The Pros And Cons of Both
We have the battle of the deep-dish cookers here. By design, the crock pot and Dutch oven are similar in both shape and function. They also achieve similar results. Each has it’s purpose and reason for being the best option.
Now we know I’m a little biased as I love my slow cooker but I know it has limitations and I’m not afraid to talk about them.
First up, the Crock Pot
So Many Pros
One of the best features of the crock pot is how it does its job, cooking a full meal, in so little space. Unlike the oven and cook-top, the slow cooker can be relegated to a corner and go about its business virtually unseen and totally ignored.
Cooking a meal or side dish with your crock pot also frees up your oven and cook-top for other dishes. How many times have you tried to plan a big meal and have to shuffle dishes in and out of the oven and around the burners? Trying to get everything synchronized so it’s done at the same time while cooking at different temperatures? Ugh, such a hassle.
The ‘set it and forget it’ crock pot method frees you up when cooking dishes that you may otherwise have to watch, stir, and keep from burning. The low cooking temperatures keep dishes simmering just right so you don’t have to worry about watching a pot boil. This low, even temperature takes the guess work out of many dishes you may have previously spent time fretting over.
Cooking a meal in a slow cooker is also more economical when it comes to energy consumption. Heating up a crock pot, even considering the length of cooking time, takes less energy than heating up a large oven or letting a burner stay on, radiating its heat out into the kitchen. The heating element in the crock pot is contained and is designed to heat only the insert that holds the food. You’re not spending money to heat a large space nor are you letting the heat escape into the room.
And a Few Cons
One of the downsides to crock pot cooking is there are just some ingredients that don’t work well in a slow cooker. For instance, dairy products. Making a cream or milk based dish becomes more complicated, involving extra steps and extreme caution so as not to curdle the milk. It’s not something I advise as it’s easier to make on the cooktop.
If you’re not careful choosing and cutting up the food that goes into the crock pot, you may end up with food that’s either undercooked or overcooked. For instance, many cooks are used to coarse cutting vegetables for stew, but vegetables cook slower in the crock pot and may need to be cut finer, or cooked longer. Meat typically cooks faster than vegetables in the crock pot, making the size of the ingredients important.
Crock pot meals are best when using fresh meats and vegetables. So, if you live in an area in which you must rely more on canned foods, the texture in a crock pot will be disappointing. Because canned foods are already processed, they may become quite soft and mushy in the crock pot. Picture cooking canned peas for 8 hours, even on such a low heat. Yes, you can add the canned veggies in during the last minutes of cooking time, but if the idea is to walk away and have dinner ready when you come home, that defeats the purpose.
Now for the Dutch Oven
A Bevy of Pro’s
These sturdy pots were the typical tools of the trade during the good old days. Picture an open pit with cowboys circled around waiting to dig into their stew. The even heating of a heavy duty Dutch oven is almost second to none. You may remember your grandparents or parents stirring stews on the stove or basting a pot roast in the oven in one of these big cast iron pots with the heavy lid.
A wide variety of meals can be prepared in a Dutch oven. They are duel purpose; you can begin a meal by browning the meat right in the Dutch oven on the stove burner, then add the vegetables, cover it, and pop it in the oven to continue cooking. Or you can brown your beef over the burner, then add the ingredients for chili and continue cooking it right on top of the stove. Truly a one pot meal even if you are browning the meat first.
As stated above, these have been used forever. You can use them inside or out. Growing up we made soup in ours on top of the wood stove when the power would go out.
And Now for the Con’s
Sounds ideal, but there are a few drawbacks. That chili or beef stew on top of the stove will some watching. No matter how low your burner goes, you’ll need to stir it up to keep it from sticking or burning to the bottom of the Dutch oven. This is a pot that needs watching. The heat isn’t evenly dispursed throughout the pot, it starts at the bottom.
Using your Dutch oven, whether in the oven or on top of the stove takes up space. If you want to add a nice loaf of crusty homemade bread to your pot roast meal, you’ll have to do some juggling to time your bread in the oven. Adjusting the temperature becomes an issue, too.
Dutch ovens convey heat extremely well, making the temperature you use in the oven and on the stove top very important. A few degrees makes a difference. An oven that runs hot can cause your meal to burn or dry out before you know it.
Slow cooking a meal in a Dutch oven requires a heated oven or a burner on the stove top. Either way, it takes quite a bit of energy to heat the inside of a large oven just to cook what’s in a five quart pot. And a burner radiates heat out into the room; it does not trap it under the pot.
Removing your Dutch oven full of food from the oven or burner proves to be quite a feat for many people due to the fact that they are usually very heavy and retain the heat very well. They are hot for a long, long time which makes them the kind of thing to keep children away from. Dishing up a meal becomes a bit hazardous because the container itself remains hot for a long time after you remove it from the heating source. So, what makes a Dutch oven cook well, its weight, also makes it harder to handle.
And The Winner Is…
While Dutch ovens are more versatile in the dishes they can deliver, crock pots are the overall winner of this battle for several reasons. Crock pots take the prize when it comes to freeing up cooking space for other recipes. Their compact size, virtually a mini-oven, also cooks with less energy, which saves you money.
Because you can walk away from the meal, the crock pot becomes the ultimate time-saver in the kitchen. Once preparation is done, you have the freedom to do other chores, or even leave the house. Crock pots do the cooking part of a meal – you truly set it and forget it.
You also can’t debate the safety issue of a crock pot versus a Dutch oven. The new crock pots have cool exteriors and built in timers to ensure they shut off when the meal is done. Plus, you aren’t constantly opening the oven to check on the meal, nor are you lifting the hot, heavy lid to stir the contents. Once the meal is in the crock pot, you normally don’t have to worry about picking the lid up again until it’s dinnertime. In fact, you shouldn’t lift the lid when cooking as it distrupts the temperature.
I don’t suggest giving up our Dutch ovens, but I think it takes a backseat to the crock pot in the kitchen. Keep your crock pot handy on your counter top and see how many times you choose it now over your Dutch oven.
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