval-Shaped Programmable 6-Quart Cooker

West Bend, as I quickly discovered, have carved out and nurtured a multi-generational, loyal fan base.
According to customer reviews this slow cooker is a natural hands-down winner.

West Bend’s design stands apart from its competitors because it’s ideal for anyone with an upper body disability or disorder.
This can include;
~ recent surgery
~ chronic tendonitis
~ rheumatoid arthritis
~ osteoarthritis
~ stroke or CVA patients
~ MS patients
~ or someone who needs to cook while seated. 

Many features of the Versatility slow cooker foster independent living with grace, which in turn provides a deep sense of self-worth and wellbeing.

First, the shape is practical.
West Bend gave this oval slow cooker square ends which immediately opens up the cuisine world of menus.
Cooks get less depth but more length. Now, not only are soups and stews available but, with a roasting rack it’s possible to have a leg of lamb for Easter, a roast chicken on Sundays, and a 8-9 lb turkey breast with all the trimmings to celebrate with friends and family. 
(Think lasagna!)

Next, the weight is unheard of.
The empty ceramic insert alone from a traditional slow cooker weighs 6 lbs.
So when this one hits the scales at a lean 2.75 lbs, anyone in an inflammatory flare will be grateful.

And last, but never least, there are several additional details that brings joy to a cook in the kitchen.
~ Large, easy-grip curved handles are a plus for weak, stiff, or painful hands and wrists.
~ The “Keep Warm” setting with a 24-hour automatic shut off for the forgetful, easily distracted, or anyone diagnosed with a mild cognitive disorder.
~ A stainless steel insert that’s almost indestructible.
This miracle material readily adapts to temperature extremes. For example, the insert is built to move from freezer or refrigerator to stovetop, oven, or back to the slow cooker.

You can bet a ceramic insert won’t be doing all that heavy lifting in the kitchen.

Buy yours HERE at Amazon

Tip:
The Versatile West Bend slow cooker creates flexible possibilities for anyone caring after another person.
Simply prepare and slow cook an extra portion. Later, freeze the remaining food while still in the steel slow cooker insert.
Once frozen, quickly pop out the meal.
Vacuum pack and label the now-frozen block. 
Now it’s easier to deliver frozen meals already pre-shaped to the insert form.
Pure brilliance and perfect for your parents or a house-bound neighbour who can then heat and eat in their own slow cooker!

Note: for this to work, you’ll need two slow-cookers however, it’s still an inexpensive way to give someone near and dear to you a wide variety of healthy meals.

And you can relax knowing the adults are also eating their vegetables!

Crock Pot's Smart Wi-Fi-enabled WeMo 6-Quart Slow Cooker

Now, to WOW you with the Smart Wi-Fi-enabled WeMo 6-Quart Slow Cooker

Crock Pot has made the perfect slow cooker for working caregivers. At some stage in our lives we will all need to check on our parents, a friend, or a neighbour.

Here’s how simple and easy this idea is:
~ On your way to work grab a container of prepared food. Stop by and fill their cooker.
~ While at work, use your installed phone app to turn their slow cooker on to ‘Cook.’
~ Later, while still at work, change their temperature setting from ‘Cook’ to ‘Warm.’
~ When you know their meal is cool enough, call and remind them to serve and eat.

Buy yours HERE at Amazon

For more on this amazing Wi-fi technology please read the section below on, ‘Slow cooking for those who love gadgets’

Slow cooking for those who love gadgets

I fell in love with two slow cookers that fell in this category and would be hard pressed to choose one over the other.
And then, just to be difficult, I’ve teased you by including the top seller, Instant Pot, because it truly has one feature I’m still looking for in a slow cooker.

dial on slow cooker

Crock Pot's Smart Wi-Fi-enabled WeMo 6-Quart Slow Cooker

For many, the Smart Wi-Fi-enabled WeMo 6-Quart Slow Cooker is a serious game changer and my nerdy inner-self can’t wait to try it.
If you’re anything like me, you tend to stick to the 8-10 hour recipes so they’re predictably ready on time. But what if you yearn to try a new recipe with a cooking time of 4-5 hours?
Well, thanks to blue tooth technology you can turn your slow cooker on! If you prepare your meal in the morning then around 2pm, open the free WeMo app on your Apple or android phone and start cooking!?
All of those recipes that take 4-5 hours are now yours to use!

