Slow Cooker Aluminum Vs Ceramic inserts. There are many insert options in slow cookers, but the most common is the ceramic insert. Aluminum has been used for hundreds of years, but we have also heard it can potentially have poisonous effects. As a result of this and to make it safe, aluminum has been coated with Teflon.
Ceramic inserts are the safest out of ceramic or aluminum options. Aluminum has been suspected to cause several different health problems, although there are studies showing that being wrapped around with Teflon is safe. Some concerns remain though since it scratches easily and the aluminum could leach into the food.
With ceramic being the safest, are there other options available? When it comes to slow cookers there is only one other option, and that’s clay.
In this article, we’ll explore more in-depth why aluminum is not the safest option, some reasons ceramic also may not be safe, and look into clay options. We’ll also take a look at how to identify a safe slow cooker as well as some helpful tips for using one.
Slow Cooker Aluminum Vs Ceramic Insert
Both aluminum and ceramic have dangers hidden in them. Both can easily be messed up and cause dangerous chemicals to leach into your food. If you care for the inserts correctly, then those risks are reduced greatly. Aluminum has a greater chance of causing harm because of the chemical Teflon, which makes the insert non-stick but it scratches easily.
Dangers of Aluminum
When cooking with aluminium, the aluminium can leak into the food and when consumed goes into the bloodstream and accumulates in the organs. Normally, this is fine in small doses, and the body eventually expels it, but with higher usage comes more build-up. With more build-up in the organs, problems begin to develop in the body, and they can be as minor as flatulence, flu-like symptoms or some other worse outcomes.
Dangers of Ceramic
Traditionally, ceramic inserts were glazed with a lead glaze. This practice became unpopular in the 1970s due to the discovery of the dangers of lead poisoning. There are still ceramic slow cooker inserts out there that contain lead glazes, but a majority of reputable companies no longer use lead in their products.
Clay as an Alternative
Clay cooking pots have been around for thousands of years. They are considered the safest for slow cooking because they are unglazed. Being unglazed means they have no lead contamination. Clay inserts are considered the most natural choice out of all the slow cooker inserts.
The best option for a clay slow cooker alternative is the VitaClay Eco-Friendly Crock Pot/ Multi-Cooker – 2-Quart – Round – Programmable.
Keeping Aluminum Inserts Safe
If you decide to go with the aluminum option then there are a few things you can do to keep yourself safe.
- Wash insert with a soft sponge or cloth.
- Use softer utensils like wood or plastic to avoid scratching.
- If you see any scratches in the Teflon replace the insert.
Keeping Ceramic Inserts Safe
We’ll go more in-depth on how to spot an unsafe ceramic insert a little later, but here are some ways to keep your ceramic inserts safe.
- Use soft utensils like wood or plastic to avoid scratches.
- Check for cracks and scratches before every use.
- Never put a ceramic insert in the freezer as it could crack the pot.
Identifying Unsafe Ceramic Slow Cooker Inserts
Since there are still several slow cookers out there that may have a lead glaze on them, here are a few tips to help you avoid buying these products.
Use Lead Strips
If you were given an older slow cooker or if you’re worried about lead in your slow cooker, then the best method is to test it. You can find lead testing papers almost anywhere. They will turn pink if they detect lead in your products.
If you haven’t bought a slow cooker yet, then check what other people are saying about the one you want. You can also check for specific keywords, like lead, in the question and answer section. By checking this section you can have a better understanding of that product in general.
Avoid Unknown Brands
If you’ve never heard of a specific brand, it may be best to avoid it. Unless you can deep dive into the specifics of the product and look at reviews, it’s safer to stay away. Trusted brands have been tested and have to comply with FDA standards.
Avoid Unknown Ceramics
The older the slow cooker the more likely it will be to have a lead glaze in it. If you receive an older slow cooker, get some lead testing papers and test it before using it to ensure your safety. This also applies to homemade ceramic inserts. You never know for sure if it has been glazed with a lead glaze.
There are some slow cookers out there that are meant for display only. This means that they are more likely not to be tested for safety features. They should not be used for cooking at all. There should be a sticker somewhere on the cooker, most likely the bottom, that states clearly that it is for display purposes only.
California’s Proposition 65
The state of California takes the safety of products very seriously, which is why you’ll see stickers and tags with the prop 65 labels. If your slow cooker has a Proposition 65 sticker or tag on it then the slow cooker may contain more lead than you want in your food. Take caution when seeing these tags on kitchen appliances.
Advantages of Aluminum Inserts
Although using an aluminum insert can be hazardous if done wrong, they do have an advantage over traditional ceramic inserts. The aluminum inserts can be placed on a stovetop and used to sear meats before going into the slow cooker to continue to cook. This gives the meat a nice texture on top instead of being dried out.
They can’t be placed in the microwave, but they are oven safe. They can be used under a broiler in the oven to make nice and crispy meats.
