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Slow Cooker Buying Guide & Must-Have Beginner Supplies

Check out these slow cooker materials for beginners and learn how to start cooking with the proper tools at your disposal.

By: Marah Altenberg, Editor, AllFreeSlowCookerRecipes
Slow Cooker Buying Guide

For home cooks who want to get into slow cooking, the whole process of getting started might seem daunting. Maybe you've heard how easy it is, or maybe all of your friends use their slow cookers for meal preparation, and you've decided to give it a try yourself.

No matter the reason, if you're buying a slow cooker, there are a few things you should know before heading to the store.

It's not just about the slow cooker itself! After you've chosen the size, shape, and brand that you want, there are countless slow cooker accessories and beginner supplies that you should have in order to get the most out of your amazing cooking machine. Slow cookers are known for producing some of the most tender and juicy meat you have ever tasted. With these tips and tricks, you will know what to consider when deciding which model is most appropriate for your household.

We also give suggestions for must-have accessories that aid your cooking process and slow cooker staples to keep around the house, so on a moment's notice, you are able to throw together a slow cooker recipe with little effort! This will make food prep and preparing for your next potluck a breeze! But don't just take it from us:

What to Consider When Buying a Slow Cooker

There are so many elements to slow cookers, that purchasing the right slow cooker model can seem daunting. Here are a few factors to consider:

  1. The Size: How many people are you typically cooking for? Will you be cooking for large crowds?
  2. The Shape: What kinds of dishes are your go-tos? Are you more of a soup person, or would a rectangular model be better for your favorite casseroles?
  3. The Budget: Slow cooker prices can vary, but quality is key!
  4. Safety Rating: Slow cookers, like most kitchen appliances, come with their risks. Be sure to research reviews for the model you're considering!
With your new slow cooker, you can get a head start on breakfast. Give this Slow Cookber Blueberry Overnight French Toast a try, and you'll be sold.

Slow Cooker Blueberry Overnight French Toast

What Beginner Supplies and Accessories Do I Need?

Learning how to use a slow cooker for the very first time can be a little daunting. It is a completely different way of cooking, from what you're probably used to. Slow Cookers come in many shapes and sizes, and certain sizes can be better for certain types of recipes. Here are a few things you'll need:

  1. A slow cooker lid lock: Lid locks are pretty standard on slow cookers these days, but every now and then, you'll come across one that does not have a lock. While you don't need to keep it locked while cooking your item, lid locks will be a lifesaver when it comes to transporting your slow cooker from place to place. Your lid lock will preent spillafge from occurring and guarantee your perfectly cooked dish will still be in tact when you reach your party or event.
     
  2. Slow cooker liners: Slow cooker liners are plastic sheets used to line the inside of your slow cooker. Most liners are made of nylon resin or Mylar, the same materials used in plastic oven bags. The liner protects the inside of your slow cooker from getting dirty, which makes clean up even easier. It also protects the inside of your slow cooker from gathering bacteria if you missed a spot while cleaning it.

  1. Bear paws: Perfect for making pulled pork or shredded chicken, bear paws are a must-have for any slow cooker expert. They're great for mixing up the ingredients of a casserole or incorporating the ingredients of a slow cooker soup. We really love these Bear Paws from Bear Paw Products.

  1. Slow cooker baggy rack: For meal preppers, a baggie rack is another essential. When trying to pour leftovers in a baggy with no one home to help, this gadget can be a real lifesaver! You are able to hang a baggy on it and it will hold it open perfectly while you can use both of your hands to carefully pour your dish from your slow cooker into the bag. This is especially important when you have made a dish ahead of time and you want to freeze it.
     
  2. Spice blends: Slow cooking is all about getting out every ounce of flavor! That's where spice blends come in. These spice blends from the Zen of Slow Cooking are simply divine!

  1. Slow cooker carrier tote: A carrier tote is by far the most important slow cooker accessory. Transporting your food to your next potluck, party, or picnic will be a piece of cake with one of these. We particularly love this Insulated Crock Pot Carrier Tote from Country Lane Bling.

How Do Slow Cookers Work?

Slow cookers work in a similar way to Dutch ovens. Because of the placement of the heating rods across the base, slow cookers are great at cooking food evenly (and deliciously).

These magical slow cooking machines are agreat for retaining moisture in your dishes -- especially when it comes to meats. If you want juicy, tender meat every time, your slow cooker is your best friend. Most slow cookers have two settings, high and low, so you don't have to worry about getting the temperature just right. They're also super energy efficient, and they use less energy than an oven.

There are three parts to a slow cooker: the base, the vessel, and the lid. The base has handles, feet, and a knob. It also has a thin metal insert attached to the inside of the base. The area between the liner and the base holds heat bands that help move heat through the slow cooker. They are able to distribute the heat evenly throughout the pot.

Test your slow cooking abilities with this recipe for Slow Cooker Pumpkin Bread Pudding, pictured below!

Feel Good Pumpkin Bread Pudding

What Size and Shape Do I Need?

When it comes to slow cookers, different sizes serve different purposes. For instance, a smaller family would require a smaller slow cooker than a large family. And if you're partial to entertaining large groups of people, you might want to keep a second slow cooker around for emergencies. Keep in mind that small and medium slow cookers are better at cooking things evenly; if you're using a larger slow cooker, keep a close eye on it.

Large slow cookers are often rectangular in shape and are perfect for preparing holiday meals or any occasion where you would need to cook for a large crowd. Smaller slow cookers make great serving containers for your buffet table, and there are even minature slow cookers made for the sole purpose of making delicious dips and spreads.

The shape of tyour slow cooker is important to consider as well. There are also some benefits to having a round or oval slow cooker over a rectangular one. If you plan to use your slow cooker for baking primarily, you will want to choose an oval slow cooker.

The shape can also affect how it cooks, too. Round and oval slow cookers often create crispier crusts, as they are more enclosed. Round slow cookers are more advantageous for soups, stews, and chilis because they typically have a higher number of "hot spots."

  • 3.5-quart: serves 2-3
  • Great for dips and hot drinks
  • 4-quart: serves 2-4
  • Makes great casseroles
  • 5-quart: serves 5-6
  • Perfect for family meals
Can't decide what to make for dinner? Watch this video below to learn how to make the Best BBQ Slow Cooker Ribs!

Other Things to Consider

The price, size, and shape alone don't necessarily determine if that particular slow cooker is right for you. Less expensive slow cookers can definitely do a great job of cooking to your specifications! The best way to determine if a slow cooker is worth your money is to do a little research by reading reviews. Here are a few other things to consider when trying to get the biggest bang for your buck.

  1. Small and medium slow cookers often have the best, most reliable heat distribution. If you often cook for large crowds, you might consider getting two medium sized slow cookers instead of one giant one.
     
  2. Transparent lids are a must. Most slow cookers have them, but if you find one that does not, it's probably best to pass it up. Transparent lids allow you to more closely monitor the cooking process.
     
  3. Read reviews that discuss the temperature tendencies of the slow cooker that you're thinking of buying. Some slow cookers run hotter than others, and you don't want to burn your food!
     
  4. Make sure it has a straight forward operating system. You might think you need the fanciest slow cooker with all the bells and whistles. But at the end of the day, all slow cookers pretty much do the same thing.
     
  5. The placement of heating elements is also an important factor to consider. Look at reviews that mention this; it can mean the difference between an enely warm soup and a half-cold, sloppy mess!

What type of slow cooker are you looking for?
Let us know in the comments!

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This is great info! I don't own a slow cooker, but I've been thinking about getting one for meal prep. I will definitely keep these tips in mind when I'm shopping around.

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