Note: To use the Wifi component, you need a 2.4 GHz wireless network and either WEP, WPA, or WPA2 wireless security.
Let’s go over all possible good and bad points.

Cons:
~ Most negative complaints were around internet connection issues, however the slow cooker works manually as well.
~ Be aware that if your internet connection is unstable, your slow cooker might not turn on, change the temperature, or the timer settings, however the app, which does not require Wifi, will let you know.
~ If you’re used to a locking lid for travel or safety, you might miss this useful feature.

Pros:
~ Blinking amber and green lights will indicate your Wifi status.
~ Running late? This genius app notifies you when the cooking time is up and automatically switches the setting over to, ‘Warm.’
~ The WEMO app is free.
It’s a little confusing but after a little digging I found out who does what with this product.
Belkin makes the WEMO app which Crock Pot installs.
So, if you have any wifi connection concerns, contact Belkin direct (not Crock Pot) and from what I’ve read, customer support is responsive.
~ With a retractable cord, this shallow 6 quart slow cooker is easier to store in your cupboard.
~ And here’s a HUGE hidden bonus: this technology is so interesting it may encourage others to cook!

Buy yours HERE at Amazon

Consider the slow cooker's minimalistic cousin - Instant Pot

No slow cooker review is complete without at least one comparison to its pricier relative, the Instant Pot.
(Then, if you’re a die-hard slow cooker fan, you’ll appreciate the next review even more!)

The Instant Pot Duo, 6 Quart, 7-in-1 is not only a slow cooker, but a pressure cooker, rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, warmer, and it acts as a saute’ pan.
With over 32,000 reviews on Amazon and a 4.5 star rating, this appliance is doing something right. 

Can you guess what I love most about the slow cooker function?  

The lid’s seal traps in odours!  
No more overnight cooking onions and garlic in the basement or the garage.
I don’t know about you, but I often wake up hungry in the night when my slow cooker’s on.

The accessories are well thought out.
Not only do you get a stainless steel steam rack with handles, rice paddle, soup spoon, and a condensation collector, but you can choose from 3 great sizes: 3, 6 and 8 quart.

Buy yours HERE at Amazon

If you won’t use all those features, let’s get straight back to slow cookers.

Cuisinart's 3-in-1 Cook Central 6-Quart Multi-Cooker

The Cuisinart 3 -in-1 Cook Central 6 Quart Multi-Cooker is a fair competitor for the Instant Pot. 
This slow cooker comes with less bells and whistles and may cost more than most out there – but it is NOT boring!
In the same insert you can saute’ onion, garlic, and ginger, then brown your protein before adding vegetables and stock for the slow cook option.

Got an enthusiastic neighbour who just dropped by with a dozen corn ears fresh from their garden?
Wahoo! Toss the cobs into the cooker and hit, ‘Steam.’

You’ll find this Cuisinart gets hot enough to cook gravy or deep fry chicken in oil. That’s something other slow cookers can’t do.

Full of safety features such as non-slip rubber feet, easy pour corners, and a metal insert coated in Teflon which won’t crack, this power horse won’t heat up the house or make you sweat in the kitchen.

Plus, there’s an automatic switch to ‘Warm’ once it’s finished cooking, so don’t rush back home – your food will stay warm for up to 8 hours!

Consider this slow cooker style for when you do a kitchen renovation and must manage with one catch-all pot for a while.
Or, what about tackling a road trip with this Cuisinart packed in your RV kitchen! It’s all you’ll ever need.  (More on that later)

Inside, the removable rack does double-duty as a steamer or dry roaster.

And I simply love this: “Shipped in Certified Frustration-Free packaging”
Sigh . . . whoever thought of the customer gets my kudos.

Buy yours HERE at Amazon

Slow cooking for perfect lasagna nights

There are a gazillion plain and simple, round and oval slow cookers for sale because they’re ideal for soups, stews, casseroles, and any recipe that needs a sauce.
However they lack the right shape for what should be a slow cooker industry benchmark. The ever popular, family-loving lasagna.

