A slow cooker, also known as a crock-pot (after a trademark owned by Sunbeam Products but sometimes used generically in English-speaking world), is a countertop electrical cooking appliance used to simmer at a lower temperature than other cooking methods, such as baking, boiling, and frying. This facilitates unattended cooking for many hours of dishes that would otherwise be boiled: pot roast, soups, stews and other dishes (including beverages, desserts and dips). A wide variety of dishes can be prepared in slow cookers, including ones typically made quickly, such as cocoa and bread.
A basic slow cooker consists of a lidded round or oval cooking pot made of glazed ceramic or porcelain, surrounded by a housing, usually metal, containing an electric heating element. The lid itself is often made of glass, and seated in a groove in the pot edge; condensed vapor collects in the groove and provides a low-pressure seal to the atmosphere. The contents of a crock pot are effectively at atmospheric pressure, despite the water vapor generated inside the pot. A slow cooker is quite different from a pressure cooker and presents no danger of an abrupt pressure release.
Many slow cookers have two or more heat settings (e.g., low, medium, high, and sometimes a "keep warm" setting); some have continuously variable power. In the past, most slow cookers had no temperature control and deliver a constant heat to the contents. The temperature of the contents rises until it reaches boiling point, at which point the energy goes into gently boiling the liquid closest to the hot surface. At a lower setting, it may just simmer at a temperature below the boiling point. While many basic slow cookers still operate in this manner, newer models have computerized controls for precise temperature control, delayed cooking starts and even control via a computer or mobile device.
Basic cookers, which have only high, medium, low, or keep warm settings, must be turned on and off manually. More advanced cookers have computerized timing devices that let a cook program the cooker to perform multiple operations (e.g., two hours high, followed by two hours low, followed by warm) and to delay the start of cooking.
Recipes intended for other cooking methods must be modified for slow cookers. Quantities of liquids may need adjustment, as there is a little evaporation, but there should be enough liquid to cover the food. Many published recipes for slow cookers are designed primarily for convenience and use few ingredients, and often use prepared sauces or seasonings. The long, moist cooking is particularly suitable for tough and cheap cuts of meat including pork shoulder, beef chuck and brisket. For many slow-cooked dishes, these cuts give better results than more expensive ones. They are also often used to cook while no one is there to care for it, meaning the cook can fill the pot with its ingredients and come back several hours later to a ready meal.
Food can be set to slow-cook before leaving for the day so it is ready on return. Many homeowners with rooftop solar panels switch to slow cooking because it draws under 1 kW of power and can therefore be powered entirely by 1-2 kW panels during the day. Some models include timers or thermostats that bring food to a given temperature and then lower it. With a timerless cooker it is possible to use an external timer to stop cooking after a set time, or both to start and stop.
Some vitamins and other trace nutrients are lost, particularly from vegetables, partially by enzyme action during cooking and partially due to heat degradation. When vegetables are cooked at higher temperatures these enzymes are rapidly denatured and have less time to act during cooking. Since slow cookers work at temperatures well below boiling point and do not rapidly denature enzymes, vegetables tend to lose trace nutrients. Blanched vegetables, having been exposed to very hot water, have already had these enzymes rendered largely ineffective, so a blanching or sauteing pre-cook stage leaves more vitamins intact. This is often a smaller nutrient loss than over-boiling and can be lessened to an extent by not removing the lid until the food is done.
Slow cookers do not provide sufficient heat to compensate for loss of moisture and heat due to frequent removal of the lid, e.g., to add and remove food in perpetual stews, (pot-au-feu, olla podrida). Added ingredients must be given time to cook before the food can be eaten.
Slow cookers are less dangerous than ovens or stove tops due to their lower operating temperatures and closed lids. However, they still contain a large amount of foods and liquids at temperatures close to boiling, and they can cause serious scalds if spilled.