This article was last updated on November 2nd, 2020
Before you researching what the best piece of cookware is best for your needs a Dutch oven or a slow cooker you need to understand the basic differences between each cooker.
A Dutch oven has the ability to prepare a slow-cooked meal all in one pot. For instance browning or braising, adding other ingredients then slow cooking either on a stovetop or in a conventional oven. In an electric slow cooker, you add all ingredients then select the appropriate cook time.
You will note that both cookers can perform the slow cook action so recipes can be adapted for either cooking pot. But the end dish with full rich flavors is definitely not the same.
When purchasing cookware people are often tempted to go for a product which costs less, even if it doesn’t deliver as well on performance. If you have started your buying research you will already know that a slow cooker will cost you considerably less than a quality Dutch oven.
Most cookware is actually cheaper than Dutch ovens, come to think of it.
However, there isn’t a considerable amount of cookware on the market which can deliver as well as a Dutch oven. In the context of this blog, the jury is still out on whether a slow cooker can produce better results than a Dutch oven and whether those results can be produced as efficiently. More on that later though.
Can You Substitute a Dutch Oven for a Slow Cooker?
Yes, you can absolutely substitute a Dutch oven for a slow cooker. The main difference between a Dutch oven and a slow cooker is how the heat is applied to the cookware.
Dutch ovens can be used on almost any heat source depending upon whether it is a seasoned cast-iron Dutch oven or an enamel-coated Dutch oven.
The seasoned cast-iron oven can be used on campfires, I would never put an enamel cast-iron Dutch oven on a campfire. It would produce wonderful meals but ruin the cooking pot.
Whereas a slow cooker is heated by electricity and it is the only heat that can be used with this cooking pot.
What Is a Slow Cooker?
If you are familiar with these pages, you will likely already be pretty clear on what a Dutch oven is. I will refresh your memory anyway though.
However, in the context of this article, it would probably be prudent to wrap your head around what a slow cooker is first and establish just how much it actually differs from a Dutch oven.
Depending on where it is in the world that you live, you might have also come across something called a crock-pot.
The slow cooker is the official name and more often than not, people who own slow cookers have purchased them from Sunbeam, which has been a manufacturer of electrical appliances for more than a century now.
That is actually a defining feature of slow cookers. They are electrical cooking appliances. That is to say, electricity is the only heat source for slow cookers. That is something worth thinking about at greater length.
The traditional or basic slow cooker is a form of non-metallic cookware. That is also probably an important detail to take into account before you purchase one. There are questions to be had around durability or fragility. Non-metallic cookware can break quite easily.
Most slow cookers are either made from ceramic or porcelain. Most of the time, the ceramic or porcelain slow cookers will be surrounded by a metal housing.
For those who are not entirely clear on this, you will actually put the slow cooker in the metal housing (it comes with the product), which will also act as the heat source for the slow cooker.
Think of it as a pot within a pot. So, you can actually take the slow cooker insert in and out of the metal housing. That is a useful detail for those who wondered about cleaning the slow cooker.
What Is a Dutch Oven
A Dutch oven is a form of metallic cookware, which essentially makes it the direct opposite of a slow cooker. While your slow cooker is a form of ceramic or porcelain cookware, your Dutch oven is primarily made from cast-iron.
While Sunbeam is probably the most recognizable slow cooker manufacturer, the most recognizable name in Dutch ovens is probably Le Creuset.
You have definitely encountered Le Creuset products in the store. They stand out from other forms of cookware because they are normally coated in enamel both on the inside and the outside and the colors used for that coating are normally bright.
Le Creuset Dutch ovens really do light up a room, whereas most slow cookers look typically “state of the art” on the outside. That is to say shiny and silver, with a glass lid. DULL.
Not only are the lids on slow cookers normally made from glass but they are also normally dome-shaped lids. Dutch oven lids are normally flat and heavy.
Slow cookers are reliant on electricity as a heat source for cooking. Whereas Dutch ovens can cook food on all heat sources, including campfires.
Dutch ovens get so hot you can sear, brown and saute in the pot, sealing in the goodness, before adding other recipe ingredients then slow cooking.
Finally, when you purchase a Dutch oven, you get just that. No extra casing or housing units, no wires…just the pot.
Why You Might Buy a Slow Cooker Instead of a Dutch Oven
1. Cooking Is Not Too Tricky With a Slow Cooker
It should take you in the region of six hours to complete a Sunday roast with a Slow Cooker, sometimes a little longer than that. For most of those six hours, the slow cooker does not need to be attended to.
While cooking something like a pork shoulder well is relatively difficult under normal circumstances, preparing it in a slow cooker should not be too tricky, primarily because it will do most of the work for you.
2. Slow Cookers Are Ideal for Cooking Tough Cuts of Meat
Most people are intimidated by the kitchen, especially where there is a prospect of having to cook something like pork shoulder, beef chuck, or brisket. Especially if those cuts of meat are cheap. Cheap cuts of meat are normally tough to cook and eat.
