Truer words have never been said and as many of us are experiencing or recently experienced a snow and ice-covered world, just hearing the words “crock pot” warm me up. To me, crock pots are the things where warm and yummy meals are made: chili, soup, stews, and the like. They’re also celebrating their 50th anniversary this year and boy do they have an interesting backstory.
First things first though. If you use “Crock Pot” and “slow cooker” interchangeably, don’t. Come to find out that all Crock Pots are indeed slow cookers but not all slow cookers are Crock Pots. In fact, “Crock Pot” is right up there with Kleenex, Band-Aid, Q-Tips, and Scotch tape. Crock Pot my friends, is a brand name, which was news to me.
Also news to me is that the original slow cooker’s story is rooted in the Jewish Sabbath. The device was inspired by a story inventor Irving Naxon’s Lithuanian mother told him about a bean stew. Legend has it that she and other moms would cook a bean-based stew in their village bakeries back in Lithuania. The stew was called Cholent and is a traditional Jewish dish that customarily cooks all day. However, it’s rooted in the Jewish Sabbath, which is a day of rest and no work for observant Jews. This means ovens were turned off so the stew would be put on heat before sundown Friday night and cook until the end of Saturday services the next day.
All of this got Naxon thinking so he created a portable device that consisted of an insert that was held up by a case with a heating device. He applied for a patent for it in 1936 but it wasn’t until 1940 that he got one for what he called The Naxon Beanery and voila, cooking history was officially stewed.
Naxon sold his Beanery to Rival Manufacturing in the early 1970s who rebranded it as the Crock Pot and ran with what they sensed was a genius and timely product. They quickly marketed it to a new and growing market: working mothers. Boasting the Crock Pot “cooks all day while the cook’s away,” advertising appealed to the new female work force who loved that they could put food in it before leaving for work and come home to a home-cooked meal. Truth be told, when my husband and I were first married I quickly learned he hated Crock Pot meals because his working mom served almost nothing but. He’s somewhat warmed up to slow cooker meals but they aren’t his favorites by any means.
Sales of slow cookers slowed down a bit in the 1980s, which some partially blame on a little invention called the microwave. Today however, slow cookers are as popular as ever with nearly 83 percent of American families owning one. Amazingly, their design has changed very little over all these years save for a removable insert. This is truly the sign of a great invention!
And on this subject, I’d be remiss to not briefly talk about slow cookers’ kitchen cousins, Insta Pots and Air Fryers. I have neither as I’m not a big appliance girl so what I share is what I’ve read.
The Battle of the Pots: Crock vs. Insta
Both Crock Pots and Insta Pots are popular kitchen appliances aimed at making cooking easier and more hands off. They have a lot in common and unique uses and they are both brand names. Here’s a quick comparison.
As mentioned above, Crock Pots are the original slow cookers, which is still their main use and draw. In recent years however, the brand has started making “multi-cookers” that can pressure cook, which is Insta Pot’s claim to fame. Traditional Crock Pots are slow cookers, while all Insta Pots are multi-cookers.
Crock Pots are best used for stews, searing, pulled pork and brisket recipes, short ribs, pot roasts, and chilis and soups. One huge advantage of them is that they are travel-proof in that they have latches and handles, making them a go to for pot lucks and parties.
When I hear “Insta Pot” I have visions of my mom’s old school pressure cooker used to cook beans, posole, and a host of other traditional New Mexican dishes. The pot was big and metal, had a weird little removable contraption on the top that wiggled and whistled, and the whole thing just seemed very dangerous to me. Enter Insta Pot.
Known for its time and space-saving attributes, the brand is still fairly new, launched only in 2010. Nonetheless, it has an extremely loyal following as was the first product to make pressure cooking easy and helping busy families get food on the table, fast. As they say, Insta Pot, insta food.
Insta Pots are often considered merely electric pressure cookers, but they can also steam, warm, sauté, work as a rice cooker, and even slow cook ala a Crock Pot. Still, their main function and attraction is pressure cooking. This method of cooking cooks food by raising the boiling point of water and trapping steam, which results in reduced cooking time. And just like Crock Pot has introduced steam cooking, Insta Pots can be used as Crock Pot-like slow cookers; the results will just be a bit drier.
