One of my most used kitchen appliances is my crockpot. I especially love it in the fall and winter months for making soups, stews, pot roasts, etc.
Like many of you, probably, I had always assumed that a crockpot and a slow cooker were one and the same. It turns out, though, that while a crockpot is a type of slow cooker, not all slow cookers are crockpots.
There are plenty of similarities, of course, but there are also a few distinct differences that you might be interested to know.
Let’s take a closer look at the crockpot first. The first model was introduced to us in 1970 marketed strictly as a bean cooker.
Over time, the brand expanded its cooking repertoire to include many different types of dishes. The company then re-designed its bean cooker by reshaping it and adding handles and a glass lid.
Afterwards, the product was registered under the trade name of “Crock-Pot”, which is now sold under the Rival brand name. Now, of course, the word “crockpot” has become a generic term used to refer to any type of slow cooker.
With a true crockpot, the crock itself is a container with heating elements all along the sides as well as on the bottom.
Technically this device is called an electric heating oven (no matter the brand) and features a ceramic or porcelain pot that fits snugly into the crock with a glass lid to trap the heat and moisture inside.
The device has two heat settings, high (typically 300°F) and low (200°F), with most models now coming with a “Keep Warm” setting. It cooks food slowly at a low temperature, with the heat surrounding the food and bringing it up to a safe temperature quickly.
Direct heat from the crock, a lengthy cooking period, and steam created in the tightly covered container all combine to destroy any bacteria, which makes this method of cooking a safe process.
Crockpot cooking is especially good for tenderizing cheaper (aka tougher) cuts of meat that typically require low and slow cooking.
Despite its name, the Frigidaire Professional Stainless 7-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker is much more closely related to the crockpot.
Now we’ll switch over to the slow cooker. A true slow cooker consists of the same three components as a crockpot: glass lid, pot, and heating element.
However, instead of the ceramic or porcelain pot of the crockpot, slow cookers generally have a metal pot.
Additionally, instead of fitting inside of a container (or crock), the pot will sit on a base that houses the heating element. This means that a slow cooker lacks the heat going up the sides of the pot to surround it with even cooking temperatures.
The hot plate under the pot also will have more varied heat settings than a crockpot. These are typically numbered 1 through five.
These two big differences mean that food heats more slowly than in the crockpot, with the heat level higher on the bottom of the pot.
This causes two things, the first being that scorching can pose a problem with the heat being concentrated on the bottom.
Occasional stirring is often indicated on the recipe for slow cooker meals in order to prevent this occurrence, which means lifting the lid, which means adding about 20 minutes to the cooking time each time you stir.
Secondly, the rather uneven heating also has caused the USDA to recommend that slow cookers be used mainly for soups, stews, or other dishes where the contents are cut into smaller pieces.
The smaller pieces enable the food to more quickly come up to a safe temperature that will kill any bacteria.
It’s also worth mentioning that a slow cooker can serve more purposes than just slow cooking a meal.
Because a regular slow cooker consists of a cooking vessel sitting on top of a hot plate, that cooking vessel can also be removed and used to cook on your stovetop or in the oven such as the West Bend unit shown above.
If you were to look at additional product pictures, you would see that it has the ability to be used on directly on your range.
This is especially useful if you want to cook something “fast” and use your the slow cooker’s heating pads to keep it warm for a party or an event.
Likewise, with the pot removed, the hot plate can then be used as a griddle for cooking or heating up other foods.
These alternative uses for the slow cooker sort of make up for the drawbacks if you’re looking for a kitchen appliance that can serve more than one purpose.
Personally, I am typically against buying stuff for the kitchen that can only be used for one thing (like a “quesadilla maker”. I mean, really. I have one of those. It’s called a griddle).
The one exception I would make would be a waffle maker. I really want one of those things. I have so many waffle recipes pinned, and no way to make them.
But I digress. As I was saying, if you, like me, would rather your kitchen appliances be multi-purpose, an actual slow cooker may be more up your alley, especially if you plan on using it just for soups, stews, and the like.
There is really only several true slow cookers left on the market (although other “crock pot” like appliances may use the name) with West Bend being the primary manufacturer – Click here to read my review of the various West Bend Slow Cooker models.
Speaking of multi-purpose, this Cuisinart MSC-600 3-In-1 Cook Central 6-Quart Multi-Cooker shown above is a slow cooks, browns and sautes, and steams.
This saves you the need for extra appliances that take up space and in some cases the need to use extra pots and pans when preparing a meal and making for a whole lot less cleanup.
I have found, however, that my crockpot more than makes up for its one-trick-pony status with its usefulness.
You can seriously cook just about anything in it: pot roast, soups/stews, meatloaf, even bread and cake.
It’s crazy how many different ways it can be used. I guess, then, it’s not much of a one trick pony, is it?
And even though I love it most to make warm and comforting dishes when it’s cold outside, it’s great to use when it’s sweltering, too, since you can cook dinner without getting all hot slaving over the stove.
One of our favorite ways to use it is to cook pinto beans overnight.
We love the whole beans, with a little cooking liquid, served in a bowl and topped with eggs for breakfast (sounds a little weird, but, trust me, it’s so good), and then I make refried beans with the leftovers.
This method takes the soaking portion of cooking with dried beans out of the equation.
So, there you have it:
A slow cooker is not the same thing as a crockpot, though, like me, you have most likely been living under the assumption that they are different ways to say the same thing.
As far as which one is better, in my book, an actual crockpot is the way to go since you can use it to cook such a wide variety of dishes, as I mentioned above.
You make the call, though.
Hopefully, this little comparison will give you some information that you didn’t have before and help you make the right decision for your kitchen.
About Ashley Martell
Ashley has enjoyed creative writing since she was six years old, when she wrote her first short story. She majored in English literature at the University of Montevallo. After years of professional work, she is now a stay-at-home mom of three, who uses her craft to write about her life and adventures in and out of the kitchen.