The slow cooker is useful in this context because you will simmer your meal at lower temperatures than normal while using one.
When you cook for long periods, you will soften the connective tissue on meat that is associated with cheaper cuts.
Critically that objective can be realized without toughening the muscle on the meat. If you are somebody who hates having to chew meat for extended periods – we guess that is everybody – then the slow cooker is the cookware that you probably want to be using.
3. A Slow Cooker Will Not Burn Your Kitchen
This would tie in with the first point we made about the slow cooker. In addition to you not having to attend to your meal for about six hours, there is also no fire hazard associated with the slow cooker and that is because you are cooking at such a low intensity or heat.
Not only is your kitchen safe but your food is also safe when using a slow cooker. I would, however, caution against cooking for much longer than the suggested period for a particular meal because the taste will probably be lost and the food will not look great either.
4. Slow Cookers Can Help You Save Energy
This is something that can often be taken for granted because we live in a world where we have become used to the more traditional sources of electricity.
Because the slow cooker operates at such a low intensity, you can actually complete your meals while cooking with something as small as a 1-2kW solar panel. The experts will tell you that slow cookers actually draw on less energy than that. So, do not let the fact that the slow cooker uses electricity to deter you for one moment.
5. A Slow Cooker Does the Thinking for You
While this might depend on the brand of the slow cooker, more often than not you can purchase a cooker that actually has a timer built into it. The purpose of that time is to monitor the time and intensity with which you have been cooking.
If it is established that the heat is too high after a certain period of cooking, the slow cooker will actually lower the heat automatically for you.
6. Slow Cookers Are Easy to Clean
A major redeeming quality with slow cookers is that you can actually prepare a whole meal in them, such as a stew or pot roast. You do not need more than one pot to cook, which also means there are fewer dishes to wash when you are done.
A slow cooker, because the food will not be burnt, is very easy to clean once you are done with it. You do not have that luxury with all the other cookware that you find in the kitchen.
7. Slow Cookers Are More Dynamic Than Most Cookware on the Market
Just thinking about preparing a whole meal in one pot can be a daunting affair, almost enough to put you off the whole idea of using a slow cooker really. However, you will be genuinely surprised by just how many meals you can prepare in a slow cooker and how easy it is to actually prepare most of those meals.
There are slow cooker recipes available all over the internet and there are several experts on Youtube who have gone through the effort to show you how to prepare those meals. You will be startled to know that there is a considerable amount that can be achieved in a kitchen when you are using a slow cooker.
It is almost tempting enough to purchase this instead of a Dutch oven but there is obviously no reason why you cannot purchase both forms of cookware.
Why You Might Not Buy a Slow Cooker Instead of a Dutch Oven
1. Heat Retention Is an Issue With a Slow Cooker
The lid of a cast-iron Dutch oven is always an important talking point for us. Dutch ovens have heavy lids that produce a tight seal on your pot.
The lids on most slow cookers are not nearly as heavy and they are made from glass. Heat is allowed to escape a little too easily from slow cookers but beyond that, the nutritional value in most of the food cooked in a slow cooker is lost a lot quicker.
This is particularly problematic when cooking vegetables in a slow cooker.
Loss of heat and nutrients are not problems you are likely to encounter when using a cast-iron Dutch oven.
2. Slow Cookers Not Being Attended Presents a Risk
A popular habit out there is to put food in a slow cooker and actually leave home for an extended period, only to return when you think the meal is just about ready to eat. Ordinarily, there is actually no issue with this. It is a convenient and safe option.
However, there are times when you will have a power outage in your home. It is the nature of electricity – it is not always completely reliable.
It is obvious then possible that this outage can happen while you are away from your home, while the slow cooker is on.
That will have an adverse impact on your meal and will probably ruin the whole exercise completely. Possibly render it a complete waste as the ingredients would most certainly be going bad.
3. Slow Cooking Can Pose Some Health Risks
Concerns have sometimes emerged for people who want to cook beans, because of the carbohydrate-binding proteins that they have in them. They are toxic but when you are cooking at high temperatures this does not become an issue.
Heat destroys the carbohydrate-binding proteins in beans but because you are operating at much lower temperatures with a slow cooker, the risks posed are significantly higher.
Complications associated with this can be avoided by soaking beans overnight and then draining the water or by boiling those beans for about 30 minutes before you start slow cooking.
There are other creative techniques available too but the reality is that you will find yourself having to do additional work, only to cook very slowly and for long periods after that.
That can be off-putting for some who are already wary about the six hours of cooking that lies ahead.
4. Slow Cookers Present Consistency Nightmares
Ordinarily, when you are cooking there is an option to improve the consistency in your soups and sauces by reducing the heat in your pot to a simmer. When you operate with a slow cooker, you have been at a simmer from the outset.
