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Best Slow Cooker for One Person
As a single person, I needed to find the best slow cooker for one person, a simple one person crock pot. While there are lots of people out there who tell you that you need the biggest slow cooker you can get - and they swear by their 6.5 litre slow cooker - you quickly discover that these people aren't really cooking for one at all, so don't understand the wider problems of cooking for one.
Occasionally cooking for yourself, as part of a household, or family, is entirely different to cooking for one on a daily basis, week in, week out. Families will tend to have larger houses, larger kitchens, more storage space, larger freezers - and a much larger store cupboard of ingredients they can call upon for the occasional times they want to cook for one person, in a crock pot or by any other method.
Additionally, families will use up their extra portions at a much faster rate than a single person! If you're cooking for one and make 6 portions, that's six times you have to eat that meal again - a family cooking has the choice of eating it all in one meal, or splitting it into two 3-portion meals and bulking it out with side dishes each time.
As a single person, living alone, in a fairly small space, I've taken the time to really evaluate what I believe single people should think about when buying their first slow cooker for one person meals, to help you to buy the best crock pot for one person.
Size: What size slow cooker is best for one person?
The answer to this question can be nailed pretty quickly. Single people will cook differently to families.
The answer to what size slow cooker you need will come down to two basic questions:
- Do you have a freezer?
- Is it large?
If you have a freezer, then you can start to look at larger slow cookers. If you don't have a freezer, then you will have to eat whatever you cook for the next 3-4 days. This is not new for single people to do, but it can be disappointing to always cook like this.
Single people will also tend to have smaller freezers, or maybe just one basket - and only one freezer (many families have more than one freezer!). The issue here is that all those extra portions you're told to freeze simply won't fit - and then it'll take you ages to eat them all to free up space to freeze the next meals, it can simply fill the freezer too quickly with little chance to free up space to have a variety of meals available.
Quarts and Litres
- 1 Quart is about 1.1 Litres.
- 1 quart is two pints.
- 1 litre 1.75 pints.
In the US slow cookers are often measured in quarts, in the UK they are measured in litres. The terms quarts and litres, when comparing slow cooker sizes, are almost interchangeable as they're so similar in size.
- 1.5 quarts is 1.7 Litres
1.5 Quart / 1.5 Litre Slow Cooker
If you do not have a freezer, then the best size of slow cooker for one person has to be a 1.5 quart, 1.5 Litre, slow cooker, or similar. This will provide food for 2-3 meals, depending how large you like your portions. Having cooked your meal you've then go one immediately and one can be stored in the refrigerator to be eaten within the next 3-4 days.
However, there are problems with buying a 1.5 quart, 1.5 Litre slow cooker. While it will produce the smaller quantities you're after, you will find issues when trying to adjust some recipes, or when making your own dishes if you are relying on using any canned goods. You could find that a recipe, when downsized, leaves you with a fridge containing 3-4 half used cans of tomatoes, soup, vegetables, that will also need using up soon!
It was for this reason that I delayed getting another slow cooker until I'd bought myself a freezer.
With a Freezer:
Life suddenly becomes easier if you've got a freezer. However, a single person might be in shared accommodation, with access to only one freezer drawer, or might have a small table-top freezer. In any case, they're unlikely to have unlimited freezer space and a 2nd or 3rd chest freezer in the garage!
This means that even with a freezer you have to think about how much food you are producing to freeze. If your slow cooker produces, say, 6-8 portions, that sounds great until you realise that you'd need freezer space for 5-6 of those, limiting the variation of meals that you can cook and freeze.
The Slow Cooker Size I Recommend:
For the above reasons, the best slow cooker for one person, is most likely to be a 3.5 Litre slow cooker, or very similar. This size, I've found, is best for a one person crock pot, that's flexible and usable.
Choosing the 3.5 Litre size opens up the availability of slow cookers on the market. Put simply, you get more choice.
With a 3.5 Litre slow cooker you can cook up a great meal to eat, stash one in the fridge for later in the week - and pop two meals into the freezer. This means you won't get freezer overload offering you scant choice!
Entertaining: A 3.5 Litre slow cooker will also enable you to feed any visitors, should any ever come round. Even if it's just once every 2 years, you'll know that you can produce enough food to feed 3-4 people in a 3.5 Litre slow cooker, which should make your menu planning easier for these events!
Slow Cooker Features to Consider:
Having worked out the size, the next questions might be budget and features. If this is your first slow cooker, then you don't want to go mad and spend a lot, or to buy an over-complicated slow cooker as, until you've used it, you're not sure you'll take it out of the box. So what's essential in a slow cooker?