Advantages of Ceramic Inserts
Ceramic inserts are required by the FDA to be either lead-free or have an approved level of lead in them. They are relatively easy to clean and are dishwasher safe. Unlike aluminum inserts, ceramic inserts can be placed on the table without any issues, and they look aesthetically good.
Purpose of Lead Glaze
You might be wondering why ceramic inserts use lead glazes in the first place. Lead glazes can be fired at lower temperatures, making them easier to create pieces with. In developing countries, it makes creating glazed works quicker and easier to get out to the public.
Causes of Lead Leaching
With lead glazes, higher temperatures cause the glaze to break down. Higher heats slowly chip away at the glaze that is designed for lower temperatures. Age also contributes to the breakdown of the glaze.
Best Slow Cooker Options
If you’re looking for a slow cooker, you might be wondering what options there are. There are many different brands and types of slow cookers. Crock Pot and Hamilton Beach have lead-free ceramic options, so there will be a suggested one for each brand. Here are a few options to look at if you’re in the market for a slow cooker.
If you like the look of a stainless steel slow cooker then the Instant Pot might be a good option. Stainless steel options are combination appliances, usually slow cooker and instant pot in one. This Instant Pot option is the best for stainless steel Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Steamer, Sauté, Yogurt Maker, Warmer & Sterilizer, 6 Quart, Stainless Steel/Black.
Crock Pot Brand
When it comes to slow cookers people tend to think of Crock Pot, it’s interchangeable with the word slow cooker. Crock Pot has been a trusted household brand since the 1940s. This particular Crock Pot has a sealable lid that makes it easy to travel with.
This model has a programmable function that cooks for however long you need it to and then it switches to the warm setting. Crock-Pot 7-Qt. Cook n’ Carry Programmable Countdown Slow Cooker.
Hamilton Beach Brand
Hamilton Beach is another trusted household brand that has been making safe products for 111 years. They boast that their products have never had lead in them. This model also has a locking lid but also has a probe that tracks the temperature of the meat inside.
Tips for Using ANY Slow Cooker
When you get a slow cooker you may not know what it can and can’t do. There are many mistakes that can be made when slow cooking for the first time. Here are a few tips that will keep your slow cooking on the right track.
Pick the Right Size
Depending on what you are cooking and how many people you’re cooking for will determine the size of slow cooker you need. Anything above 4 quarts will feed 4 or more people, and anything below that is great for 1 to 2 people.
Buy Cheaper Meat
The slow cooker saves you money by taking tough cheaper cuts of meat and making them nice and tender. The slow cooking process locks in the moisture and helps to make them soft.
Dairy has a tendency to curdle when it is slow-cooked for long periods of time. By adding the dairy products at the end you save yourself the trouble of a ruined meal. Remember to follow whatever recipe you’re using.
Cutting your meat into either bite-sized or about the same-sized pieces will help the meats cook evenly. To ensure the meat traps the moisture in from cooking, brown it before adding it to the slow cooker. This will bring out the natural flavors of the meat and add even more taste to the meal.
You shouldn’t place frozen foods in your slow cooker, especially frozen meats. The lower temperatures of the food lower the temperature in the slow cooker, which can cause uneven cooking. It can also cause bacteria to grow if the meal stays below 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Opening the Lid
It may be tempting to peak or over-stir your slow-cooked meal, but this can actually ruin the whole thing. Leave the lid on until the meal is done, or until you need to add something near the end.
One mistake that is often made is adding too much liquid into the slow cooker. Keep in mind that fatty meats and hard vegetables add more liquid already, so add less liquid than you think you need to avoid dilution.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Crockpots Toxic?
The Crock Pot brand is not toxic. Any slow cooker that does not contain lead is safe to use. Slow cookers that do contain lead glazes are not safe even in small doses. Lead is a toxic chemical no matter how the level of exposure.
Is Slow Cooking Better?
Lower temperature cooking tends to keep in more nutrients than high-temperature cooking. Slow cooking also helps to bring out flavors and tenderize tougher cuts of meat. Any nutrients lost in the cooking process drip back into the meal through condensation and become part of the broth.
Is Slow Cooking Good for Indian Food?
Slow cooking is good for Indian cooking. The long low temperatures bring out the flavors of a meal, and since Indian foods tend to be flavorful and filling they are great in a slow cooker.
Can You Overcook in a Slow Cooker?
If you cook a meal at the wrong temperature for too long then you can overcook what’s inside. This usually happens if you cook on the high setting for too long. Programmable slow cookers help with this because they only cook for a set amount of time.
Ceramic slow cooker inserts are safer than aluminum ones. Aluminum is more likely to scratch and can leak out dangerous chemicals. Ceramic can have a lead glaze on them, but they can easily be tested for safety. Whichever you choose, hopefully, this article gave you some helpful information to make the best decision for you.