I'm new to Paleo and it seems like having a slow cooker would be very helpful to me. What should I look for when I buy one? Is there anything wrong with buying a cheap-ish one from Target? Any brands you recommend, or brands I should avoid? Thanks a lot!
You want to be sure the cooking surface isn't non-stick. Smaller ones are fine if you don't need to produce large meals, but if you're going to make bone broth frequently, it's nice to have at least a 7 qt capacity. Also nice if it has at least 2 temperature settings, although you're going to have to experiment once you get it home -- some of them boil food on low, etc.
My expensive DeLonghi just broke after about 15 months, and I replaced it with a cheaper Hamilton Beach model. After spending a lot of time reading reviews at Amazon, I came to the conclusion that none of them are well made anymore, which has been my experience with all sorts of small appliances lately.
I agree with Robin, nothing is well made anymore. I just watch for sales on slow cookers and try my best to treat them carefully. I admit that I am a slow cooker junkie. I own a variety of slow cookers and I would be lost without them. We cook a lot of wild game and slow cooking brings out the best in venison etc. I have a really large slow cooker and cook a whole chicken in it. The slow cooker I really enjoy is the Go or Stay made by Hamilton Beach. You can lock the lid down if you need to take the crock pot to a party. I do a lot of cooking for older family members and I was always juggling with the lid in transit. This slow cooker solved the problem. Also, recently I purchased a serving size lunch crock pot for my husband so he can plug it in and have a hot meal. There are some super Paleo slow-cooker cookbooks on the market (Check amazon). To make clean up a breeze, get an oil mister and fill it with olive oil. Spray the interior of the slow cooker before adding the ingredients. You will be grateful at the end of the meal. There is nothing better than coming home after a hard day at work to the delicious aroma of dinner ready and waiting for you and your family.
The other thing I would look for is to have a good solid insert. Look for ceramic or cast iron insert that is capable of being put into the oven. The cheaper ones are almost always Aluminum or Cast Aluminum.
In my humble opinion for slow cooking nothing beats le creaseto cast iron casserole dishes. Once you know your stovetop and know what setting is need to maintain the requisite temperature, the heat retention and overall quality is excellent. Last forever!
I would scale the size to how many people you generally are feeding, or if you make "ahead", go for one of the larger ones. Definitely watch for a sale. The only thing you want for sure is to be able to remove the inner "crock" to be able to wash/dishwasher clean it!
Too bad most of those slow cookers have a non-stick coating. I have a ceramic one from about 18 years ago (when my parents got married) that works great. But I am loving my cast iron kitchenaid dutch oven also.
I would suggest NOT getting a non-stick coating. Those plastic coatings eventually break down into your food--not paleo!
A well glazed, REMOVEABLE ceramic crock is easy to clean--I've never had anything stick to the point where I really had to scrub it. Keep in mind there's a lot of moisture in crock pot cooking. Unless you really overcook and burn something (hard to do) nothing is going to end up crusty and sticky in the pot that would require elbow grease to remove.
I have a 25 year old Hamilton Beach. It's fine. If I had a choice I'd replace the plastic lid with a glass one. I'd love a digital control for time and temperature. And it's a little big for our family, especially because you have to fill it at least 2/3 full for optimal cooking. But I've been looking and havent' seen anything worth the money to replace it with (also my frugal and environmentally conscious soul would have problems replacing an appliance that doesn't need replacing).
I see crock pots like mine all the time at thrift shops for just a few dollars. You can look online to see if what you buy has been found to have lead in the crock. I've heard you're fine with all Hamilton Beach crocks, but don't quote me on it.