What is the difference between a crock pot and a slow cooker?
One recipe may say to use a crock pot and another recipe may say to use the slow cooker. Are they interchangeable? Is one better for a certain type of meal than another?
A Crock-Pot is a slow cooker. But a slow cooker is not necessarily a Crock-Pot. Oh no!
A crock pot is a type of slow cooker with a stoneware pot that sits inside a surrounding heating element. A slow cooker is a pot, usually made of metal, which sits atop a heating surface. However, when you are shopping for such a cooking device, manufactures use the names interchangeably.
How The Slow Cooker Gets The Job Done.
The base of the slow cooker has a doubled-walled metal compartment that contains the heating elements. As the elements heat up, they warm the insulated air trapped between the two metal walls. Heat is then transferred to the air between the inner metal wall and the stoneware pot. The hot air heats and cooks the food slowly and evenly. As the heating elements do not make any direct contact with the stoneware pot; there are no hot spots and, therefore, no need for stirring.
Crock pots and slow cookers both have three parts–a pot, a lid, and a heating element. However, a crockpot has only two cook settings, “Low” and “High.” There may also be a “Keep Warm” setting to allow the pot to warm before serving. The temperature at these settings remains constant. A slow cooker has a number of different settings, usually numbered one to five. The heating element on a slow cooker usually cycles on and off. Some slow cookers have a timer that can be set to cook for a number of hours.
Crock pots and slow cookers come in various sizes to suit family size and specific purposes. However, crockpots are generally heavier than metal slow cookers, and may be more difficult to manipulate when washing. Since crock pots are made of stoneware, they also break more easily when dropped.
Advantages of Slow Cooking
1. There is only one dish to clean.
2. It is a great way to use extra vegetables and inexpensive meats. Less expensive or tough meats, such as chuck roasts or steaks and stew beef, are tenderized through the long cooking process. Put it in the crock pot, add some seasoning, and you end up with a tender, tasty meal.
3. Cooking in a crock pot makes your house smell really good.
4. Slow cooked food is more flavorful and tender. The extended cooking times allow better distribution of flavors in many recipes. The lower temperatures lessen the chance of scorching of foods which tend to stick to the bottom of a pan and burn easily in an oven.
5. It’s convenient to cook in a crockpot. You can put all the ingredients in and then do your thing: go to work, school, yoga, whatever. And when you come back, the meal is ready.
6.The slow cooker frees your oven and stove top for other uses, and should definitely be considered as an option for large gatherings or holiday meals. Many people swear by their slow cooker for Thanksgiving dressing (or stuffing)
Whenever you purchase a new slow cooker, use it the first few times, on HIGH and on LOW, before leaving it unattended to make sure the vessel operates correctly.
Remember to place the cooker on a cookie sheet, granite counter top, the stove top, or a similar surface. The bottom can get quite hot.
Slow cooker recipes often say to brown meat before adding to the slow cooker, but this isn’t necessary, though it gives meat a nice color. If you add paprika to chicken before putting it in the slow cooker, a brown color is created while cooking.
Flouring meat before adding it to a slow cooker helps to keep it moist and thicken the sauce.
Don’t lift the lid while cooking, or the food will take longer to cook.
A few of the areas where a slow cooker does not perform as well:
- Large cuts of meat such as boneless prime rib or leg of lamb are still best when oven roasted.
- Except for stews and chowders, the slow cooker does not cook fish very well.
- The slow cooker collects a lot of the juices since the steam does not escape during cooking and these juices can become diluted and watery, which can affect the flavoring of the food.
- If not careful, a slow cooker can overcook food, especially some of the more tender meats and poultry.
Cooking For Two
Most slow cooker recipes are intended to serve four to six people, so cooking for two usually requires recipe adjustments. Generally, you can just cut a recipe in half, but be careful about quantities of spices and texture ingredients like baking powder and eggs. If the recipe already calls for a small amount of spices or herbs (like 1 tsp. oregano) you can probably leave the original amount, even for a smaller recipe. If you reduce spices too much, you’ll end up with bland food.
Remember that smaller portions also cook faster. It helps to be around the house the first time you try a new recipe so you can check its progress, but this isn’t always possible. For two-person meals, plan to reduce the heat or cooking time, or sometimes both. Cook your food for about three-quarters of the time the larger recipe suggests, and turn down the heat one or two notches to avoid scorching. If you’re going to be at work all day, put the crock pot on a low setting. You can always turn the heat up to finish the meal when you get home, but if your food is burnt or overcooked, there’s not much you can do.
Another option for two-person cooking is to make the larger serving recipe and freeze the leftovers. Extra food can be frozen in individual or two-person portions and thawed at your convenience, saving you even more time.
Slow Cooking Recipes
The recipes below are designed to take advantage of what a slow cooker does best – long, low-heat cooking with lots of moisture. They do not require multistep preparations and can be assembled the night before, refrigerated in the cooking dish and placed on the cooking vessel just before you leave for work.
