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Every artisan uses various tools to create their masterpieces, and the culinary arts are no different. Each artist in the kitchen has their preferences for certain tools. We would like to present some food for thought regarding cookware that sparks debates.
We will be covering various cookware: the rice cooker, the slow cooker, the Crock-Pot, and the Dutch oven. We will dive into what makes them worthwhile and what makes them problematic. Let us start with a brief overview of each one.
Rice cookers cook rice the same way each time, provided they are loaded and set the same way each time. Just load them up with rice and water, turn them on and appreciate not having to clean up spills on stovetops. Some simple models sport a simple switch for plain, white rice; high-tech models offer settings to cook different grains.
These appliances are the mainstay of folks who favor the set-it-and-forget-it recipes that free you to spend your time elsewhere. The ingredients go in, low heat slowly cooks food and you don’t need to keep a constant watch over it. Enjoy the benefits of turning tough (inexpensive) meat cuts into flavorful feasts and save money doing it!
Leaving a slow cooker unattended while running errands, working or sleeping (overnight) sells this appliance to the masses. Many people want a home-cooked meal but cannot find the time to cook after work. The slow cooker becomes their salvation.
Just as we tend to call caramel-covered popcorn Cracker Jacks, we may mistakenly call many slow cookers “Crock Pots.” Crock-Pot was the original slow cooker with a glass lid and a ceramic pot inside the heating unit instead of resting on top of it. Other brands have since developed Crock-Pot-style slow cookers, and the style is now very prevalent.
We use this heavy cooking pot to cook anything a slow cooker can cook and more. It is the only non-appliance cookware on our list and requires heat from another source. This can come from any heat source like your stovetop, your oven and even a campfire will do.
Versatility makes the Dutch oven a popular item in so many kitchens. It favors a wide variety of cooking styles and practices, and it can be quite durable depending on the model.
Rice cookers may range from $15 to upwards of a few hundred dollars for high-end models. More high-tech models offer various choices like modes to cook brown rice or boiling/steaming options. You may opt for a set of pots instead and just cook your rice on the stovetop. However, if you cook rice regularly, a good rice cooker is an investment that will pay you back in dividends.
Top-of-the-line slow cookers may match their Dutch oven counterparts in price. However, while a quality Dutch oven costs a few hundred dollars, a fantastic slow cooker goes for around $100. Some models only cost around $30.
Getting started in the wonderful world of slow cooking food doesn’t have to have a high price barrier. Product quality and longevity, though, may pay you back in spades. Dutch ovens are highly versatile cooking tools that can replace other pots and pans and free your cupboard space. Some families have been using the same pot for decades; imagine the “CPU,” cost per use, of that Dutch oven.
Various choices in materials give you a wider variety of options to choose from when deciding on cookware. Some materials have great added benefits while others bring problems to go with their benefits.
Bare cast-iron Dutch ovens are quite popular. This material absorbs flavor from the ingredients and leads to complex taste while adding a bit of iron to your recipe. Prevent stickiness with the cast-iron by properly seasoning it. Enameled cast-iron in Dutch ovens prevents food from sticking to the interior and makes it easier to clean.
Many slow cookers use ceramic or porcelain cooking pots. Some pots also allow you to cook directly on the stovetop, which allows you to use high heat on ingredients before the low-heat cooking. Stoneware pots are safe, non-toxic and make for excellent serving options for the dinner table. The accompanying glass lid makes it easier and more convenient to store food afterward.
Stainless steel slow cooker pots are much easier to clean. Buy products with high-quality stainless steel that will not leach out chromium and nickel into your food.
Dutch ovens and the ceramic cooking pots in slow cookers proudly grace a dining table as they are. However, the plain, metal rice cooker pot is not the best aesthetic choice for a dining table.
Control and Flexibility
You have a choice of flexibility between Dutch ovens and slow cookers. Slow cookers give you the option to do a number of other things while they work. Dutch ovens offer a wider variety of cooking options.
A slow cooker frees you to do other things while it cooks your food at that low temperature. It can be left on overnight and even when you are out of the house. You could set it and prepare your house for dinner party guests and return to it later. However, it would be folly to address the risk of leaving it unattended. We risk starting a fire by running any electrical appliance, but slow cooker fires are extremely unlikely.
Slow cooker automation is the salvation of busy people who want delicious, home-cooked meals. Many models have a timer and will also keep the food warm after it has finished cooking. Other models go the extra distance and automatically lower the heat if the machine perceives the temperature to be too high.
Dutch ovens allow you a wide variety of choices in terms of heating. Use your oven or your stovetop, or both! You could apply high heat to brown your meat on the stove and transport the whole thing to your convection oven to continue cooking or vice versa. You might even try taking it with you and trying to use it in the fire on a camping trip, though use one that does not cost so much.
You can braise, sauté, sear, brown, boil and cook in just about any way with a Dutch oven. The only slow cookers that we can cook with in the same way have inserts (cooking pots) that can handle the high-heat of a stove. In the end, it is a matter of preference for which flexibility users see as more valuable.
Rice cookers, unsurprisingly, have the narrowest cooking ability scope. High-end rice cookers handle various grains very well, and most models have a steamer function to cook vegetables. These appliances should be seen as a great sidekick to go with your slow cooker or Dutch oven. Rice and lighter grains complement many of the dishes that we cook in slow cookers and Dutch ovens.
Slow cookers do an excellent job of cooking soups, stews, and tough meat cuts. Imagine leaving chopped beef or pork shoulder in a slow cooker and letting it tenderize the meat. You come back after a ludicrous day at work, smell the aroma of meat cooked to perfection, and sit down to enjoy some soft, juicy pulled pork or beef stew.
The possibilities of recipes for slow cookers go on and on and on, limited only by imagination. Yet the Dutch oven wins hands down; you can use the Dutch oven to cook all of those same recipes and more. Cooking time also favors the Dutch oven. As mentioned earlier, the reputation for flexibility is warranted; you can do so much with just one Dutch oven. You could even bake bread with it.
Rice cooker fans go to war at times with stovetop fans or naysayers spouting, “Just use a pot.” The set-it-and-forget-it benefit is great, but many fail to see the more important advantage – consistency. You get the same quality rice every time, compared to the bubbly mess on a stove from a moment of inattention.
Certain vegetables do not cook well in slow cookers. Sturdy vegetables such as onions, celery and beets appear to cook just fine, but vegetables like asparagus just become a mishmash of mush.
Dutch ovens are what their slow cooker counterparts wish they were. Besides outclassing them in cooking the same recipes and more, Dutch ovens produce more flavorful meals. Slow cooker meals are good, but with a Dutch oven, the heat transfer and seasoning add that extra bit of goodness.
So which is the best for you?
Rice cookers and slow cookers both offer the convenience that modern-day men and women seek. Slow cookers and Dutch ovens allow for a cornucopia of recipes. But overall, the Dutch oven gives the most benefits in terms of taste, cooking time, and versatility.
One thing to remember is that each artist in the kitchen is different, and each of us has our own goals and needs. Convenience may trump all other benefits, and an appliance that works while you work may fit your lifestyle the best.