Slow cooker thoughts

I did quickly peruse the cookware board before asking, and the discussions are several years old.

Situation: My husband has the house and kids on his own many days a month. Full time job, works late, comes home and is in a panic because it is already 6 and there is no dinner started. He tends to also work at home a lot, kids have activities in the evenings they need to get to, there’s not much time to get it done at 6.

Thinking whether a slow cooker is an option. I think it appeals to him to put some stuff in a pot, turn it on low, and leave for the day, and have something done at dinnertime when he gets home.

But I have concerns, first and foremost, I’ve seen what pressure cookers can do to a kitchen when someone gets a little absent minded and doesn’t use it correctly. And he is so busy that sometimes he does get a little absent minded. I also have one kid that has the mentality of “I wonder what would happen if I push/pull/open/close that?”

If the above is not something I should super worry about, then my next questions are - for someone who doesn’t have a lot of time, is a slow cooker any help really? You still have to prep and put stuff in, just in the am instead.

Is what comes out any good?

And what is a trusted brand - these days - that is good for the price.

I really appreciate your guidance, never having worked with one before!!!

I use my slow cooker occasionally and find it very helpful for a few solid staples in the rotation (pulled pork, chili, some curries). I recently made black dal which was perfect for slow bubbling for 8 hours. I find it really perfect for soups, stews, stock. That kind of thing. My issue is the result is usually the same texture so I typically try to plan for that and make sides with a different texture. I also find it helpful to make big batches of stuff, then freeze. Those meals are better for us when we have tight schedules.

I find it most helpful for days when I am able to prep stuff mid morning/by noon and are home enough to be able to give it a stir, pop the top off if it needs to reduce down, etc. I don’t find it to be a total hands off, leave for 6 hours kind of option, but I will run out for errands while it is doing its thing.

How old is your adventurous kid? For some stuff that’s smelly or annoying (looking you dehydrating hot peppers), I set it up in my garage with a timer or calendar notifications so I don’t forget. I had a friend who only used hers in hers in an empty sink because she was always a bit worried about it.

Can’t comment on the best or a good recommendation. I bought the cheapest one possible at least 10 years ago. It EXTREMELY simple. Off, Low, High.

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So it might not be a great solution for someone who leaves the house at 730a and returns at 6p? The “adventurous” kid is about to be 14, but my comment was meant to warn that I can see him playing with the settings on the pot and blowing up the kitchen, because he is curious like that.

Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend that because I feel like it still needs some monitoring, stirring etc. Otherwise, you could have very dried out portions. I would suggest instead doing a big batch of something on a weekend and then using that as dinner for those hard to schedule nights.

I would think your risk of blowing anything up with a new crockpot should be low, but that age gets the hot concept. I have a toddler who likes to climb so that’s where my mind was going.

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I definitely try to do some large batches on the weekends when I’m around. But those are also cram jammed with errands, cleaning, and the like. Need more hours in the day! The other funny thing is a large batch only stays large if they don’t like it. If they like it, what should last 3 dinners is demolished in 1. 3 boys in the house. 2 teens.

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Ha! 3 boys and 2 are teens! Surprising you ever have any leftovers!!!

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I’m thinking that a Slo Cooker and a Pressure Cooker are two very different kitchen tools. My understanding is Pressure cookers compress cooking times dramatically, while a Slo Cooker is designed to maintain a low, constant temp over many hours (or even over night).

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If they don’t like what I made (or what their dad made), it sits in the fridge forever and I get grumpy.

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I’d go with an instant pot over a slow cooker. He can use it as a slow cooker too, but it’s much more effective in its fast form.

He can fill it and turn it on (PC mode) when he gets home, and have dinner ready half an hour later. Prep ingredients the night before.

Given the cult status, there are MANY recipes for it out there for things that you likely already have on your family menu, including from trusted authors.

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I use mine on occasion for tomato sauce and meatballs, soups and stews, roasts w carrots, potatoes and onions, to name a few dishes. However, there is usually some prep work (chopping, browning) & time involved. My pot gets hot, and meals are done in about 3 hrs. It’s programmable, and will switch to keep warm after cooking. Personally, I’m not comfortable leaving the pot alone/unattended for any length of time. They’re inexpensive, and you can make a variety of dishes with planned leftovers for sandwiches. Your call.

