Slow cooker - smart pan or "not brought to mind" gadget

    This post will be useful to everyone who at least sometimes prepares something himself, and also helps or prevents others from doing it.
    From it you can find out what kind of gadget it is — a multicooker , what technical capabilities and impossibilities it has, its inside, appearance, advantages (many) and disadvantages (also many). I will tell you something about small multicooking tricks, and also allow myself a general lyrical digression about programming in the kitchen.
    The purpose of the post is to talk about crock-pots as a class of objects, without particularly distinguishing its representatives, but in order not to talk about a spherical crock-pot in a vacuum, I will make my model — Panasonic SR-TMJ181 — the main example of analysis.
    Those who do not have a slow cooker will find out if they need it, but those who have it, I hope, will not be left without new knowledge.

    As wikipedia teaches us, "A crock-pot is a multifunctional household electric appliance with programmed control, designed to prepare a wide range of dishes in automatic mode ."
    We narrow this definition and call it a multicooker (MV) a device consisting of:

    1. A case with one or more electric heating elements
    2. A hermetically sealed lid with a steam valve 3. Tanks
    for cooking (pots) with non-stick coating
    4. Built-in microcontroller for controlling cooking
    5.User interface to control the previous item.

    That is, cooking in a slow cooker occurs at atmospheric pressure - the excess is vented through the valve, so a slow cooker in the general case is not a "pressure cooker" (rather a slow cooker). And the only difference between a multicooker and a conventional electric stove, which, apparently, due to an oversight by marketers, has not yet been called a “multi-plate”, is a program control for cooking “unattended”. But before talking about programs, we will deal with iron.

    An ordinary slow cooker looks like this:

    Only components deserve explanation: 4 - a collection of condensate draining from the lid of the MV and 14 - an insert for steaming.


    The most trivial component is the pan, and it is the bowl. But here, not everything is trivial. Its volume, indicated by the manufacturers, varies from 1.6 to 6 liters, but there is an important nuance - according to the instructions for Panasonic SR-TMJ181 with a 4.5 liter bowl, the maximum volume of soup / compote prepared in it is only 3.1 liters. And rice / porridge will turn out even less - only 1.8 liters.

    You can find out the latter only with the help of a scale printed on the wall of the bowl. The scale, by the way, is the only case I know of when the phrase "you can’t figure it out without a half liter " should be taken literally. The instructions do not say anything about it, but practice shows that to determine the volume poured into a bowl in liters, you need to double the readings of the “L” scale (that is, their “half liter” is our liter).
    Why is that? It turns outa crock-pot is just a slightly improved electric rice cooker , it is under this name that it is sold in the USA, Asia and Europe. For the CIS market, it was localized by changing the programs and interface, but the bowl was left unchanged, that is, the scale shows how many cups of “CUP” rice (the value on the label on the right) and water (the label on the left) should be used to get the required amount of finished rice in liters (label value on the left).
    On the network you can find many versions of the scale values, including quite exotic and incorrect ones, and the correct, and even connecting the multi-cooked measure of rice with the salary of the samurai and “go” is here .

    The inner coating of the pan comes down to one of two and a half types:

    The first is just non-stick. It is made from a mixture of PTFE with polyethylene / polypropylene. Ftoroplast is responsible for non-sticking (release), and polyethylene is needed for technical purposes - for the production of flexible fluoroplastic film. The coatings of different manufacturers vary slightly (the exact composition is a trade secret), but all of them are theoretically harmless to health and fragile. Although, at first glance, the cover of the Panasonic SR-TMJ181 bowl looked so strong that I ignored the advice of experienced owners of multicookers to abandon the "native" plastic spoon from the kit and buy a silicone spatula. As a result, after a couple of months of use, my bowl is scratched like an ice rink after a hockey match. Although this does not affect the burning.

    The second type of coating is ceramic. It is more expensive and much more durable, although experts say that it is not eternal - it does not scratch, but crackes over time.
    Another possibility is a bowl without any coating at all. It is obtained from a bowl with any coating after its complete wear. Manufacturers of multicookers do not make such bowls, they can be ordered only from third-party companies, and, possibly, “companies”, since I met the only manufacturer of multi-cups - Tomsk NEC.

