Slow cookers have been around since the 1940s and later became best-seller after World War II as more women began to work outside the home. This invention made it possible to leave something in the cooker in the morning and find a finished meal when you came home later in the evening. But with 10+ hours to cook each meal, are slow cookers energy efficient?
Slow cookers are energy efficient because the heating element uses a very low current and relies on trapped heat to cook food. A slow cooker running for 8-9 hours uses about 1300 watts, far lower than an oven’s 2,000 – 5000 watts for 60 minutes of cooking at 350°F. They also reduce evaporation.
Many people are unaware of just how efficient slow cookers can be. Others confuse it with similar appliances, such as pressure cookers. This article covers everything you need to know about slow cookers, from the origin, how it works, and how it saves power. We’ll also discuss the pros and cons of using this innovative tool!
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A Brief History of the Slow Cooker
Irving Nachumsohn is known as the first slow cooker inventor. However, the concept of slow cooking has been around for a lot longer than that. The first version was invented to cook a traditional Jewish stew known as Cholent. Most Jewish homemakers would leave pots of the stew to cook overnight on the residual heat from a nearby bakery. At the time, it was the only way to cook since the Jewish don’t cook on the Sabbath.
There are dishes in different cultures that can only be prepared through traditional slow-cooking methods. Modern slow cookers evolved from the electric bean pot, and in 1971, a reworked bean pot known as the Crock-Pot hit the market. It was such a hit that 80% of U.S households owned one by 2009. However, microwaves eventually took over, and slow cookers became less common.
In the last decade, slow cookers have been making their big return. The resurgence is mainly driven by a culinary revolution. Slow cooking meats such as ribs and pulled pork give better results (a delectable fall off the bone). Modern slow cookers are also way more energy efficient.
Today, there is a whole community of enthusiasts and hobbyists, and there are also great slow cooking recipes out there you can try.
How Does a Slow Cooker Save Electricity?
Slow cookers are no different than other popular cooking appliances; they plug into the wall socket just like an oven. A typical slow cooker uses 120 volts AC at between 0.6 and 2.0 amps. The only difference is that it draws significantly less power than, say, an oven. However, the exact amount depends on the cooking settings.
Modern slow cookers have high, low, and off modes. The low setting consumes about 70 watts, while the higher mode takes up to 250 watts. Unlike an oven, slow cookers cook continuously. To calculate the total electricity usage, you can multiply the wattage by the duration. The longer you cook, the more electricity it uses.
However, the average consumption is still significantly less than an oven. On average, an oven at 176.7°C (350°F) consumes 2,000 – 5000 watts for about 60 minutes of cooking. The cost adds up if you are preparing multiple dishes. Slow cookers like Crock-Pots allow you to cook all your dishes in one go.
The Verdict: Slow Cookers Are Energy Efficient
Slow cookers use less power than most other cooking options. Heat is supplied by low-wattage heating coils that consume the same amount of power as a bulb. When this heat reaches the food for a long time, the food simmers and cooks evenly. You can invest in a programmable slow cooker if you’re craving maximum energy efficiency. But the timer setting allows the cooker to switch off and on, saving you more electricity units; simply turn it off until you need to use it.
How Does a Slow Cooker Work?
A typical slow cooker has three components:
- The outer casing. This piece has electrical coils lining it, solely responsible for heating the food in the pot.
- The inner container. Also known as the “crock,” the inner container is ceramic-made and holds the food as it heats.
- The lid. This domed piece fits snugly on top to keep the heat from escaping while a meal is cooking.
When it’s switched on, the coils heat and, in turn, warm the food. Since it’s well-insulated from top to bottom, no heat escapes into your kitchen. The crock gradually warms up, reaching as high as 148.9°C (300°F). The food simmers and cooks slowly over time. As the food heats up, it releases steam that the lid effectively traps. The moisture then returns to the food, adding flavor.
Generally, food at the bottom cooks faster than what is at the top. To take advantage of this, most slow cooker recipes call for a layering strategy. Foods that take longer, such as vegetables, are usually layered at the bottom, while meats are better at the top. As a precaution, always place the cooker on a sturdy surface and away from walls.
However, a slow cooker is only as energy efficient as you make it. If you repeatedly lift the lid to check how far along your recipe is, you’ll also allow steam to escape. Not only does this add to your final cook time, but it also forces the slow cooker to use more energy to heat the food again. Cranking up the heat to a medium or high setting will also force the machine to use more energy, making it even less energy efficient than normal!
Watch this YouTube video for more information about the working principles of a slow cooker:
Although slow cookers are energy efficient, they are not ideal for all cooking situations. If you forget to switch off a manual slow cooker, it will keep running until you do. The power consumption adds up, and not to mention the food will wind up drastically overcooked by the time you remove it from the heat.
Similarly, if the power goes off midway through a meal, you have a limited window to save the food. In most cases, you will have to discard the food entirely, especially meat that can go rancid quite quickly. After all, having to re-cook is a waste of money, time, and energy.
Another problem is that not all foods are slow-cooking friendly. For instance, dried beans contain toxins that can only be removed by boiling at high temperatures. That means you will have to boil it first on a stove before transferring it to the slow cooker.
In short, you can’t rely on a slow cooker for most of your cooking. Even if you use the stove in conjunction with your slow cooker (as in the case of dried beans), you’re only using more energy by the time your meal is done!
Related read how slow cookers work
Final Thoughts – Are Slow Cookers Energy-Efficient?
A slow cooker is always the most energy-efficient option in most situations. However, it is not in any way a replacement for your stove or oven; it merely compliments what you already have in your kitchen. In addition to being energy-efficient, they are also very convenient. A traditional slow cooker makes it possible to live a busy lifestyle and still cook.
To get the best of your cooker, opt for the programmable version. However, don’t expect a huge drop in your power bills. You will most likely still be using your other cooking appliances.
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