Customer Review

376 of 392 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-designed and fills the right niche, January 28, 2010
This review is from: Cuisinart PSC-400 Stainless Steel 4-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker (Kitchen)
I bought the Cuisinart PSC-400 because I wanted to expand my cooking skills into the realm of slow cooker convenience--but at the same time, I wanted to avoid the wonderful varieties of bland, gray, tough, and mushy disappointment that slow cookers are so famous for.

I previously owned 2 slow cookers, both Rival Crock-Pots. One was the original cylindrical model (with the crockery that didn't detach from the base); the other was a more recent 7 qt. oval model. I never made anything good in either one. My last effort in the large oval cooker was to try (repeatedly) to make beef brisket. The results always came out bland and stringy.

Then, about 100 Alton Brown and Gordon Ramsey shows later, I was ready to return to the challenge of slow cooking. This time, I was armed with better information:

1) Apart from stews, meats like dry heat. Avoid slow cookers for brisket especially. But if you have to slow cook meats, place them above the vegetables and be sparing on the liquid content.

2) Avoid filling a slow cooker only 1/2 way. Try to fill it at least 2/3, or you will likely overcook your food.

3) No color, no flavor. If you cook any meats, poultry, etc., always brown them first in a skillet, if possible.

4) Herbs are a mixed bag. Most dried herbs have diminishing flavor in a slow cooker, whereas fresh/undried herbs will tend to produce more flavor than you're used to.

So I looked for a slow cooker that I could use for my experiments. It had to be small enough so I could fill it up without wasting too much food on bad experiments, yet large enough to get at least a couple of useful meals for my wife and I. It had to be tall and narrow, so I could control the wet and dry portions (layering the food) and prevent overheating if I did want to cook a smaller portion. It had to have preferably three or more temperature settings so I could find the right one. And it had to be safe to leave unattended all day or all night.

The Cuisinart PSC-400 not only fit all of the above criteria, but its automatic warm setting, ease of programming, retractable cord, and good looks were a bonus. Most importantly, of all the slow cookers reviewed, this one appeared to have the highest consensus that its heat settings were appropriate. I found this to be the case as well. "Low" really means low. And "high" is still below the lowest simmer I can achieve on a gas stove. Since there are three cooking settings (not counting the "warm" setting), you shouldn't have any problem finding the right one. Also, according to the manual, the heating elements wrap around the side for more even heat distribution. I think one would be hard pressed to find another slow cooker for the same price with all of these features.

After buying the Cuisinart, I downloaded 8 recipes from the Food Channel site and got busy. The initial disappointing results led me to the following conclusion: either these famous TV chefs never tasted their own slow cooking, or slow cookers are just too different to use any recipe without significant changes. (Yeah, ok, or I can't follow a simple recipe. I'll let you decide.)

But I persevered, and by the time I got to the last few recipes, I was improvising more, with better results. I made a stewed pork dish by first searing the pork in a skillet, along with onions, peppers, etc., then transfering to the slow cooker with just a little broth. The result was flavorful and tender--similar to carnitas. I uploaded a "customer image" (photo): barkingburro's stewed pork with mango salsa and avocado -- lots of avocado. The green garnish is cilantro (of course).

Eventually, my wife wanted to try out the slow cooker. She has this pork rib soup recipe that she stove-cooks at a good boil for 3 hours. It's one of her best dishes. In order to duplicate her results in the slow cooker, we tried the high setting for 8 hours. The results were perfect! We now use that 2.5:1 ratio as a guide when converting other similar recipes.

Being aware of the comments on this site that some people found the slow cooker to boil and rattle the lid, I wish to report that this never happened for me, even when cooking on high. Let me be precise: that pork rib stew did bubble at a low boil by the 8 hour mark, but never excessively so (the cooker was full, not half way).

I have one more successful cooking story I want to share. One of the aforementioned Food Channel recipes had resulted in a dry, stringy, flavorless chicken, despite the fact that it had been cooking on low for 6 hours, submerged in broth. So I made it my personal goal to duplicate the most moist and tender poached chicken I've ever eaten: Hainan style chicken. And I'm happy to say I've cracked the code: 2 1/2 hours on high for 6 thighs + 3 breasts. I layered the chicken and other ingredients to within 1/2" from the rim, with two breasts on top (meat side down), then filled with liquid up to the top layer. (Note that the manual says not to get closer than 1" from the top rim. They have their needs, I have mine.) After cooking and verifying the thighs were 170 degrees and breasts were 165, I immediately submerged the chicken in ice water. The result was equal in texture to the best Hainan Jifan I've ever had. And the flavor was wonderful! (Hint: 6" ginger + 6 green onions + fresh garlic + 32 oz. low salt [70 mg. sodium] chicken stock + at least 2 tablespoons salt and buy only organic free range chicken.)