I did a lot of reading around and looked at the Which? report for slow cookers. The Which? report had very limited models they'd tested, so this didn't really give me much help at all, to be honest, so I was on my own, so to speak. For this reason I figured it was important/best to stick with main brand names and to buy a slow cooker that was "one level up from an entry level slow cooker". This gave me a fixed budget to work within.
Which Slow Cooker Shape?
Slow cookers come in two basic shapes:
- A round slow cooker
- An oval slow cooker
I then had to think about what I'd be making in the slow cooker, to see which shape was best for what I want to cook. The advantage of an oval slow cooker is that you can "roast a whole joint". To be frank, this is mostly going to be in the realms of the family again. But, I did want to be able to cook oblong shaped dishes! Whether they'd be roast meats is questionable, but certainly I'd like to have the flexibility. I therefore considered that for what I wanted to cook an oval one would give me the best flexibility.
Round slow cookers are also useful though! You can make cakes in a slow cooker and it's easy to see that if you're trying to make cakes then the middle needs to be cooked, without the outsides burning. This isn't a problem as you can use a round cake in inside the oval ceramic pot! So that's problem solved.
Yes, whatever size, or shape, of slow cooker you choose, you can insert different dishes inside it if you want to, say, cook two things at the same time, or to cook something in a particular shape.
For me, the oval slow cooker it was then!
Slow Cooker Power and Wattage:
For me, choosing the wattage wasn't a consideration - and it's not something to get hung up about. Slow cookers use about 160-250 watts, compared to an oven's 2000-3000 watts. Typically, a 3.5 Litre slow cooker will be 200 watts. It doesn't run at this temperature all the time. It'll use 200 watts when set to high, until it reaches the right temperature. After that it just turns on/off to maintain the food temperature. If you're using your slow cooker on Low then it'll be using even less.
With a slow cooker, you are only heating the one pot, which is why it needs less energy to run. It's effectively a "heated simmering saucepan or casserole dish".
As a single person, the benefits for energy saving are apparent if you compare running a whole oven for 1-2 hours to cook a casserole, versus using a slow cooker. Further savings are made if you're using meat as you can use cheaper cuts of meat for casseroles and stews in a slow cooker as the long cooking process enables the meat to break down and become very soft.
While looking at how much energy a slow cooker takes to run is 'interesting', I didn't feel it should in any way affect my decision. It's pretty much irrelevant in the scheme of things when choosing a slow cooker.
Slow Cooker On/Off Light
For me, I decided that an on/off light was an essential feature of a slow cooker. If you're in a fixed routine and you fill your slow cooker and turn it on, then at a fixed time later you return and turn if off, great. However, with 1001 other things going on in your head an on/off indicator is really useful and here are my reasons why:
- If you fill the slow cooker, intending to turn it on, you might forget - a red light on or not might remind you it's not on.
- If the slow cooker's on, the red light is an indicator that the pot's hot, thus potentially saving you from touching it in error.
It's that neat reminder that I think will be important. It's also handy to be able to look across and see if it's on or off, rather than having to go to it to check. It's a small feature, but I think a useful one. We're all forgetful just once and this light could save that day!
Slow Cooker Auto and Warm Feature
There are just two other features for entry level slow cookers that are worth mentioning.
Auto: An auto setting will cook the food on high for the first hour, then automatically turn it down to the low setting. This is handy, but isn't usually available in the lower end of the budget, so might be something you have to forgo. As a rule of thumb, a dish will cook twice as fast on high as on low, so if you have to run it entirely on low, when following a recipe that says to use auto, then just add an hour to the cooking time. This is because that first hour that it would've run on high if on auto will take two hours on low to achieve the same result.
Warm: A warm setting enables you to switch the slow cooker to stay warm once the food has finished cooking. While handy if it's available, it's not a "must have" feature unless there is a really specific cooking need you're trying to fulfil. I will choose a slow cooker that has this setting, if it's available, but it's certainly not going to be a "must have" for me. My food/cooking needs are to cook food, then eat it! Not to then keep it warm.
If you are cooking for one and wanting the best slow cooker - and if you have a smallish freezer, or limited access to one - then a 3.5 Litre slow cooker is probably the best size to choose.
An oval slow cooker will give the most flexibility once you start to expand your repertoire of slow cooker recipes.
An on/off light is really handy!
Stick with well known brands for confidence.
Don't get side-tracked and go off budget for new, fancy, features. Stick with what you know you'll need and use! Once you've got and used one slow cooker you might then decide to buy a second one and then is the time to carefully select those additional features. Get one and get using it first! Don't get sucked into buying the top of the range/best slow cooker and then ending up with it as an unused kitchen gadget in the cupboard!