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There is an increasing worry about potential lead poisoning due to the popular use of crock pots and slow cookers since the 1970s. While crock pots of any age can cause worry, the older the cooker is the more lead-leaching potential it has. Microscopic cracks and general wear-and-tear of the inner ceramic pots are where the concerns come from. Home cooks using old, but still operable, slow cookers from the 1990s might want to ditch their old models for a safer modern unit.
But anyone who wants to eliminate the smallest risk of leaching lead into their food will want to switch to cookers that use materials other than ceramics with glazes.
This article focuses on lead- and cadmium-free cookers for a non-toxic cooking and eating experience.
Why Crock Pots Have Ceramic Glazes
Most crock pots traditionally are made of ceramic, because it supports the best and most even heat distribution. This allows the food to maintain its ideal heated state, even at reduced temperatures such as 200°F.
The issue that arises is that ceramic glazes can release up to 100 times the lead in a reduced heat setting than they do in a non-heated setting. Slow cookers are quite prone to lead-leaching, because not only can lead escape in heated pots, but the extended length of cooking encourages more to come out.
And if you like to cook dishes such as chicken parmesan or chili, the lead potential is much higher. This is because acrid and tart foods create an environment prone to releasing lead from the glaze, right into the meal.
Cooking in Ceramic Pots in Reduced Heat vs. High-Heat Settings
Cooking in a pot with a ceramic glaze at a higher temperature setting is generally much safer, because the glaze stays sealed, the temperature is higher, and the time period of cooking is generally one hour or less. This is opposed to ceramic glazed slow cookers that often have contact with foods for six to eight hours at a lower temperature.
Your Slow Cooker Options
Makers of popular crock pot brands state that they produce slow cookers within the legal limits for lead established by the U.S. government. This is to help assure the public that they are safe when they use the unit.
Many health-conscious modern cooks, however, want to be risk-free of any worry when cooking for their families. To that end, here is a short list of the best tested lead-free and cadmium-free crock pots and slow cookers sold today.
I had my most favored results with a Vitaclay 6.5 quart model, which is my number one choice.
I felt most comfortable trying this unit first because our ancestors have been cooking in clay pots for thousands of years. Clay is also unfinished, so I had no lead or cadmium fears in using it. In addition, clay is the only material coming into contact with the food in this unit, including the inner lid.
Beyond that, there were many aspects of this crock pot I liked.
Great for Hot Cereals
I love to make breakfast overnight for the morning. I make oat bran, oatmeal, and corn porridge using the Hot Cereal setting. This cooker uses more liquid than some other models, so I add extra for careful measure. I still have not used the yogurt setting, though I am excited to try it.
Clay Material Makes Food Taste Better
If you like to make Italian dishes with tomatoes or peppers, or tend to add paprika or sumac spice to your casseroles, the clay pot will bring out the sweetness of the acidic food for you. It even enhances orange chicken.
Cooks Slightly Faster Than a Slow Cooker
This unit cooked faster for me than other slow cookers and more easily comes to a boiling temperature. If you are already used to using other slow cookers, it's important to read all the directions to optimize your cooking in it.
All the Essential Crock Pot Features
Besides the above, you can look forward to electronic settings, such as a delayed cooking feature, maximum 9.5 hour cooking timer, and a back-lit screen for reading convenience.
This cooker is best for people who like to make acidic foods a lot (Italian, Spanish, etc.), due to how the clay enhances the flavors.
Another excellent and extremely popular lead- and cadmium-free slow cooker is the Instant Pot 7-in-1 model.
This unit might prove to be the crock pot of your dreams, as it has so many features. I loved it for the following reasons.
This model is made of triple-ply 18/8 stainless steel everywhere where the food touches, so it is ideal for people seeking a non-toxic cooking solution. I liked this because as a rule I already mostly cook with stainless steel pots and pans.
This model has a 24-hour time delay feature and 14 programs, including Soup, Slow Cook, Keep Warm, Yogurt, Meat & Stew, Bean & Chili, Poultry, Sauté, Steam, Rice, and Porridge. I used the porridge and rice settings the most. Unlike the above Vitaclay cooker, this model did not require extra water or liquid. I did have to learn about the time settings for each pre-programmed cycle as I went along, as they were not obvious at first.
Unparalleled Safety Features
I was really impressed with all the ways this unit was designed to prevent injury to the user as well as prevent damage to the unit. If you have children or if you are injury-prone yourself you will appreciate the lid lock, lid position monitor, temperature control, burn protector, and pressure controller. The pressure controller confused me at first, because there is both a manual pressure control and automatic pressure control for pre-programmed settings. However, both are used at separate times, so there is no actual safety concern associated with them.
Extras Thrown in
Depending upon the Instant Pot model you buy, there might be promotional accessories added. For example, I received a steaming rack, stirring spoon, and measuring cup with my Instant Pot.
Overall, this cooker is best for people who want to spend less time in the kitchen and want one tool that will perform most cooking methods.
The 6 quart Elite Platinum Programmable Pressure Cooker is a good basic crock pot without the bells and whistles. These are the highlights of the unit I got the most use out of:
Generally when I cook meat, I want a crispy, brown appearance and texture on the outside. I browned a pork roast in this unit without having to oven-bake or pan-saute the meat first. The browning provides a cooking feature generally only traditional methods provide, so this was a plus for me.
Solid, Safe Materials
This crock pot is all stainless steel where it comes into contact with the food, and the pot can be removed for easy cleaning. It does appear to have a thinner metal makeup than the Instant Pot, however.
Pre-Programmed Cooking Selections
Like other models, this cooker has easy-use programs, but the "Chicken" button and "Potatoes" button are the ones I used the most, as these foods are staples in my house.
This unit makes a good all-around non-toxic crock pot. The main drawback is that steam sometimes escapes into the kitchen and makes noise while doing so.
Why Do You Need to Avoid Lead in Food?
Excessive lead exposure can cause attention disorders, physical development issues, pregnancy complications, and pain issues, among a host of other problems.
There are many ways lead has traditionally gotten into the body, through home renovations, drinking water, soil particles, and occupational hazards. Although we cannot control exposure in all instances, it is important when we do have control—as with cooking materials—that we make a proactive and healthy choice.
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