After cooking so many dishes, I have gotten a feel for how the heat settings work. Don't expect to see a big difference between the three heat settings for the first 2 hours. The slow cooker was still heating up even after the 2 1/2 hours I used for the Hainan chicken. And you should never cook anything for less than 2 hours on high. The lower heat settings should be used for cooking times of at least 4 hours, preferably longer. The manual talks a little about this w.r.t. food safety, so read it carefully.

As far as cleanup, be careful when handling the crockery insert--it feels fragile. The stainless steel exterior wipes clean easily and continues to look beautiful after many cleanings. I haven't had any problems with the plastic handles covered in chrome. Overall, this does appear to be a much higher quality product than your average slow cooker.
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Comments

Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 2, 2010 10:34:35 AM PDT
Artemis says:
Great review. Informative and amusing! Thank you.

Posted on May 6, 2011 11:13:53 AM PDT
sandika says:
"(Note that the manual says not to get closer than 1" from the top rim. They have their needs, I have mine.)"

Ok, that cracked me up. I love your bold attempt to get what you want from your machine despite the instructions. I need to get out more. ;o)

Posted on Oct 4, 2011 12:12:41 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 4, 2011 12:14:55 PM PDT
Mom in TX says:
Great review! Thank you! I apparently have had the same two slow cookers as you had in the past. One "antique" with a plastic lid and a crock that doesn't come out of the metal base. I've never used it for much except keeping food warm after it has already been cooked elsewhere. A few years back I bought a new, expensive one that got great reviews, but it's a 7-quart pot and even though I filled it well, my chicken stew was dry, tasteless, and really needed to be dumped in the garbage. It's only one of two dinners we've thrown out in sixteen years so I figure I'm still ahead. (The other was not the fault of the crock pot, but a disgusting recipe with curry recommended by a friend who clearly has no tastebuds. Another story entirely.) Anyway, after the chicken stew fiasco, I have been afraid to try the large pot again. It does a lovely job of filling an entire shelf in a cabinet, but not much else. There are only three of us in my household, so a 7-quart pot is perhaps overkill. I really would like to attempt (and be successful with) crock pot cooking, so I am trying again. I'm looking for a 3.5 - 4 quart pot. You made this one sound so good, I'm probably buying it today! I loved your review. Thanks for distilling all those episodes of cooking shows into one quick and easy review!

Posted on Dec 3, 2011 1:06:41 PM PST
A reader says:
Wow, what an excellent review. It makes me wonder, however, why slow cooker recipes are so hard to get right. You had to experiment like a scientist in a laboratory in order to get the right proportions, timing and construction of your recipes. This doesn't bode well for those of us who are not as persistent or optimistic. You need to write a cookbook, my friend!

Posted on Aug 6, 2012 10:27:00 PM PDT
sherri says:
Thanks. I've been leary of slow cookers for these reasons. I was hoping that new cookbooks and machines might have ironed these problems out - but apparently not. So nice to see someone serious enough about end results posting their finds on here.
'Great' and 'wonderful' can be a bit misleading sometimes.

Posted on Feb 2, 2013 8:41:57 AM PST
Thanks so much for such a comprehensive and delightful review. I have gone through many, many attempts at slow cooking and been very disappointed every time. The newer cookers especially seemed much hotter than the original old Rival Crockpot and I never could come to a happy medium. Though I spent about the same amount on my last cooker as this one, it had no warm setting and was not programmable, other than high or low. High boiled everything (as did low, but a little less exuberantly). Entranced by some new slow cooker recipe books, I want once again to try a slow cooker. After reading in one cookbook the requirement the chef had when choosing her appliance, I started seeking a new cooker. I hesitate to pay a fortune for one since I've given so many away already. Your review was encouraging, not just in the quality of the slow cooker itself, but to see that not all recipes (as written by their experienced, well-paid chefs) are successful and one should not give up. Thanks to you, I'm ready to plunge into the world of slow cookers once again. Let's hope this one take!

Posted on Mar 14, 2014 9:00:38 PM PDT
Ellie says:
I appreciate those who wrote meaningful reviews. There are some other reviews on slow cookers and the truth is none of them come out of the box and work correctly.
Some are made of material that eventually peels off. Lead in your food. Cooks Illustrated magazine stopped rating them all together. Is it possible that it is better to make food on the stove slowly or in the oven at a low temperature? The greatest feature of slow cookers is you can set it and forget it. Well, if the controls turn off or get too hot or there is no timer then why consider the best of the poor. I give up. Shame on the companies for putting out junk cookers year after year. Thank you Amazon for allowing honest reviews. I wish you could only carry products we can depend on.
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