    In general, pots in multicookers are consumables, so the table of compatibility of bowls from different multicookers can be very useful .

    The bowl of the multicooker, although it is essentially a pan, is also used as a frying pan - for frying or as a baking dish. In the latter case, the task is to extract the contents without damage and upheaval. Before filling out the form, resourceful MV users put two strips of heat-resistant paper there, and then they pull the finished product for them:

    Around the pan.

    The case of multicookers can be of two types and resembles either a "thick thermos" or a "hybrid of a dry closet with a remote control of a spaceship." See for yourself:

    Although Redmond advertisers seem to have other associations:

    There is always a heater in the bottom of the multicooker housing. The Panasonic SR-TMJ18 (1) has another heating element - a silver ribbon is located around the circumference at the bottom of the case. Its fragments can be seen in the photo taken from

    Another heater in the Panasonic SR-TMJ181 is located on top - in the lid. But this is not a heater, but rather a “heater”. Its heating temperature does not exceed 50 degrees, so it is impossible to get a crispy crust from above on cooked dishes. This applies to all models of multicookers, without exception - in their covers there is either a very weak heater or just a metal insert to reflect and evenly distribute heat. According to marketers, this is called "3D heating."

    Heaters do not work continuously, but in periods. They switch to Panasonic using a relay, so when cooking the crock-pot loudly clicks.

    And this whole simple system is controlled by a microcontroller based on just the readings of a temperature sensor (thermosensor) that determines the temperature of the bottom of the multicooker bowl.For a more tight contact between the bottom of the pan and the sensor, a spring-loaded platform is used:

    Here such a trivial design provides the multicooker with all its automation and is admired not only by housewives, but also by housewives .

    Electronic filling of the multicooker

    Namely, in the multicooker there are automatic so-called “sensory” programs in which you do not need to set the cooking time, the appliance will detect it automatically and end the program when everything is ready. In Panasonic SR-TMJ181 these are the programs "Pilaf", "Porridge" and "Buckwheat", in other models other / additional options are possible, for example, "Omelet" or "Crust" (lower crust, of course).

    The principle of operation in all cases is the same - as long as there is enough moisture in the cooked dish, the temperature of the bottom of the bowl, according to the laws of physics, does not heat above 100 degrees Celsius. And as soon as the temperature sensor shows a temperature of more than 100, this means complete evaporation of moisture, that is, in fact, the readiness of the dish. Although, in some programs, for example, in "Plov", after complete evaporation of moisture there is still frying - to get a delicious lower crust.
    In addition, the same principle of operation allows the multicooker to handle exceptions, that is, automatically turn off if all the water boils off in the usual, “non-sensory” programs related to water - “Steaming”, “Braising”, etc.

    Do you think this is Captain O. known to everyone? But no. An article has been going on the network for several yearswith an alternative explanation of how the multicooker works. The author of the article, “A person with an engineering background,” argues that
    The cylinder at the bottom of the multicooker is a strain gauge, that is, a scale ... After the temperature reaches 100 degrees and water begins to boil, the pressure between the pan and the lid (which is permanently fixed to the body) increases and the pan begins to push off the lid and put more pressure on the scales. Excess pressure is vented through the valve on the pan lid. The computer (microcontroller) of the device detects this weight and begins to monitor its changes, when the croup is boiled and free water either boils and exits through the valve or passes into the croup, steam generation and pressure between the pan and the lid drop, the microcontroller cuts this thing on and off and turns it off the program

    Although, to refute this theory, it is enough to simply put an empty pan in the multicooker - in my model even an empty pan completely pushes the cylinder spring. What scales are there!

    If an engineer is so mistaken, then what can we say about simple user programmers ! In the reviews of owners of multicookers there are often complaints like " For some reason, almost until the very end, the countdown in the Buckwheat mode is not shown on the display . " Now you know why this is happening.

    Food programming.

    And now let's digress a little from the gadget in question and look at the automatic cooking at home. Although someone believes that cooking is an art, even if this is so, it manifests itself only in the creation of new dishes, but with a well-known recipe, for example,
    “Put more tea leaves”

    cooking is trivially algorithmized. No wonder the very concept of an algorithm is usually explained to children on a culinary recipe.