It tuns out that shape has quite a lot of influence in the kitchen.
Shape is in how easily we store appliances, how we fit them on the counter, and how quickly we  wash them.
(Yup, I tend to leave my awkward larger-than-the-sink baking dishes to soak longer than necessary)

Shape also dictates the meal we can, or cannot, cook. Have you tried to create a mind-altering, saliva-inducing, nose-tingling lasagna in your slow cooker?
I have, and the only slices remotely close to that vision were the two or three cut from the centre. 

Like appliances in kitchens, lasagna isn’t the same without square corners and for years I’d wished a slow cooker like that existed.
Well, now they do. 

And I found THREE .  .  .

Breville 7 Quart Slow Cooker

The Breville 7-Quart Slow Cooker BSC560XL has mixed reviews, yet fans are definitely happy with their purchase.
This slow cooker’s claim to fame is its ability to ‘layer flavours’ like a professional chef. This means the same insert that seared meat also browned the onions, softened the garlic and simmered the sauce. Both the colour and taste are satisfying in an intense, hard-to-describe way.
Note however, this insert does not work on induction stovetops. (Gas and electric are fine)

The LOW setting is perfect for simmering, and no stirring is needed.
On HIGH, food cooks fast, which is ideal for time restraints and this slow cooker is known as the one to cook soaked dried beans until soft. Just like a regular pot.
But here’s the best invention on the planet (and what many reviewers missed): the DUAL setting!
Set your slow cooker on ‘DUAL’ and leave.
After two hours on HIGH, your slow cooker automatically drops down to the LOW setting.

What I also love about this stainless steel appliance is the make-ahead and freeze feature, because, unlike myself, this insert handles extreme temperatures.’

Like all good things, there are a couple of lasagna-niggles.
~ You do need the 7-quart size to get enough surface area.
~ Standard sized lasagna sheets don’t quite fit and although the dimensions claim this slow cooker is 18.25″ x 11.5″ x 9.5” the insert is not only smaller, but flared.
The base is 12″x 8″ x 4” and the widest your lasagna masterpiece can ever be is 13″ x 9″ x 4” at the top.

If this isn’t a deal breaker you have two tweak-able choices.
~ One is to use fresh pasta sheets and either cut, or score, then tear, them.
~ The other is to use dried sheets and either snap the ends into shape, or partially cook in boiling water for 5 minutes (until soft) before trimming them back.

One last drawback is also personal and you too should know thyself.
What type of cook are you?
I like to peek at my creations in the making and am happiest with a glass lid.

Buy yours HERE at Amazon

Hamilton Beach Casserole Slow Cooker

Hamilton Beach’s website page didn’t give any dimensions so I relied on Amazon for reviews.
One thing Amazon reviewers are is honest. They liked this square cornered unit for cooking lasagna. 

There was one drawback: the 3.5-quart size was too small for hungry families, so you’d need to add other dishes for a complete meal.

However, RV’ers loved, loved, LOVED this slow cooker. It also happens that RV refrigerators are not household size so without transferring leftovers to another container, this fits their fridge perfectly.

Buy yours HERE at Amazon

 

Ninja Multi-Cooker with 4-in-1 Stove Top, Oven, Steam and Slow Cooker Options, 6-Quart Nonstick Pot

With sufficient heat sources from the bottom and sides to create steam, the Ninja not only slow-cooks lasagna, but also sears, steams, roasts and bakes!

The domed lid allows greater room for large cuts of meat and whole chicken while the steam feature is a match made in heaven for fish and vegetables if you like to cook in broth or wine.

And, if you’re steam baking a cake, custard or cheesecake and run out of water, simply add more!

In particular, I liked Ninja’s website for their Q& A, easy to understand explanations, and appetizing food photos.
Here’s their lasagna link if you’d like a recipe.

Finally, we have a drum roll because this slow cooker claims their internal dimensions will hold and cook a true 13×9” lasagna that is also 5.5” deep!

This Ninja is a WINNER because those scrummy 4 layers are a lasagna-lovers dream.