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So its sounding like this isn’t a great solution for someone who’s out of the house for 12 hrs, hoping it is cooking up some magic while he’s gone. Saregama, on the instant pot (difference is pressure and fast cook vs. low heat slow cook?), there is no savings on prep time but he can cook something fast that would otherwise take more time? In other words, a chili would be ready in 30 min rather than 2 hrs? If that’s it, then I think probably not a good solution either, because if he still needs to prep, he would probably just use the regular pots and pans and cook something that normally takes 30 minutes, like pasta, steak, defrosted chicken, etc. I’m starting to think maybe this isn’t the right life saving tool for him…

12 hours is very long, I guess you can rather start the cooking with a timer at a later time if you want for example, 6 hours cooking with a slow cooker.

I’ve neither slow cooker nor instant pot. Some stew dishes, can be cooked in an oven with a cast iron pot with lid for a few hours, and you can program it with the oven timer.

The only way for him not to prep is to buy pre-prepped ingredients - unless I’m misinterpreting what you mean by prep. You need to prep any meal, right, irrespective of cooking method.?

So the qs as I read it was - how do you create a meal in the least active-cooking time / most hands-off method possible.

Slow cooker: prep the night before / morning of, put the food in, leave, come back to cooked food

PC/IP: ditto prep, put the food in when you get home, go about whatever else, eat half an hour (or so) later.

Stovetop: ditto prep, then proceed to hands-on cook for the next 30-60 mins, eat after.

The PC/IP benefit is that in the time you might be hands-on cooking on the stovetop, you can do something else - including prep the next day’s dinner.

It’s still “cooking up magic” without you doing something active.

The other benefit of a PC/IP might be speedy batch-cooking on the weekend - you could make 3-4 meals in 2 hours, and then he’s just reheating through the week. I guess that’s no (weekday) prep. I’d buy a second pot insert to facilitate that.

Weekly menu planning might also help - batch cooking on the weekend sort of forces that, because you’re thinking about a whole week of meals in advance, rather than daily.

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Also, paging @ChristinaM who I know has an Instant Pot and from the looks of it, producing very yummy meals.

Other options are one-pot meals, casseroles, or sheet pan meals.

Here’s an example. Sort of.
One Pan Pork Chops with Apples & Onions

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I have a slow cooker, an instant pot, AND a pressure cooker, and in case no one has mentioned it, the IP can be used as a slow cooker, as a pressure cooker, and to “prep” as in searing or boiling before pressure or slow cooking. Also makes yogurt, cheese cake, etc.

@shrinkrap by “prep” I was trying to point out, gently, an appliance doesn’t do all the work. Some actual time and human preparation is required.

I’ll chime in here with my experience; yes, the IP functions pretty well as a slow cooker, albeit kind of a small one, and of course it’s a multitasker, so that’s good. Yes to sheet pan dinners, and casseroles you can freeze.

I have 3 slow cookers of various sizes, and the newer ones do have timers. I could not have lived without them when I was working full time and/or have small children to feed. Sometimes when they were little I’d make Mac n cheese or the various things they WOULD eat. But we adults could look forward to a good meal. One advantage is when you open the door to your cold, dark house, it smells like someone has been cooking all day.

I also think they’re great multitaskers and great for casual entertaining or to bring to potlucks. As an example, H has his annual work T-Day potluck tomorrow and has volunteered to bring the mashed potatoes. So they will probably go into the big slow cooker and he’ll plug them in to warm when he gets to work. So, no waiting to use the microwave, etc when others are trying to heat their stuff.

Anyway, I have several great recipes for slow cooking as well as tips and tricks. I promise to post them a bit later.

As an aside, I have a 100% confidence level about leaving them unattended, but used to put them on a glass cutting board on my countertop. If the cord has frayed, it does become a safety issue, in which case I would never use it.

You may want to check out the My 3 favorite food hacks thread, as these can be a lifesaver too.

12 hours is too long for most slow cooker meals - meats that would have been tender at 6 hours will be a dry, stringy mess.

Now that we live in the suburbs, I have a long-ish commute and usually get home around 7:15-7:30, which is a bit late for me to be starting dinner from scratch unless I am making something super simple. I have trained myself to do a lot of prep in the mornings instead, so that the most time-consuming work is usually already done. DH either works from home or gets home a little earlier than I do, so if I need the oven pre-heated or something pulled out of the fridge/freezer, I have him do it (he is not much of a cook so handing over meal prep to him is NOT an option!). For instance, this morning I roasted a spaghetti squash - threw it in the oven before I got in the shower, and by the time I was dressed and presentable, it was tender enough to scoop. I scooped it into a baking dish with butter and parmesan, so now all it needs is 30 mins in a hot oven (which DH can handle) and it will be ready to serve. The rest of dinner tonight will be quick (grilled flank steak and tomatoes, with pesto from the freezer).

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