The End of the Crockpot

I have long loved my crockpot. It’s so versatile – I use it all the time to make home made stock (both chicken and beef, and if you call it “bone broth”, we’re talking about the same thing), one pot dinners like corned beef with cabbage, beef stew, whole ‘roasted’ chickens, and so much more. I’ve even been known to bake bread in it. The crockpot has long held a place of honor on my counter top.

So the other day we decide to do a pork tenderloin, and discover a huge crack running right down the center of the crock insert, and going all the way through. The insert is a goner. I’m extremely annoyed by this, as I’ve only had this current model for less than two years. The previous one died of old age at 15+ years, which is pretty awesome for a small appliance in this era of planned obsolescence.

Since the discovery of the crack, we’ve been braising in our cast iron dutch oven, and now I’m just about convinced that I don’t actually want to replace the crockpot liner. I may just donate the appliance element to someone else who might want it and stick with my dutch oven from here on out. The flavor and texture of a braise in cast iron just beats the crockpot in every way, hands down. We made corned beef and cabbage today that turned out amazing – caramelized and lightly browned in all the right places, intensely flavorful and still tender and delicious. By comparison, what comes out of the crockpot is just… well, insipid. I feel like I’ve been blind to all the disadvantages of the crockpot due to it’s many virtues.

And then there are the twin issues of slow living and being present. One would think, at first examination, that a slow cooking device would be the perfect complement to a slow living mentality, but really, it’s the opposite. The crockpot is the device of the harried, frenzied individual that doesn’t have time to cook, and needs an appliance to do as much of the work as possible. And I sympathize with that position; I’m in it a lot myself. And there’s nothing wrong inherently with using appropriate technology to reduce labor where it makes sense. But what I’ve really put a lot of thought into, is being present in the tasks and experiences in which I am engaged. And I’ve noticed, that most of the time when I make stock, which is probably the most time-consuming kitchen cooking task that I do (I like to cook my stocks around 20 hours), over the last several months I’ve been doing it on a weekend day when I’m home anyway – which means that having it on a low simmer on the back of the stove isn’t a big deal. And same thing with oven braises for dinner – we can just pop them during the afternoon, and because I work from my home office half the week, or my husband is home in the afternoon, it’s not a big deal to mind the oven while we do other things. Abandoning the crockpot does mean abandoning cooking while we’re out, as I’m certainly not comfortable leaving the range on when we’re not home, whereas the crockpot is designed with that exact scenario in mind. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. Should we be cooking while we’re out? Wouldn’t it be better to just be present in making a quick meal when we arrive home at night, if we don’t have several hours to spend cooking? And isn’t cooking together a meaningful way we can all spend quality time together, rather than just dishing up something out the crockpot and eating it in front of the television?

We’ve been in bad habits of ignoring our dining room table and spending too many dinners watching a show together, than actually having proper meals, and I always feel bad about it. So maybe the end of the crockpot is a blessing in disguise – a tangible call to action. Step back into the kitchen, all together now, and connect over good food. Isn’t that what I keep saying is the most important thing? Is it possible I can achieve so many things – less screen time, more of a hands on life, more connection with my menfolk, and a slow enjoyment of life’s simple pleasures, by shifting away from just one small habit; one small appliance? There’s only one way to find out.