So, if you can only choose one, which one do you pick? In short, if your desire is solely slow cooking process, go with a standard slow cooker. If you want pressure cooking and the option of slow cooking, Insta Pot may be your best bet. Much, however, depends on what you’re cooking and how you want to cook it.
Luckily, both appliances save time. As “Good Housekeeping” reports, Crock-Pots are great for busy people, early birds, and anyone who likes to plan ahead. “Just throw ingredients together in the morning and come home to a finished meal.” Insta Pots on the other hand, are best for last-minute people and those who get home late as they can take advantage of the pressure cook function and get a hot meal on the table in a matter of minutes.
A few more things to consider include ease of use and price. Traditional slow cookers are more affordable then Insta Pots, which may have more functions but can also be a bit large for smaller areas. This is a plus for some, but for others using an Insta Pot can at first be a bit confusing and intimidating. I guess if you can afford both and have room for both, choose both!
So there’s that…the diff between slow cookers and new-fangled pressure cookers. But what about the equally popular air fryer? Where does it stand in the kitchen appliance VIP league and how does it compare to a slow cooker?
Both countertop appliances are capable of cooking delicious meals and both cater to those who want their meals fast, particularly after a hectic day. They differ vastly however in how they cook and what they cook best.
You could say air fryers are basically mini convection ovens. They are ideal for anyone who wants their food quick but prefer true oven-baked meals. But don’t let the name fool you. Food cooked in an air fryer is not “fried” per se but instead, air is used to mimic the process and taste of fried food while almost completely eliminating the need for cooking oil. They are also increase the browning of food by concentrating more heat on the outside of the food.
So what is convection cooking? You’ve probably heard of it as many ovens offer a convection setting. Convection is one of two main methods of heat transfer, the other being conduction, which is the most basic way of doing so. It basically works in that something hot touches something cool and heats it up. It’s our basic ovens and is what is in play on a stove top as well.
Convection, on the other hand, is considered more efficient as it add the element of motion to the cooking process and heats food faster, sometimes reducing cooking times by 25 percent or more.
Convection baking, introduces a fan to the process, allowing hot air to be blown around and onto the food. This produces crispiness, which is what makes air fryers so popular. The air essentially bounces off food surfaces, cooks food thoroughly in minutes, and adds a lovely browning in the process. Since air fryers are smaller than traditional convection ovens and bakers, the fan is closer to the food meaning the food will cook faster. Keep in mind however, that because air fryers are small they have relatively small cooking areas meaning they can accommodate only about two servings at a time. They may not be the best bet for large families or anyone cooking for even a medium-sized group unless you don’t mind cooking in batches. Some also consider them loud, with decibels sometimes ranging about as loud as a vacuum cleaner.
But, the food results they boast make them worth it for those who love them. They produce crispy, evenly browned foods without having to actually deep fry them and are popular for lovers of French fries, tater tots, chicken wings, potato chips, chicken tenders, and a host of other foods. They can also be used to grill, bake, roast, toast, fry, dehydrate, and reheat certain foods. All of these options are perhaps what make them a bit intimidating to master and use for some.
A slow cooker uses moist heat to cook and simmer food over a long period of time. Its heating element in the base of the appliance emits heat up and transfers it from the bottom up across the sides of the pot. The food is heated from within and is surrounded by steam underneath the lid.
If you ask any air fryer aficionado, they will recite a list of benefits including the simple fact that they massively reduce cooking times and that you can have a healthy meal in less than an hour. They are ideal for dorms, apartments, campers, or any space with a small kitchen and they are portable and energy efficient.
Besides the raves of slow cookers mentioned above, they are also popular because they don’t heat up a kitchen, making them ideal for hot summer months and hot climates.
Head-to-head, if you like options in cooking methods, an air fryer will provide more versatility but if you want something simple and reliable, a slow cooker is the real deal.
In the end…whether it be an air fryer, a steam cooker, or a traditional slow cooker…choose what best suits your needs and wants, what you can best afford, what you have room for, and what makes you happy. Whatever you choose…and I know many who have all three…know that it all started by a young man just trying to make life easier for the women in his life. And that’s no crock.