For that reason, there will naturally be no reduction and what you tend to end up with is a runny product. The more seasoned cooks among you will be able to avoid this problem though.
When there is a will, there is always a way. It is just that all of that unattended cooking will suddenly become a little more attended cooking.
5. Slow Cookers Do Not Produce the Best Meals
The meals produced with a slow cooker are generally of very high quality. You will enjoy them, especially those tougher and cheaper cuts of meat that give so many folks trouble.
However, there is just no sidestepping the fact that a meal produced in a Dutch oven will always be better than what a slow cooker can give you.
Slow Cooker vs Dutch Oven – The Pork Test
Determining whether a Dutch oven is better than a slow cooker or not often rests heavily on what it is that you are cooking. For the purposes of this blog post, we have thought it prudent to focus on pork shoulder, which can be very difficult to get just right.
The experts will tell you that the perfect Sunday roast takes in the region of six hours to get right, perhaps a little longer than that. There are two key elements to cooking the perfect Sunday roast.
The first is obviously the time that it takes to cook that roast and the second is the intensity of heat at which you cook that roast.
Both elements are related. Cooking the Sunday roast with a Dutch oven or slow cooker will have a meaningful impact on whether you manage to strike the perfect balance, especially if you are preparing a pork shoulder for the family and friends.
The key details to take into account here are the efficiency and the quality of the final product. Not everybody likes cooking and not everybody likes food.
Some people like both – which means that efficiency and quality will carry the same weight under the circumstances.
Time and Heat
It is worth noting that in this test, the Dutch oven was placed into a kitchen oven for about four hours. While the time is actually the key thing to note here, it is also worth noting that you were able to place the Dutch oven on an oven rack.
I keep mentioning just how versatile the Dutch oven is because you can use it on multiple heat sources. So, extra points for that.
The Dutch oven was set at a relatively low and slow temperature.
The slow cooker was set on high, which is worth noting. For that reason, the test for the slow cooker was also conducted over a period of about four hours.
Efficiency comes under the spotlight here.
A teacher once told the author of this blog that you eat with your eyes. If that were true, the Dutch oven beats the slow cooker, without even flinching.
The pork produced in the Dutch oven just looks juicy and crispy and tasty.
The slow cooker’s pork looks dull and bland, uncooked even.
The whole point of this slow-cooking technique is to make tougher meats easier to consume at the dinner table.
When you put your fork or knife into the pork prepared with the Dutch oven, the meat just falls off the bone. It is effortless.
Dicing the pork produced in the slow cooker requires a little more effort. However, it is worth noting that this was only cooked in four hours and not six, as Jamie Oliver would probably suggest you go about it. That would also mean cooking at a lower heat intensity.
Nevertheless, Dutch oven still wins that contest hands down, regardless.
Ultimate Winner – The Proof of the Pudding Is in the Eating
Ultimately we could discuss all of these talking points at length without really knowing just how well a slow cooker performs against a Dutch oven.
The best way to establish just how good a slow cooker is against a Dutch oven is to conduct the good old BLIND TASTE TEST. So, here we go!
A group of people was recently consulted on what White Chicken Chilli tasted like in a slow cooker versus what it would taste like after being prepared in a cast-iron Dutch oven.
Here are some of the comments.
1. White Chicken Chili Prepared in a Slow Cooker
“It could definitely use a bit more flavor”
“It could use a little seasoning”
“It wasn’t super flavorful”
“It is all a little bit mushy”
2. White Chicken Chili Prepared in a Dutch Oven
“Wow, that’s a bit different”
“I like the texture of the meat in this one”
“The chicken is a bit more tender”
“It is definitely seasoned better”
“This one has a bit more kick to it”
It should not come as a surprise to anybody that all eight of the participants in the blind test said they would definitely eat more of the meal they were served if it was prepared in a Dutch oven.
While you are welcome to purchase both a Slow Cooker and a Dutch Oven, I honestly think it is a no-brainer. The Dutch Oven beats the Slow Cooker every single time.
Is a Dutch Oven a Slow Cooker Alternative?
As you can see from the comparison above the Dutch oven is absolutely the original slow cooker that has been around for hundreds of years.
Why Is cooking In A Dutch oven Better?
Cooking in a Dutch oven is better due to the cast-iron heat retention capabilities, the pot can be heated from the bottom or inside an oven and it will heat from all sides. Combine this with the heavy lid that keeps the steam and moisture inside the pot and you have tender meals every time.
Final Thoughts – Dutch Oven vs Slow Cooker – Buyers Guide With Pros & Cons
Well, you have the proof in the cooking and the tasting of the end result of two of the same recipes prepared in different “but similar” cooking pots.
I agree with the test testers Dutch ovens will give you the perfect dish every time just by following the traditional Dutch oven cooking principles.
BUT, in saying that if time is not your friend I would always suggest the next best cooking appliance available to you. This is one where you can produce healthy nourishing meals made from fresh ingredients all in one pot – the slow cooker…
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