Slow Cooker Italian Pork Chops
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 6 pork rib chops (with bone), cut 1/2 inch thick (about 2-1/2 pounds), trimmed of fat
- 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 28 ounce container Pomi chopped tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 medium zucchini or 2 bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 4 ounces dried orzo pasta, cooked according to package directions
Place onion in a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. Place half of the pork chops on top of the onions. Sprinkle with half of the Italian seasoning, garlic, salt, and pepper. Repeat layering with remaining pork chops, Italian seasoning, garlic, salt, and pepper. Top with tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. Add zucchini or pepper pieces to cooker.
Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 8 to 9 hours or on high-heat setting for 4 to 4-1/2 hours.
Using a slotted spoon and tongs, transfer meat and vegetables to a serving platter; cover and keep warm. In a medium saucepan stir together cornstarch and the cold water; stir in cooking juices from cooker. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly; cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Serve over meat and vegetables. Serve with orzo.
Slow Cooker Italian Chicken Pasta Soup
- 1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 cup diced carrots (about 2 medium)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion (1 medium)
- 1/2 cup halved pitted ripe olives
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 carton low sodium chicken broth (32 ounces)
- 1 can low sodium Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained (14 1/2 ounces)
- 1/2 cup uncooked small shell pasta
Mix all ingredients except pasta in a 3 1/2- to 4-quart slow cooker.
Cover and cook on Low heat setting 8 to 10 hours.
About 30 minutes before serving, stir in pasta. Increase heat setting to High. Cover and cook 20 to 30 minutes or until pasta is tender.
Slow Cooker Lentil Stew with Polenta
- 1 1/2 cups brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
- 2 onions, sliced
- 1 large green bell pepper, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 28 oz container Pomi chopped tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 1/2 cup vegetable broth
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup quick-cooking polenta or substitute 1 (18-ounce) tube of store bought polenta, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
Layer lentils, onions, bell pepper and garlic in the bottom of a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker. Pour in the tomatoes and sprinkle with oregano, crushed red pepper flakes and salt. Pour in broth and vinegar, cover and cook on low until lentils are very tender, about 7 hours.
Prepare the polenta according to package directions and serve with the stew. If you like firm polenta instead of soft, then follow these directions:
When polenta is thick and smooth, pour it into an 8 inch greased square pan. Spread the polenta evenly. Bake in a 350 degree F. oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan. Cut into serving pieces.
Heat store bought polenta slices before serving
Slow Cooker Chicken in Wine Sauce
- 4 medium red-skin potatoes, quartered
- 4 medium carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 3 pounds chicken thighs or drumsticks, skinned
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon. dried rosemary, crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon butter or Smart Balance blend
- 3 tablespoons Wondra all-purpose flour
- Snipped fresh thyme (optional)
In a 5- or 6-quart slow cooker place potatoes, carrots, celery, and onion. Place chicken pieces on top of vegetables. Sprinkle with parsley, salt, rosemary, thyme, pepper, and garlic; add broth and wine.
Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 8 to 9 hours or on high-heat setting for 4 to 4 1/2 hours. Using a slotted spoon, transfer chicken and vegetables to a serving platter; cover with foil to keep warm.
Strain juices into a large saucepan and whisk in flour and add butter. Turn on heat and cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. If desired, sprinkle chicken and vegetables with snipped thyme. Pass gravy with the chicken and vegetables. Makes 6 servings – (3 1/2 ounces cooked meat, 1/3 cup gravy, and 3/4 cup vegetables).
Slow Cooker Ratatouille
Ratatouille is versatile and can be used on pizza, pasta or as part of a casserole or a lasagna.
- 2 large onions, cut in half and sliced
- 1 large eggplant, sliced, cut in 2 inch pieces (peel if you prefer)
- 4 small zucchini, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 large green (or any color you like) bell peppers,seeded and cut into thin strips
- 2 large tomatoes, cut into 1/2 inch wedges
- 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Layer half the vegetables in a large crock pot in the following order: onion, eggplant, zucchini, garlic, green peppers, tomatoes.
Next sprinkle half the basil, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper on the veggies.
Dot with half of the tomato paste.
Repeat layering process with remaining vegetables, spices and tomato paste.
Drizzle with olive oil.
Cover and cook on LOW for 7 to 9 hours.
Place in serving bowl and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
May freeze up to 6 weeks.
Slow Cooker Country Italian Beef
6 to 8 servings
Serving Size: 1 2/3 cups
- 2 pounds boneless beef chuck pot roast
- 8 ounces tiny new potatoes, halved or quartered
- 2 medium carrots or parsnips, peeled and cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
- 1 medium onion, chopped (1 cup)
- 1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
- 1-14 1/2 ounce can low-sodium beef broth
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 1 – 6 ounce can tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
Trim fat from roast. Cut roast into 2-inch pieces; set aside. In a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker combine potatoes, carrots, onion, and fennel. Add meat to cooker; sprinkle with rosemary.
In a medium bowl whisk together broth, wine, tomato paste, tapioca, pepper, and garlic. Pour over all meat and vegetables in cooker.
Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 8 to 10 hours or on high-heat setting for 4 to 5 hours. Stir in basil just before serving.
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