The Dutch Oven vs The Slow Cooker; Dateline?
This is a very interesting first sub heading and not one that I expected to begin this article with, but let’s briefly analyse each half of the question. What we have come to understand, recognise, and generally what we know as the Dutch Oven was invented by an English brassworks owner, Abraham Darby, in the early 1700s. I’ll wager that many of your friends, family, even your own kitchen has some form of Dutch Oven, most instantly recognisable are the Le Creuset offerings in their enameled multi colours. The Slow Cooker, however, the first versions as most conceive it to be such as the American Crock Pot or my own Sage Fast Slow Pro which combines both the benefits of a slow cooker and a pressure cooker in a single unit were not invented until the 1930s.
In terms of age, we have the answer, or do we? If that was the original question in the main title then we can stop right here. However, the question originally posed was Slow Cooking; What Method is Best? Essentially, both the appliances and I refer to both pieces of equipment as appliances (a device or piece of equipment designed to perform a specific task), do indeed perform precisely the same task, the task of slow cooking. There are, of course, variations in how and why they produce the results they do but the task in hand is to cook food at a low temperature over a prolonged period of time.
I’ve been asked multiple times “Should I buy a Dutch Oven or should I opt for a Slow Cooker, what’s best, and why”? As you have seen, the question isn’t as straight forward as it seems as the question asked is often the wrong one, or, potentially, the right one but posed without thought.
Of course, they are not mutually exclusive…you are allowed to have both! I do and they serve a purpose depending on different scenarios. Let’s move on.
Taste, Cost, Control?
If we begin at square one, with exactly the same ingredients and both appliances side by side I would suggest that the Dutch Oven wins on taste alone for chicken, but not necessarily by a noticeable difference. Whereas, with beef it is the converse and pork is a draw.
Something to bear in mind is that even with a lid on the Dutch Oven will allow meat to cook or crisp on the outside through the reduction process, albeit at a slower rate than with no lid, the Slow Cooker will not. Whichever you use always brown the meat before you add the other ingredients. You want colour on the meat, that colour equates to flavour and even an over-browned colouring is fine as this will fade and enter the liquid and thickening the gravy or sauce during the cooking process. Unless addressed at the outset, the Slow Cooker will produce a more watery sauce, so either add less of a loose liquid or additional thickening agents of your choice. For instance, if your recipe called for 1.5 cups of red wine and 3 tbsp tomoto purée for the Dutch Oven you would be well advised to adapt for the Slow Cooker to 3/4 cup red wine and 3 tbsp tomoto purée.
What is the difference in cost, is there a clear winner? First thing is that if you buy the right Dutch Oven it shall last you a lifetime, be careful if enamaled, whilst beautiful, if it becomes chipped you start to lose the effective use of it, if not enamaled you will need to season and look after it correctly but over the years the seasoning adds to the flavour, in essence it is a one-off cost if you ignore the need for the use of the oven, as we cannot do that it clearly has an ongoing cost. The Slow Cooker, however, is usually a far cheaper outlay, my model being one of the exceptions and will the electrical circuits last as long as the analogue version without being replaced? Being an electrical appliance this also has an ongoing cost but it is far cheaper to use on a daily basis when compared to the oven.
So, what of control then? Well, your oven may be analogue or digital, you may be able to set it to within the nth degree but does that take account of the fan or non fan assisted elements? Does it allow the extra 10C to 15C that the Dutch Oven will add to the cooking regime? Can you change the cooking process on the fly? The Slow Cooker will permit you to set Low or High, with some, mine included permitting you to set to the nth degree and a whole raft of specialist settings for the dish you have chosen. Most Slow Cookers also come with a delay timer, permitting you to wait until midday before it turns on automatically and then provides 5hrs or however long of cooking for when you return from the office, this is a huge boon for the busy parent and single person or couple alike, allowing you to get on with your life elsewhere. Mine even allows the settings to change themselves midway through should you wish, all without touching a button other than the initial preset.
The idea behind slow cooking began thousands of years ago, pits in the desert sand packed with pot or wrapped in cloth could be used to make an oven. Very tough cuts of meat often produce the tastiest meals from an animal, so succulent and so tender providing that they are cooked slowly. Whichever appliance method you choose here you will not be without a choice of recipes, from a very quick search it appears that slow cooking offers the most choices of any for cooking your food and the masterstroke is that essentially it is a one pot clean up.
An advantage of the Dutch Oven is that it can be used for baking, bread making, frying, braising, or stewing and can move from the hob to the oven to the table. Whereas an advantage of the Slow Cooker is the convenience and without a shadow of a doubt, safety. The pot shall remain relatively cool or warm compared to a searing Dutch Oven but inside the food is just as piping hot and can still be transported to the table as is.
Points to Remember?
Things to bear in mind for both methods and appliances:
- Use less liquid then stove top;
- Use larger pieces of everything;
- Select the right setting on the Slow Cooker;
- Use the stove first;
- Consider adding some ingredients later;
- Always, ALWAYS RTFM.
Let’s examine the art of the possible, the general rule of thumb is that a Dutch Oven at 170C could take 25% of the time that a Slow Cooker would, whereas if your Slow Cooker is on the high setting, it could take 100% longer than a Dutch Oven would, although we could waste time evaluating lies, damned lies and statistics, please, let’s not.
As I have stated above I have not chosen one over the other, I have both, and most kitchens will always find a place and use for both to live harmoniously in the same area.
If you really must choose between a Dutch Oven vs Slow cooker, then you should consider the following;
- Your available precious time
- Storage, often people leave either on the work surface
The choice of either appliance varies greatly and my only concrete suggestion would be to go the upper price limit of your budget, and, if possible add 10% if required; you shan’t regret it.