Slow Cookers and the Crock-Pot

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In the 1970s, Rival Industries acquired the rights to a small kitchen appliance called the “Beanery”. Originally designed as a bean cooker, the technology was soon proved to be perfect for cooking meat and a wide assortment of vegetables, at low temperatures and over several hours. Thus, the Crock-Pot® was born.

The original niche market it found has continued to expand over the years, as the idea of slow cooking was perfect, not only for busy housewives of the early 1970s, but working women, working men, and adventurous cooks alike.

he name Crock-Pot® has become so familiar that few people realize that Crock-Pot® is not a generic name for all slow
cookers, but a name originally trademarked by Rival. Thus, for decades, consumers saw Rival Crock-Pots®, along with "slow cookers" from Hamilton Beach, West Bend, Cuisinart, KitchenAid and more familiar brand names.

In 1999, Rival was acquired by the Holmes Company, which in turn was purchased by Jarden Corporation in 2005. Jarden re-organized the Crock-Pot® division under another one of its purchases, Sunbeam Products, which it had acquired the prior year. Thus, today, Crock-Pot® is technically made by Sunbeam.

A slow cooker consists of a round, or oval, , or today even rectangular, ceramic pot, that sits in a metal housing that includes a thermostatically regulated heating element. Most
have transparent lids that allow the contents to be monitored without the need to lift the lid, allowing heat and steam, and flavor, to escape. Due to the heating element generally being located at the bottom for most slow cookers, occasional stirring of the contents helps prevent the contents from sticking to the bottom. Slow cooker thermostats can provide a range of cooking temperatures, while the Crock-Pot® has traditionally had only high and low settings (along with a “Keep Warm” function). Crock-Pots® have heating elements around the side of the crock, in a housing made of plastic or an alloy with an aluminum liner.

Slow cookers and Crock-Pots® work on the same simple principles. Food and a liquid, which can be any combination of water, stock, wine, soy sauce, etc. are placed into the crock, and once the lid is placed on top and the cooker is turned on,
the contents are heated to a steady cooking temperature of 175º - 200º F (80º - 95º C). The lid is not sealed, and the temperature of the contents can never surpass the boiling point of water, as the lid prevents the build up of pressure. The low cooking temperature will not allow much production of vapor, so that the inside of the crock lid gets surrounded by condensed vapor, and the rate of evaporation remains very low. The condensed vapor falls back into the pot, allowing the food inside to remain hydrated. The heat from the pot wall is delivered to the food by means of heat transfer through the liquid in the pot.

Slow cooker chefs recommend putting vegetables in first, in a layer on the bottom of the pot, with the meat on top. Then, cover the meat and vegetables with your liquid mixture of choice. One of the great benefits of slow cooking is that less expensive
cuts of meat will become tender and will undergo less shrinkage than if cooked under higher temperatures.

Many slow cookers today feature 20 to 24-hour timers, so that a meal can be set up to cook the night before, and when the cook and their family are ready of dinner the next evening, so is their meal. Many slow cookers also are now built for the road, with tight-locking lids for travel, and Crock-Pot® has a line of products that can be attached together and need only a single electric plug, This is for pot lucks and other such gatherings, where several people can bring hot dishes for all to share.

A good slow cooker or Crock-Pot® and a book of slow cooker recipes can make it easy to prepare inexpensive, great tasting meals, when you don't have the time to stand over a hot stove.

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Revised and updated July, 2015
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