When I close my eyes and think of slow cookers, I see a vat of chili heaving up an occasional bubble in the center of a football party spread or a pot roast simmering in the corner of an immaculate 1980s kitchen. These images smack of a particular type of domesticity: suburban, fusty, a bit dull.
Several new cookbooks out this fall seek to change that. And they’re not stopping there. Additional titles focus on the slow cooker’s newer, perhaps sexier sibling: the multi-function cooker, more commonly known by its brand-name, the Instant Pot. These books are from some of the biggest names in cookbooks, including Melissa Clark, Hugh Acheson, and Martha Stewart. There’s an Instant Pot cookbook with all Indian recipes, and a slow cooker cookbook offering Texan ones. And the rest incorporate a wide range of flavors: recipes like pho, Jamaican oxtail, catfish stews, luxurious red wine–braised meats, and vegan vegetable stews.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is stoves are very, very last year.
Shop the Story
And it’s all in the name of making it easier for you to make dinner. “I like to find ways of getting people a gateway to cooking from scratch while still getting their normal routine done,” says Georgia chef Hugh Acheson, whose book The Chef and the Slow Cooker is out this month. And indeed, most of these books emphasize slow cookers and Instant Pots as a way to simplify your weekday routine.
Liana Krissoff, author of Slow Cook Modern, says, “The beauty of [the slow cooker] is convenience: you can let supper cook all day even if you're not around to tend to it.” Krissoff's book includes “true 8-hour recipes” that you can set up before you go to work and require minimal effort (garnishes, toppings) when you get home. “I wanted to give people a bookful of hard-working weekday supper options, and a very clear plan for getting them on the table. All of Slow Cook Modern’s recipes work in a multi-cooker (on the slow cook setting), and Krissof says the devices work well in tandem. Whereas the slow cooker is, well, slow, the multi-cooker’s pressure cooker option can quickly turn out a side of rice or grains all in the time it takes to walk the dog.
Of course, if you’re more interested in the speedy side of the multi-cooker, The New York Times’ Melissa Clark has your back. Her aptly titled Dinner in an Instant is a crash course in the multi-functionality of your multi-function cooker. It includes everything from homemade yogurt (both dairy and coconut milk versions) to a classic Boeuf Bourguignon to grain salads to hummus to dulce de leche.
I’m charmed by these books. The ones I’ve had a chance to look through (and there are more coming) provide a level of sophistication not typically found in the easy weeknight meal genre of cookbooks. Their recipes are international in scope and flavor, and they emphasize fresh ingredients and bold flavors. They’re useful for preparing entire meals or batching staples like beans or stock. And unlike attempts to popularize another gadgety style of cooking—like sous vide—these dishes are accompanied by an air of accessibility. The overarching tone is: your time is precious, but it should never stop you from cooking delicious food. And if it takes a gadget or two to get there, why not?
Paula Forbes has reviewed cookbooks for nearly a decade for sites like Epicurious, Eater, Eat Me Daily, and now Food52. She's currently working on a cookbook about the foods and restaurants of Austin, Texas.