How to Choose the Right Crock Pot for Your Family's Needs
Many years ago, there were only a few models of crock pots to choose from. Today, your choices are much more extensive. Newer brands have wonderful features, and the improvements in crock pot technology have made them easier to use than ever. Selecting the perfect crock pot, then, becomes a matter of taste, preference, functionality, and price. Consider these guidelines when picking out the ideal crock pot that's right for you.
Crock Pot Basics
Each crock pot contains three main parts; 1) an outer shell or base; 2) a crock insert (the stoneware surface area inside), and 3) a lid (usually made of glass).
The outer shell normally stays cool to the touch. In the best of situations, cleaning this surface is easy, requiring only a damp rag and some soapy water. The feet on the bottom of the pot should be skid-proof to keep it from moving around on counter tops. The outer shell also contains the pot’s controls, so they should be conveniently located, easy to see and well-constructed.
The 'crock' is the inner stoneware section, which should be sturdy and resilient. The crock is not indestructible - if you drop it on the floor, it could very well break. Nevertheless, this section should look and feel solid. Better crock pots have removable inserts, so they can be easily cleaned. The crock should easily lift free from the outer shell when grabbing both handles to lift it out.
Crock pot lids are a simple design, and many models utilize a standard glass lid. Plastic lids are much lighter, if that’s a concern for you. The central knob at the center of the lid keeps it cool to the touch, so you can easily check on foods when necessary. The lid should seal well around the edge of the pot, to keep heat from escaping and keeping the contents of your meal in the pot, not dripping on the counter.
What You Want and What You Need
Beyond the basics of base, crock insert, and lid, you may find some convenient features worth looking at when picking out the perfect crock pot.
Most pots have one switch or dial on the outside of the base, which usually has three or four settings at most. This usually means a choice of High, Low, Warm, and in some cases, Off.
Modern crock pots give you more control, and digital crock pots supply “real” temperature settings. You may also have timer settings to let you know when to stir, add ingredients, or when your meal is done.
Some crock pots also have programmable settings to allow users to set a high temperature initially, then turn down the heat to low at a specific time during cooking. These may seem like good ideas up front, but they add complexity to a meal solution that should be, for most people, more simple choices between High and Low settings.
Considering the size of crock pot you need is important. Larger families will need bigger crock pots, but a large stew is still possible in a four or five quart crock pot. How much counter space do you have? What shape will best suit where you will be cooking from?
If you're going to be cooking lots of roasts and chickens for dinners, an oval shaped pot might be better for you. If you’re purchasing a crock mainly for quality soups, deeper pots will be important for you. If cooking appetizers and snacks are what you’re after most, smaller slow cookers will suit your needs well.
The Bottom Line
Keep in mind that cooking great crock pot meals for your family doesn't require the fanciest, most expensive pot you can find. Crock pots range in price from ten dollars to a few hundred dollars, so take time to consider which crock pot works for you.
Find the best value that suits your budget, look at different sizes, how each model is constructed. A well-cared-for crock pot will last many years and will pay for itself time and time again.