    Moreover, if we are talking about heat treatment of already prepared (washed, sliced ​​and put into a pan) food, then the process is not only perfectly programmed, but also just as automatically performed without the participation of humanoid robots.

    Here is an algorithm covering all the possibilities of automatic cooking:
    1. Timer. Turn on at a set time
    2. Go through the cooking regimes in succession from the recipe, each of them successively:
      - Set one of the following temperature regimes: “Fry” (high t without a lid, constantly stirring the contents or a single revolution in the middle of the process), “Baking” (high t with lid and volumetric heating) “Cooking intensive boiling”, “Cooking low boiling” or “Stewing” (t '~ 100' and presumably water), or “Stewing” (t ~ 80 'with a lid), etc. in accordance with the full list of methods of heat treatment of food .
      - Determine the end time of the mode automatically - using temperature, weight, resistance, accelerometer sensors (say, determining the degree of egg coolness :)), video cameras with product recognition, etc. or manually, if specified by the program.
    3. Switch to heating mode or turn off according to user settings

    As you can see, everything is quite real and feasible, maybe, with the exception of the accelerometer and video camera (and this is not so fantastic), and, as experience with the multicooker shows, in most cases an existing temperature sensor is enough.

    But, at the same time, there is still no model of universal kitchen equipment that could be called really “programmable” and “automatic”. Of course, some things are implemented. For example, advanced microwave ovens not only have “built-in programs” of several steps using sensors, but are also able to memorize new recipes. Only recipes are exclusively one-step, that is, this, in fact, is not a program, but simply memorizing a set of parameters cooking.
    Strange as it may seem, the bread makers came closest to the programmable technique. Some of them are able not only to knead the dough on their own, turn on the timer and execute predefined programs, but they also allow you to create your own from almost a dozen steps (!), Setting the time for several consecutive batches and pauses between them, the stages of baking and heating of the finished bread. But the bread machine is a very specific device, and we are talking about a universal one, so by.

    But on the basis of the multicooker it would be possible to create a truly universal kitchen gadget, which is in demand not only among geeks and programmers, but among all humanity eating. This requires minimal changes in the periphery - say, adding sensors, a stirrer or a real heater from above ...., but the main changes should concern the software part.

    Slow cooker - what is good and what is bad.

    The interface of most CF models is very similar and gives a good example of how interfaces should never be made.

    The “Menu” button goes through the multicooker operation modes “in a circle” in one direction, so if you missed the right one, you will have to go to the second run, that is, in Panasonic SR-TMJ181 it’s another 9 (!) Presses of the “Menu”. And to miss is very easy, because the only designation of the selected mode is a miniature black triangle on the display, which, moreover, is offset from the mode label.
    In manual modes, you will find the “Cooking Time” button, which also goes around the available times for this mode. Moreover, the order of these times is set by the manufacturer, starting with the most popular in his opinion. For example, in the “Baking” mode, the sequence of times looks like “40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, 20, 25, 30, 35”. Miss? It doesn’t matter, just 9 taps and you're on target.
    But this is nothing compared to the fact that other times are not available at all. Those. It is impossible to bake for an hour and a half or 15 minutes.

    The device, like - "automatic", but in many cases it is impossible to move away from it - either it will not be detected or burned.

    The latter, by the way, is very relevant for Panasonic MV, as they do not have the “Frying” mode, and instead of it, for frequent operation — short preliminary frying of the soup or pilaf components, “Baking” is used, but they suffer from the inability to set arbitrary cooking times in various modes and owners of other models.

    Another problem with MV is the inability to set a delayed start timer for some modes. That is, Panasonic SR-TMJ181 manufacturers decided for users that it is possible to cook porridge, pilaf and buckwheat at a time convenient for you, but you can’t cook soup or stewed potatoes. It is interesting, by the way, that different manufacturers have a different opinion on this matter. For example, manufacturers of CF Redmond do not allow to postpone cooking porridge.

