Slow cookers are cheap to buy and they make it extremely easy to cook a healthy nutritious meal that you can prep in the morning and it's ready by dinnertime.
But when it comes to energy usage how much energy does a slow cooker use vs a stove top and which option is more energy efficient.
While you might presume that a slow cooker will use way more energy than a stove top because it is on for hours at a time their energy usage is actually very similar.
A slow cooker uses around 150-210 Watts of power vs a stove top which uses between 1000-3000 Watts of power. Cooking for 8 hours a slow cooker uses a similar amount of power that a stovetop uses in just 45 minutes.
Generally speaking most meals will take 30-60 minutes on a stove top, with some meals taking a lot longer than that. So in almost all cases a slow cooker will use less energy than a stovetop.
This doesn't seem intuitive. You would assume a slow cooker would use way more electricity than a stove top but because it simply works to keep the food at a relatively low cooking temperature it doesn't need to draw a lot of power.
Stove tops are designed for cooking at extremely high heats. The elements on a stove top can get extremely hot – upwards of 700ºF (370ºC). This immense heat requires a lot of electricity and that is why they draw a lot more power than a slow cooker.
Can You Use a Stove Top Instead of a Slow Cooker?
It is possible to use a stove top instead of a slow cooker but it's quite difficult. Slow cookers are set and forget, but you'll have to babysit and stir your meal on a stove otherwise it can burn on the bottom or dry out.
A slow cooker on the low setting is generally around 170-200ºF (77-93ºC) and the high setting can be as high as 280-300ºF (138-147ºC). These are preset and most slow cookers are extremely similar in how hot they make the food.
A stove top on the other hand is a more delicate beast. You'll likely notice from stove to stove temperatures are different and the time it takes to cook things can vary significantly.
For me I have a portable steam wand for frothing milk that I put on the stove. At my house it takes roughly 14 minutes until it is ready whereas at my girlfriend's house it only takes 10 minutes.
Add to this gas vs electric stoves and smaller burners vs larger burners and you have a myriad of different temperatures.
It's also impossible to know what I “1” or Low setting on your stove is vs a “6” or “High” setting without actually testing it yourself.
This makes it very difficult to just translate a slow cooker recipe directly across to the stovetop. Instead you'll likely want to adjust the cooking time significantly.
The below slow cooker to stove top conversion table will help you work out how long your meal is likely to take to cook. However, this is just a rough guideline and it varies from recipe to recipe. Thanks to Pillsbury for this conversion table:
|Slow Cooker on Low||Slow Cooker on High||Stovetop on Low|
|4-6 hours||1.5-2.5 hours||15-30 minutes|
|6-8 hours||3-4 hours||35-45 minutes|
|8-10 hours||4.6 hours||1-3 hours|
As you can see, even with the stove top on low the cooking times is much faster, which means the meal will be a bit different in taste and texture when compared to a slow cooked meal.
Over at LiveStrong they have a great article with some tips on converting slow cooker recipes for cooking on the stove.
These simple steps sums it up nicely:
Choose a lean cut of meat and set it aside. Start by sautéing onions, garlic and spices in olive oil. Next, add the meat and top it with additional seasonings. “After the meat sautés for four to six minutes, add any liquid that goes into the dish, whether that be water or a stock. At this point, put in any vegetables the dish calls for as well,” Eboli explains.
In the final step, Eboli recommends bringing the dish to a boil and then reducing the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 30 to 45 minutes, checking every 15 minutes. When done, turn off the heat and allow the dish to sit for 15 minutes before serving.
When you're cooking something in a slow cooker on a low heat it's mimicking a long simmer on a stove top. Items like soups and stews are easier to cook on a stove whereas some slow cooker recipes just don't translate across well.
An oven is generally a better alternative to a slow cooker when it comes to adapting recipes across if you don't have a slow cooker. See my article on slow cooker vs oven energy consumption for more details on the differences.
An even better alternative to a slow cooker is a thermal cooker. You first bring items to boil on the stove and then place it inside the insulating outer shell and leave.
The vacuum insulation keeps the food extremely hot all day and it cooks itself slowly throughout the day using it's own heat. It's often ready to eat in as little as 2 hours but can be left as long as 8-15 hours and still be safe to eat.
So it can be a good option as it works similar to a slow cooker if you need it to or you can prepare meals more quickly if you're short on time. Read my full thermal cooker vs slow cooker comparison.