The slow cooker is my second most-loved countertop kitchen appliance, right after the coffee maker. There are recipes to make practically anything in the slow cooker – soups, casseroles, breads, desserts — even lasagna.
In the 1970s, slow cookers were marketed as essential time-savers for working moms, and I have to say that I can relate to that marketing tactic. It is comforting knowing that my family’s dinner is at home cooking all day while I am at work, and I have one less thing to worry about when I get home.
The first patent for a slow cooker was filed in 1936 by an inventor named Irving Naxon. His invention was called “Naxon’s Beanery,” and it was primarily marketed through the Sears catalog and to restaurants to hold their soups and chili. The appliance didn’t reach mass-market appeal until Naxon sold it to the Rival company in the 1970s, where it was renamed the Crock-Pot.
Another reason for the rise of the slow cooker in the 1970s: the energy crisis. Slow cookers use considerably less energy than ovens. Manufacturers used this to their advantage, proudly proclaiming that their products use the same amount of electricity as a lightbulb.
If you’re making dinner in your slow cooker tonight, here are a few tips:
- Don’t peek. It takes a long time for your slow cooker to make its way to the desired temperature. Every time you remove the lid, it releases essential steam and can add approximately 30 minutes to your cooking time.
- Thaw meat first. If your meat is frozen when placed in the slow cooker, it may take too long to reach a safe temperature. This increases the risk of foodborne illness.
- Add certain dairy products last. Wait until the end of cooking time to add milk, yogurt or sour cream. If added too early, these ingredients tend to break down.
When it comes to slow cooker recipes, my favorite are the simplest “dump and go” type. Here’s a very simple, dietitian-created recipe to try in your slow cooker.