The slow cooker or crockpot is a large, electric pot that cooks food via the slow cooking method. A meal cooked in a slow cooker can take anywhere from one to 12 hours to be completed. Many feature quick cook and slow cook features, so you can accurately gauge the time when you want a meal to be ready. The slow cooker is quickly becoming one of the modern conveniences for working families, as dinner can be prepared in the morning before heading off to work or school, and then is ready when the family returns home for the night.
The slow cooker usually features a pot inset that can be removed for easy clean up and is dishwasher safe. Price and size varies, and you might want to look at manufacturer’s directions for deciding which size will best fit your family's meal requirements. It’s always better to err a bit on the side of buying a larger slow cooker, since this can mean you can make larger or smaller meals as needed.
Prices for the slow cooker differ, but you can usually find a good one for under 50 US dollars (USD). Once you’ve purchased the slow cooker, you can be off and running with many different meals. Many of these require minimal preparation time in the morning — you simply combine ingredients and set the slow cooker for the appropriate cooking time. It’s a good idea to keep the manual of your slow cooker on hand, since cooking times may vary slightly with different models.
Not all meals can be prepared in the slow cooker without some pre-cooking. Many stews that include meat require you to flour and brown the meat prior to placing it in the slow cooker. If time is short before dashing off to work, this can be a problem. You can save a little time by doing any chopping of vegetables the night prior to using your slow cooker, but it's not a good idea to brown meat and stick it back in the refrigerator.
Some meals that may require pre-cooking of meat include: beef stew, chicken cacciatore, Swiss steak, Salisbury steak, and even sometimes roasts. Most cuts of meat like steaks or pork chops require pre-browning to retain flavor and to present a desirable color. If you are making pot roast, though, you can usually avoid the browning process.
Some slow cookers have insert pans that are sectioned so you can cook more than one thing at the same time. Though many manufacturer’s claim each sectioned food will not take on other flavors, this is seldom the case. The slow cooker’s constant production of steam will flavor the other food. This may not be a bad thing if the foods are close in taste or have complementary flavors.