Whether you’re after a slow cooker for creating tender and tasty meals, a rice cooker for ensuring perfectly cooked, fluffy rice every time, or a steamer for making healthy food for all the family, it can be a difficult task working out what type of kitchen appliance is best for you. Some can do several different types of cooking and some are dedicated for a particular type of meal. This guide aims to help you decide what type of cooking appliance will be best for your needs, helping you create delicious and nutritious food for years to come.
If you want to throw some prepped ingredients into a pot in the morning and then come home to a hot meal at the end of the day, a slow cooker could be ideal for your purposes. While some slow cooker recipes require a little more input, many of them are literally as simple as putting in some raw chopped vegetables, perhaps some meat or fish, some seasoning and liquid, then several hours later, you have a delicious stew or casserole waiting for you.
Considerations for buying a slow cooker
Settings and functions – Slow cookers can come with a wide range of different settings. More basic models will usually have a simple low, high and keep warm settings, other slow cookers come with auto functions which can change the cooking time automatically depending on the recipe type, or can cook on a higher heat for the early part of the process, then switch down for the remainder. Most slow cookers have the ability to keep a meal warm after it has finished cooking, which is ideal for those out at work or with busy lifestyles.
Capacity – The size of slow cooker that’s right for you will depend on the number of people you want to regularly feed with it. Slow cookers with a capacity of around 3.5 litres or less are usually great for couples or small families. If you want to feed a larger number of people, 6L models will usually cook enough for 6-8 meals at a time.
Shape – If you’re planning on cooking mainly stews, casseroles, curries and soups, the shape of your slow cooker isn’t that important. However, if you plan on cooking whole chickens, for example, your slow cooker will probably need to be an oval design in order to fit the meat inside. Most slow cookers are either round or oval in shape.
Steam cooking is one of the healthiest ways to make a meal, as no oil or fat is needed to cook the ingredients, such as vegetables, meat and fish. Most steamers come with several different compartments so you can cook a number of different ingredients at the same time that need different levels of heat. They have a water reservoir in the base, which is heated to produce steam to cook the food through. The more cooking time required for an ingredient, the closer to the steam source (i.e. the bottom section of the electric steamer) they should be placed, if using several compartments at once.
Capacity – Steamers come with a range of capacities and sizes. The number of portions that you expect to cook at one time will dictate the type of model to go for. They range from around one litre to up to nine litres of capacity in larger models with several sections/baskets. However, you should also take into account that the fuller the steamer, the longer it will take to cook the contents.
Number of compartments/baskets – If you are likely to want to steam cook several different things at once e.g. potatoes, carrots/broccoli and meat/fish for one meal, you will usually need a few different compartments; one for each type of ingredient, as they will have different cooking times and heat requirements. Most steamers come with 1-3 compartments. Power, functions and settings – As with all electrical appliances, the power of steamers is measured in watts (W). They usually range from 600W up to around 1200W. Commercial steamers can reach 2000W. Basic steamers usually have a simple on/off function and perhaps a timer that alerts you when the time you set has been reached. More advanced steamers can have several different modes for cooking various things, making it easier for those less experienced with steam cooking to use.
If you cook a lot with rice and want to ensure you get perfect results every time, a rice cooker could be a great addition to your kitchen. They work by an element heating the bowl to the ideal temperature for cooking rice, then they automatically switch the heat off or right down when the rice has absorbed the carefully measured water you added, to prevent burning or stodgy rice. Rice cookers should stay cool to the touch on the outside, which is great for safety in the kitchen.
Considerations when buying a rice cooker
Functionality and settings – Basic rice cookers will usually cope with cooking standard rice really well, but often switch off when it has cooked, allowing the rice to cool straight away. More advanced models usually have additional features such as keeping the rice warm until it is needed after cooking, without drying it out. Some also have different modes for different types of rice e.g. long grain vs basmati. Some have a digital display so you can see at a glance where the cooking process is up to.
Capacity – Most rice cookers measure capacity in litres (L) but some also use ‘cups’, which is a traditional way of measuring rice. If you’re usually just cooking rice for a couple of people or a small family, a capacity of around 0.8L to 1.5L should be fine. Look for a capacity of 1.8L and upwards if you have more than 4-6 people to feed.
Ease of cleaning – Look for a rice cooker with a non-stick bowl for easier cleaning. The bowl will detach from the base for cleaning in any case, and some are dishwasher safe; so check the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure your model is one of these before trying.
If you want the flexibility to cook a wide range of foods in different ways, you may want to consider a multicooker. These appliances can be used to cook to perfection anything from rice or other grains to whole meals, stews, soups, eggs and even desserts.
Multicookers come in a range of sizes, from portable models that can be used at home or work, and taken out and about for picnics or BBQs once the food is cooked, to larger kitchen counter top appliances that can cook food for larger families and groups of people.
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