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Mini Slow Cookers
They may look like novelty items, but these itty-bitty slow cookers are more versatile than you might think.
What You Need To Know
You’re probably wondering, “Do I really need a baby slow cooker?” We were skeptical, too, but proponents of these wee crocks laud their versatility: They can do everything from keep dips warm at parties to slow-cook scaled-down meals for two from start to finish, not to mention hide out in tiny dorm rooms or campers. They’re also inexpensive. We gathered four models priced from $13.79 to $24.02, all with 1 1/2-quart capacities, and used them to make our recipes for Slow-Cooker Cheese Fondue and Slow-Cooker Chicken and Vegetable Soup for Two and to keep our Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip (cooked first in the oven) warm.
All the models were pretty rudimentary, with no digital temperature settings or timers like our winning full-size slow cooker from KitchenAid has. Each consists of a removable ceramic crock outfitted with a glass lid and set in a metal-lined shell that houses the heating elements. We quickly noted that the crocks and lids of all the models were very similar in size, shape, material, and thickness. In fact, we had to label them to keep from getting them mixed up. It’s no surprise, then, that they were all equally durable, roomy (all comfortably held an entire bone-in chicken breast), and easy to clean.
Aside from color, the shells looked pretty similar, too—except for one key difference: their temperature controls. While two models had dials for three temperature settings (warm, low, and high), one product had options for only low and high. Another didn’t have a temperature dial at all; it was either on or off, with no variable settings.
Given this, we expected to see big differences in performance when we loaded the crocks with food. But surprisingly, all the slow cookers kept the spinach dip and fondue nicely melted and scorch-free, and all finished cooking the chicken soup within the recipe time range (cooked on low if the cooker had settings) and without overcooking the meat or vegetables.
When we tracked the temperature of cheese fondue and spinach dip over the course of 3 hours on the lowest temperature setting possible, we saw that the temperature of the fondue in particular fluctuated anywhere from 15 degrees to 50 degrees, depending on the model. (The thicker spinach dip was better able to retain heat and thus maintained a more stable temperature.) Because the cookers cycle on and off to stay in their desired temperature ranges, some temperature fluctuation in the food is inevitable. Luckily, we know from recipe testing that most slow-cooker recipes can tolerate a 50-degree temperature range without the results being compromised, and the fondue was no different.
So far so good, but we wondered what would...
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