Buy yours HERE at Amazon

Slow cooking gift ideas

I found FIVE great gift ideas for:
~ the family who takes annual road trips
~ your avid sports fan
~ the cook who likes precision 
~ the cook with multiple dietary requests
~ the one thing you wished you had.

vegetables scattered in slow cooker

For the family who takes annual road trips

West Bend's Versatility Oval-Shaped Programmable 6-Quart Cooker

Have you always wanted to take your slow cooker wherever you go?
Well, I’m excited to say, now you can! 
And it’s with the same easy approach to cooking – except out of the kitchen. You still get the, ‘quick and easy,’ without the fuss.

I’m not kidding here when I once again suggest, the West Bend’s Versatility Oval-Shaped Programmable 6-Quart Cooker.
It’s the perfect cost-saving family travel appliance to pack for your annual road trip vacation.

No longer is there a bowl of granola and yogurt to start your day off, lunch at a diner and dinner at a restaurant. 

The heating base doubles as a light-duty griddle with it’s own switch. Here comes your own version of egg breakfast muffins.
And lunch just got covered with BLT’s!

Then, set the slow cooker up for when you get back.
The “Keep Warm’ feature is a bonus for hungry children after a full day’s excursion – they’ll be fed in no time!
The only thing left to do is to put the griddle back in action for stir-fried vegetables, fried rice or sweet potato fried slices. 

With this slow cooker you can cook three different meals and stretch your travel budget. Buy yours HERE at Amazon

For the avid sports fan

Can I say how much I love this idea as well?

Imagine opening this gift and seeing your favourite NFL team emblazoned on a 6 Quart slow cooker. For sure you’ll be getting a lot of tailgate envy!

All major team logos are available, including the Green Bay Packers,
the New England Patriots,
the Denver Broncos,
the New York Giants . . .

There are 32 teams to choose from.

With locking hinges for travelling and an optional extra 16oz dipper food warmer, this is a must-have gift for sports fans. 

Buy yours HERE at Amazon

For the cook who likes precision

Few slow cookers have this feature yet many people prefer their meat less cooked than what a slow cooker is designed for.
The Hamilton Beach Set ‘n Forget Programmable Slow Cooker With Temperature Probe is highly recommended for this very reason.

Without lifting the lid, you have complete control over the internal temperature of your food.
The probe fits through a small permanent hole in the lid.
This slow cooker can manage a 6lb chicken or a 4lb roast.

Buy yours HERE at Amazon

For the cook with multiple dietary requests

When you host a party there’s always a chance to stand out – and one way to do it is to cater to  different tastes.

Crock-Pot has designed a fully connectable entertaining system in a variety of colours and two styles. You can choose between the single 2-quart pot or a double 1-quart!

The 1-quart is the perfect one-serving size for kids or someone who can’t eat dairy, onions or spices.
Everyone gets what they want – even the fussiest of eaters!

Buy yours HERE at Amazon

Chalkboards on your slow cooker – what a brilliant idea for parties!
No one needs to ask you, ‘is this vegetarian?’ or lift the lid to check, letting heat escape.

And you can give the kids a job. They’ll love filling these labels out!

Buy yours HERE at Amazon

The one thing you wished you had

Hamilton Beach sells a simple yet smart front opening insulated Crock Caddy that fits most 4 to 8-quart cookers.

Details include side openings for models with larger handles, an internal net strap system that acts like a lockable lid, machine washable, zip closure and carry handles.

They’ve thought of everything and almost all reviews are coming in with 5 stars.

Buy yours HERE at Amazon

Because I mentioned the Instant Pot earlier I want to include this carry case, however, it’s also designed for slow cookers up to the 8-quart size!

Internal measurements are 18.25″ x 13” x 9.5″ so please measure your slow cooker before making a purchase.
Most customers mentioned they had either a round or oval-shaped slow cooker.

This design doesn’t have the front opening but is getting rave reviews because of the extra pockets for serving spoons and recipe books. Super handy for storing everything in one place  – just grab your bag and the ingredients and you’re set for your weekend getaway!

Buy yours HERE at Amazon

Resources used for links:
https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/resources/faq/
https://www.caregiver.org/caregiver-statistics-demographics
https://www.hamiltonbeach.com/search-results
https://www.ninjakitchen.com/recipes/search/0/all/58/hearty-skillet-lasagna/?pd=11

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

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