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Cheap Gruel. Expensive Tool.

January 15, 2012

This is prime oatmeal season, but I’ve yet to make a bowl of my favorite breakfast treat since the weather has gotten frosty. And there’s a good reason for that.

Naturally, I’m referring to steel-cut oats. Not any steel-cut oats mind you, but specifically the preparation espoused by Cooks Illustrated in which you toast the oats in butter before simmering them in milk on the stovetop. It takes a long time, but it’s totally worth it. You can read more about that here.

However, even I do not dare to suggest that this is a reasonable thing to make on a weekday. This was why I was glad to discover that using a slow cooker can produce reasonably good results while you sleep. The only catch is that you’ll need to toast the oats in butter before going to bed, but that’s well worth the extra effort.

It’s difficult to go back to the slightly better stovetop method, once you’ve woken up to hot steel-cut oatmeal from the crock-pot.

Except there’s a problem with my slow cooker.

One could argue the problem isn’t with my slow cooker, but with me. Since I bought the device many many years ago, my comfort level with certain chemicals has changed. At the time, I had no qualms about nonstick coating. Now I’m not so confident in its safety.

Recently I discovered a chip on the coating. A flake of it may have come off in the food. Or perhaps it was just a victim of harsh dishwasher detergent. Regardless, I decided to take the pan out of rotation.

Finding another slow cooker hasn’t been as easy as one might expect.

The thing is that I really loved my slow cooker. It seems like a crime to toss the base, which works perfectly fine, just because the pot was shot. However I didn’t want to replace it with another non-stick device and was hoping there would be some kind of stainless steel insert that could be used on both the stovetop and in the oven and was also dishwasher safe.

It turns out such a thing doesn’t exist. Bummer.

So I went off to my other trusted resources: Consumer Reports and Cooks Illustrated. CR rated fifteen slow cookers back in December 2008, while CI more recently looked at six of them in August 2010.

These kinds of reports are really interesting to help get a better sense of the differences in the category. At first blush I was crestfallen because it didn’t look like there was a good slow cooker available. All of the Cook’s Illustrated models that were recommended cost more than $130. However, they did not include a lot of the brands that were listed in Consumer Reports. CR listed a few reasonably priced options by Hamilton Beach, but one seemed to turn off randomly and the other used a rubber gasket that off-gassed something fierce.

No thank you.

Then I realized something on Amazon. There were other slow cookers made by the top rated Cook’s Illustrated manufacturer Crock-Pot. And as far as I could tell by checking out the manufacturer’s site the principle difference between a basic model and the expensive Cook’s Illustrated one was its touch screen controls.

What made the machine perform so well in the Cooks Illustrated test was not the controls, but rather its ability to keep the temperature between 190 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit.

So for just under $45 I got what I hope to be a magnificent slow cooker that will do just about everything that I want, and even includes some bonus features that will be quite convenient. It also qualifies for super saver shipping, which is key for a cheap bastard like myself.

When it gets here, I’m having an oatmeal party, and it’s going to be off the hook.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 15, 2012 10:57 am

    I have five slow cookers (we used to own a restaurant and sometimes used them for catering). Most are in pretty good shape but some are showing wear. I probably glow in the dark because I use them a lot and never did any research. Good information though. :)

  2. January 15, 2012 11:37 am

    Interesting. a slow cooker is one of the few things we didn’t get for a wedding present. If you can make oatmeal in it, that makes it even more useful.

  3. January 15, 2012 12:06 pm

    Snazzy model. Locks, even! I’m totally in love with my crock pots. I really like how the ceramic inserts can be used as-is, or taken out for whatever other tasks at hand.

  4. January 15, 2012 12:51 pm

    Oatmeal party? We’re there.

    When we were last in NYC, we tried the famed Sarabeth’s for breakfast. Have you been? They have an entire section dedicated to porridge. I got the Big Bad Wolf porridge, which had wheat berries, fresh cream, butter and brown sugar . . . yum! Hooray to hot cereals!

  5. January 16, 2012 6:48 pm

    We’re going to be slow cooker twins. I’ve been wanting a new one for a while; my current is a petite size I got as a present from my mom for my very first apartment (read: 20 years ago) that is a bit too small to comfortably make large portions. Plus, the inside isn’t removable for cleaning. I did some research earlier and the one you linked is one of the models I’ve had bookmarked. Like you, I wasn’t sure there was significant difference between this and the pricier models besides a few bells and whistles I could live without. So, your post spurred me to bite the bullet. With my credit card/Amazon reward program it came to 30 and change. Not a bad deal.

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