“OMG, you’re such a nerd.”
That’s the response I got from my brother when I told him I was testing a smartphone-controlled Crock-Pot this week. But I couldn’t have been more excited.
As much fun as it is to review things like the latest smartphones and apps, it’s not too often that I get to indulge my inner Julia Child and cook delicious meals as part of my job. So perhaps you can understand why I squealed in delight when the Belkin Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker with WeMo showed up on my doorstep.
Available on August 1 for $130, the Belkin Crock-Pot differs from traditional slow cookers in that it connects to a Wi-Fi network and gives you the ability to adjust the temperature and cook times from anywhere, using your mobile phone.
The Crock-Pot is the latest addition to Belkin’s WeMo series, which includes products like light switches and security cameras. All are part of the larger home-automation trend, where you can create a network of Internet-connected devices and control and monitor them with a mobile app.
But where the ability to remotely lock your doors or turn on/off lights around the house has practical use, the Belkin slow cooker feels more like a solution in search of a problem.
Of all the kitchen appliances I would want to be able to control remotely, a slow cooker would be near the bottom of my list. After all, the beauty of a slow cooker is that you put all the ingredients into the pot, set the time and temperature, and leave it alone until it’s done. Rarely have I ever needed to adjust the settings on my low-tech Crock-Pot.
That’s not to say that there aren’t occasions where the remote capability would come in handy, and if the idea appeals to you, the Belkin slow cooker works well. It does everything it promises, and all my meals came out great.
But in the end, I feel the same way my colleague Lauren Goode did when she tested smartphone-controlled coffee makers: You’re paying a premium for a device that doesn’t offer much benefit over a regular slow cooker.
The Belkin Crock-Pot was made in collaboration with the Jarden Corporation, which is the parent company of the Crock-Pot brand, and one nice thing about it is that it’s easy to set up and use.
The Belkin slow cooker looks like many current models, save for a couple of features. It comes with a stainless-steel heating base, six-quart removable stoneware pot and glass lid. It doesn’t have a lid-locking system like some other models, so if you plan on transporting a dish to a dinner party in the Crock-Pot, take care to keep the top in place.
On front, there are temperature and Wi-Fi indicators to alert you to the status of the slow cooker. There’s also a power button. But while you can use it to cycle through the three different temperature settings — high, low and warm — there are no controls on the Crock-Pot to set the timer. This can only be done through the app. It would be nice to have both options.
Connecting the Crock-Pot to my home’s Wi-Fi network only took a couple of minutes. After downloading the WeMo app to my iPhone 5 (the app works with any device running iOS 6 and higher, or Android 4.0 and higher), I followed the Quick Start instructions and soon the Wi-Fi indicator on the Crock-Pot illuminated a solid green to let me that it was connected. Then it was time to get cooking.
I made several dishes using the WeMo slow cooker. The first was pork carnitas (you can find the recipe here) for taco night. After placing all the ingredients into the slow cooker, I opened the app, tapped “Set Timer” button, scheduled the cooking time for seven hours at low temperature, and went to get some work done at a local coffee shop.
From the cafe, I could see from the app — which also works over a cellular connection — how long the dish had been cooking, when the meal would be ready and, of course, make any adjustments.
After coming home, I saw that the carnitas were nearly done, even though there was still another 1.5 hours of remaining cooking time. I left again to go work out, but while at the gym, I used the WeMo app to turn the temperature from low to warm 45 minutes before it was scheduled to do so on its own. When I got home, the Crock-Pot was indeed in warm mode, and the pork-shoulder meat was cooked evenly, and fell apart as soon as I placed a fork in it.
I also made poblano corn pudding using the Belkin Crock-Pot. I went through the same process as before, and I got an alert on my phone when it was done cooking. The end result was delicious.
But I did have an incident where I checked the app to see how much time had elapsed, and got an error message saying, “Your slow cooker has been off for an unknown period of time. Your food may be unsafe for consumption.” I was actually home at the time, so I went to my kitchen to see if the cooker was off, but it was still on, though it appeared to be temporarily disconnected from Wi-Fi.
In event of a lost Wi-Fi connection, the slow cooker is designed to continue cooking at the original set temperature and time. But the current message leads you to believe otherwise. When I pointed this out to Belkin, the company agreed that it’s confusing and is now looking to differentiate the message between a power or Wi-Fi outage in a future update.
Of course, there are bigger issues at hand. While I can see the remote access being useful in cases where you forgot to set the Crock-Pot because you were late for work or you need to switch the temperature from low to high because your dinner guests are coming over earlier, for the money, I’d like to see some more functionality.
I did a quick search on Amazon, and you can get something like the $50 Hamilton Beach Set n’ Forget Programmable Slow Cooker, which includes, among other things, a lid lock and a temperature probe that allows you to cook meat to a set temperature. I’d get more use out of the latter two features than the ability to control my Crock-Pot from a smartphone.
Belkin says it is looking to add IFTTT integration. IFTTT, which stands for “If This, Then That,” would allow you to program the slow cooker to do something, if a certain action took place.
But until it does more, I’d say hold on to your regular slow cooker. The Belkin WeMo Crock-Pot may work well, and it does everything it advertises, but it needs more smarts to make it worth the cost.