Energy efficiency is a topic on everyone’s mind these days. Americans are looking to trim energy use and cut costs anywhere they can. A large contributor to the amount of energy used in many homes is the electric stove. According to Unison, a company that delivers electricity to both consumers and businesses in New Zealand, an electric oven has an approximate average wattage of 3000 watts. That translates into a lot of electricity even when you’re using the oven for just a couple of hours.
So is there an alternative to oven cooking that is more cost-effective? There is, and it’s an appliance that’s been around in its present form since the 1970s — the crock pot. It’s enjoying a resurgence of popularity because of its energy-efficiency reputation. It only has a 220 wattage (see source quoted above), and cooking food with a low-wattage appliance over a long period of time is far more economical than cooking with a high wattage appliance for a shorter period.
You can also number among its benefits the fact that you can leave it unattended for the entire cooking time, it produces a one-pot dinner that’s flavorful because it is slow simmered, and it can be used in a variety of food preparations — it’s easy to understand why the crock pot’s time has come around again.
To help you make the most of your crock pot, the University of Wisconson Extension at Dunn County has put together the following tips:
- Raise the temperature of your crock pot as high as possible to promote quicker cooking. Brown meat before cooking, and blanch vegetables in boiling water for a few minutes before adding them to the pot.
- Pre-warm your crock pot by adding boiling water to it and letting it stand for a few minutes.
- Layer foods in the following manner: vegetables on the bottom and meat on top.
- Place a thermal pad or trivet between the crock pot and the cooking surface. Never place the pot directly on the surface because there have been cases in which counter tops cracked as a result of prolonged exposure to low heat.
- Speed up the cooking time of items like soups and stews by remembering that one hour on “High” is equal to two hours on “Low”.
- Use thickeners like corn starch, tomato paste, and flour if the contents become too watery as a result of the steam that accumulates during the cooking process.
The University Extension also had some tips on how to avoid any risk of bacterial contamination when using you crockpot:
- Keep ingredients refrigerated until they are ready to be cooked.
- Thaw frozen meat or poultry before cooking.
- Cut vegetables into small pieces to ensure effective heat transfer.
- Cover meat almost completely with stock to ensure effective heat transfer.
- Fill the pot only about 1/2 to 3/4 full so that all food reaches the proper temperature to kill bacteria.
- Don’t leave uneaten food to cool down in the crock pot. It should be removed to a dish to cool quickly and then refrigerated immediately.
- Never reheat leftovers in the crock pot. They should be reheated in the oven or microwave.
Pages three and four of the Extension bulletin offer menu ideas that center around an easy crock pot dish. Use these as a starting point to develop your own crock pot-centered meal plans. In time you will see that learning to make the crock pot the heart of your food preparation strategy will save you time and money.