I'm such a sucker for vintage slow cookers. I love picking them up at thrift stores or garage sales for a few dollars; I currently have 14 different models ready to go in the kitchen. I also have a few more in the garden and in the garage that I keep purely for aesthetic reasons — this is because these lovely relics are no longer safe for cooking food.
Before you place your chuck roast into that old slow cooker you picked up for cheap or inherited from your grandma, take the time to make sure it is up to par for cooking. (By now, we've all seen that episode of This is Us, right?!)
Here are five ways to tell if your slow cooker might be better for the display case than your kitchen.
1. The cord is wrapped in fabric.
If your slow cooker is old enough to have an electric cord surrounded by fabric, it's time to toss it. Fabric cords do not meet today's safety standards and are a fire hazard.
Related: The 5 Safety Rules of Slow Cookers
2. The insert is attached to the base.
If you were handed down a vintage pot from the 70s that has the insert firmly attached to the heating element, instead of a removable insert, then it's time to upgrade. All of the newer pots have a removable cooking pot, which is dishwasher-safe and much more convenient.
3. There's a big gap between lid and insert.
Slow-cooker lids should fit snugly. If there is a big notch in the side of your lid for a spoon or a rather large vent hole, or if the lid is warped or wobbly, valuable steam and heat will escape. This means cooking times will be off and can result in dry and tough meats.
4. It's too big (or too small) for your needs.
Slow cookers and slow-cooker recipes are designed for a pot that is filled 2/3 to 3/4 of capacity. If you find that you are not regularly filling your pot this way, it may be time to get a smaller model. On the other hand, if your pot is too small and you can't get the lid to fit snugly after cramming a chicken or large roast into your pot, it's time to get the next size up.
5. It's not heating up properly.
The older and more vintage the model, the greater chance the heating elements might not be operating at full efficiency anymore.
How to Test Your Slow Cooker
Before using it for cooking food, do this: Fill the slow cooker 2/3 to 3/4 of the way with tap water (tepid, not too hot or cold). Set it to the LOW setting, and then check with a food thermometer after eight hours. The thermometer should read at least 185°F.
How old is your slow cooker? Are you thinking about replacing it?