THE WASHINGTON POST – There seems to be little that Americans can agree on these days when it comes to current events, but politics is far from the only arena where we’re divided. Even in the food world, tribalism rears its head. I prefer to focus on what unites rather than divides us. Still, when it comes to must-have cooking appliances, you likely fall into one of two camps: slow cooker or pressure cooker.
“I personally think most people should choose one,” said cookbook author Bruce Weinstein, who with his husband, Mark Scarbrough, has written tomes on slow cookers as well as the still-hot-right-now multicookers, which are most often used as pressure cookers. The fact is, not many people have room for two, and their tastes and lifestyles are probably already pushing them toward one over the other.
How should you choose which is right for you and your food?
Here are some things to consider.
Are you someone who plans ahead and wants your food to cook over a long period, or are you a procrastinator who tends to throw together dinner right before you want to eat it? This, at its core, is the most important factor to consider when choosing between the two types of appliances.
Don’t be fooled into thinking you can have the best of both worlds by choosing a multicooker, like the popular Instant Pot. Most multicookers have one heating element at the bottom of the base, while some slow cookers also include a band that goes around the sides. That, and the fact that multicookers are taller with less surface area than a typical slow cooker, can lead to unevenly cooked food when using the slow-cook function in a multicooker. The Instant Pot, in particular, has a reputation for running hot on the slow-cook setting, Weinstein says.
In an excerpt from her book Adventures in Slow Cooking posted on Cooking Light, Sarah DiGregorio notes that the Instant Pot’s locking lid “doesn’t allow for as much moisture loss as a slow-cooker lid. In some circumstances, that means a dish ends up swimming in liquid when you translate a traditional slow-cooker recipe to slow cooking in the Instant Pot.” (You can, however, buy vented glass lids for the Instant Pot that will allow more liquid to evaporate.)
If you are firmly in the slow-cooking camp, keep in mind that modern slow cookers tend to run hotter than vintage models (such as you see above). That’s because of concerns about food safety, Weinstein said. If you throw your meat into a slow cooker in the morning and then let it hang out on warm for a few hours after the cooking process is finished, you may be disappointed, as smaller or leaner cuts of meat can overcook even at the holding temperature.
If you’ve come to the realisation that you have room for only one of these large appliances, consider this: Slow cookers tend to have a larger footprint, with their elongated oval shape. Multicookers skew tall and narrow. Evaluate your cabinets and counter space, and decide where the slow cooker or multicooker might fit best.
How many functions are you likely to use? That’s also at the crux of this decision.
Slow cookers first and foremost cook food slowly. Programmable models let you choose the level of heat and time, but that’s about it. Browning meat has long been an obstacle when it comes to slow cookers.
Some models have inserts that can be used on the stove top, and others offer built-in saute functions. Otherwise, you may need to use a separate pot or pan first for any cooktop work.
You may find a few models with settings for steaming and making yogurt, but slow cookers are largely single-use appliances.
Multicookers offer an array of possibilities. Beyond pressure cooking and slow cooking, you may get functions for yogurt, rice, steaming, sauteing and sous vide.
Slow cookers excel at “long-braised stuff,” Weinstein says, such as brisket, oxtail and chuck roast, with time and low heat helping transform meat from tough to tender. Their shape means they can handle larger cuts that might otherwise have to be broken down into small pieces. Weinstein also is a fan of slow cookers for overnight foods, such as steel-cut oats. With a slow cooker, you won’t overcook them.
Like the slow cooker, a pressure cooker can help you tackle large cuts of meat, albeit with a completely different strategy. Rather than a slow braise, the multicooker works by creating a sealed environment. Once it “comes up to pressure,” air and steam can’t escape. When that happens, more energy is required to cause the liquid to boil, raising the boiling point from 212 to 250 degrees.
That, in turn, makes the food cook faster.
The smaller size of the appliance, however, may require breaking down those larger cuts. Dried beans cook in well under an hour. Grain dishes (risotto, oats) end up perfectly chewy and creamy, no stirring required.
Even the firmest vegetables can be steamed in a matter of minutes.