    And finally, in Panasonic CF, as in all multicookers of other manufacturers, with the exception of a couple of models (one for Redmond and one for Brand), it is impossible to turn off the forced transition of the CF to the heating mode after cooking. “Heating” is a convenient function, but in many cases unnecessary - for example, if a jelly or compote is being prepared, I want to cool them faster. And the taste of many dishes after many hours of heating is not changing for the better.
    To combat useless heating and waste of electricity, advanced MV users use mechanical or electronic external timers that plug into the outlet and simply disconnect the multicooker from the network after a specified period of time. Such timers worth 200-300r are produced by IKEA and Chinese craftsmen:

    Panasonic also does not have the ability to set its own cooking mode. Such an opportunity is, for example, in the top models of Redmond or Polaris, but it is limited to one step, that is, by setting the temperature and cooking time. Really programmable in several consecutive steps with different parameters is not capable of any model.

    In general, worse than the MV interface is only a software limitation of its capabilities. And worse restrictions - only documentation for multicookers.

    All data on the mode parameters are confidential and are protected by manufacturers in almost the same way as the Windows source code. Not only exact parameters, but even approximate ones are not issued.
    A typical example of a description from the official MV manual is
    "Buckwheat" mode is for making buckwheat "

    and not a word more.

    Perhaps this is done so that these parameters can be changed with impunity, or maybe to hide the fact that the variety of cooking modes in modern CF models is just a marketing move, but in fact they hardly differ.
    Although, sometimes Stirlitz has punctures. So, in the manual for Panasonic SR-TMJ181, the summary table of technical specifications gives “The maximum temperature of the multicooker is 180 degrees”, which clearly indicates the temperature of the “Baking” mode in this device - it is the hottest. But, basically, information on the temperature conditions of the MV must be obtained independently - using a culinary thermometer.
    UPD After writing the article, I learned that a programmable multicooker exists - the Brand 502 MV not only does not hide data on the built-in cooking modes, but also allows you to manually program up to five consecutive steps! But this is the only exception in the world that does not change the general situation.

    The recipes attached to the MV (as part of the instructions or as a separate booklet) can be compared with demos or examples of use attached to some SDK. And they have the same problems as the demos / samples. Namely, sometimes the SDK code is updated, but the examples are not. Well, bugs do happen, where without them. In the case of the Panasonic SR-TMJ181 multicooker, the recipes are clearly taken from the previous version of the product - it is proposed to cook the soup in any mode, except for the “Soup” mode that debuted in this model. And following a regular recipe for rice porridge gives the output is not viscous porridge, and dry burnt rice.

    Therefore, it’s best to search for recipes for MVs on the network on specialized forums for a specific MV model — they were definitely tested in public there :) And if you want a cookbook, then makes a periodic selection of the best recipes in the form of a pdf file. Here, for example , 2011 version .


    When is it worth to buy a slow cooker?

    • In the absence of a (good) stove with an oven, for example, in a country house or a rented apartment.
    • If you need morning porridge to bed (just make sure that a particular multicooker supports this mode)
    • If you have experience burning forgotten pots on an included stove. A slow cooker will not allow this.
    • If you want to buy a new pan, and in the kitchen there is an extra place for a slow cooker

    When can I think about buying a multicooker?

    • If you have a curious kid with access to the kitchen. A slow cooker is an order of magnitude safer than a stove with pots
    • If you have a child, a primary school student. To teach him how to cook in CF is simple and safe, and the result can be interesting.

    When the multicooker does not help you?

    • If you want to cook everything faster. The competition in speed, of course, is won by the microwave, in second place is the stove, the MV is behind.
    • If you have a studio apartment and you hope to save it from the unpleasant odor when cooking, say, dishes with onions. Will not work
    • If cooking on ordinary kitchen appliances is not given to you, then you should not expect culinary wonders from the multicooker. Something in MV will turn out better, something worse than on the stove / in the oven, but, in general, the result will be similar.

    And if you want it is completely automatic cooking without supervision, then hope for a slow cooker is not worth it yet. You should wait a little longer and wait for the appearance of a new advanced version of these devices - with the possibility of programming, additional sensors and a good processor. I wonder if it will ever turn out to write in the blog of our company news about the release of kitchen appliances with Intel inside?

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