Using a Slow-Cooker: Do I Really Have to Do That?

There are certain labor-intensive recipe phrases that can make the most diligent cook roll her eyes. "Do I really have to do that?" we wonder. Leave your Do I Really Have To Do That? questions in the comments and they shall be answered, saving us all a lot of needless trouble.

Do you need a slow-cooker? Only the same way you need an electric toothbrush or a stand mixer or a unicorn; all get the job done with a little extra pizazz. There's absolutely nothing a slow-cooker can cook that a low oven can't, but it does nose ahead in some tasks. The wise editors at America's Test Kitchen, who just authored "Slow Cooker Revolution Volume 2," insist that the appliance outperforms the stovetop when gently poaching shrimp or making a stir-free risotto. We also turned to Facebook for the expertise of some of the most opinionated folks we know –– home cooks –– to find out where else the slow-cooker excels.

We gleaned many great ideas, but were also reminded of the powerful psychological appeal of the little kitchen appliance that could. "It gives me peace of mind," wrote Krista Murphy. "I would never leave for work with a pot of anything cooking on the stove for 8 hours," added Helen Faubion, but the slow-cooker shoos you out the door and gets on with dinner while you can get on with your life. And as Sheila Flores smartly pointed out on our Facebook page, it leaves you with only one pot in the sink to wash. Some other smart ideas you shared:

  • The slow cooker can be counted on for succulent pot roast every time, wrote Tedra Martinez. "Hands down. Never dry."
    RECIPE: Slow-Cooker Pot Roast
  • Vanessa Rodriguez crafts a DIY rotisserie chicken roaster from her slow cooker. "I put garlic, salt, pepper and fresh rosemary under the skin. I make 3 balls out of foil, put them in the crockpot and put the chicken on top. Cook for 8 hours = delish!"
  • Beans, suggested Relda Golematis. Save big bucks by buying dried beans and cooking them with no oversight for use in soups, stir-fries, and other meatless mains.
  •  "Makes a great ripening room for fruits: Avocados, peaches, plums & nectarines," a brilliant idea from Matthew N. Tanner.

  • And here's a genius tip from Carl Bennett. Remove the label from a can of sweetened condensed milk. Place it on a plate or in a glass container within your slow cooker (this prevents a rust ring from forming on your slow cooker). Fill the slow-cooker with water until it covers the can and cook on low for 8 hours. Voila: caramel sauce!
  • "Great foot soaker," shared John Richards, who wins the prize for outside-the-box thinking.
  • "Slow cook BBQ Baby Back Ribs," suggested Henderson W McKinnish. "Sooo tender!" Sharon Wilson recommends finishing them in the oven for 15 minutes for a just-like-grilled flavor.
    RECIPE: Slow-Cooker Sweet and Sour Country Ribs
  • "It's perfect for pot luck parties," suggested Heather Presby. "Don't have to slave over the stove and can keep it heated during the party."
  • Lauren Meza recommended using the slow-cooker for "baked" potatoes. "Keeps the house from getting hot and you can put them in in the morning and not have to wait for them when you start dinner in the evening."
    RECIPE: Loaded Slow-Cooker Baked Potatoes
  • Homemade baby food, suggested Karen Mae Pagulong-Valencia. Cook chicken breasts, sweet potatoes, apples, and apple juice for six to seven hours on low, then puree until smooth. "You'd think it was store-bought baby food…I'm a hands-on full-time mom, so the fact that I could just leave the baby food cooking on the slow cooker without having to worry whatsoever is a big relief and allows me to care for my child while his food is cooking. Multitasking indeed!"
If you do decide to spring for one, America's Test Kitchen found that the best options were one of the oval 5 1/2-to-7-quart sizes, since they can accommodate a whole chicken, pork loin, or a small springform pan (cake in a slow-cooker: yes!). Their top pick was Crock-Pot Touchscreen, which has an easy-to-use display, a timer that can run for up to 20 hours, and yielded a tender pot roast and beautiful caramelized onions. Also recommended was the All-Clad Slow Cooker with Ceramic Insert.

Final verdict
: No, you don't have to use a slow-cooker. But if it sounds like it would be a lifesaver with your lifestyle  and –– if you have the space for another appliance on your counter –– it can set you free from the kitchen, and turn out some really good pot roast while you're picking up the dry cleaning.

Do I really have to use a bay leaf?
Do I really have to debeard mussels?
Do I really have to wash my chicken?
Do I really have to use kosher salt?