An unlikely partnership between Belkin and Jarden has resulted in a Wi-Fi slow cooker you can control straight from your phone.
Take a traditional slow cooker, give it home automation capabilities, and you end up with the $130 Crock-Pot WeMo Smart Slow Cooker, coming to retail this August, and the result of an surprising collaboration between Crock-Pot's parent company, Jarden Consumer Solutions , and Belkin's WeMo line of home-automation products. While I've reviewed slow cookers and Belkin WeMo products before, a mash-up of the two is completely foreign. This is the first-ever slow cooker to qualify as a smart home appliance, after all.
I found that, as a slow cooker, this WeMo-enabled Crock-Pot performed admirably, and arguably better than a non-connected $60 Crock-Pot counterpart we reviewed a few months ago. And though the connected features delivered as promised, letting me adjust the cook temperature and timer settings from virtually anywhere via my smartphone, it's hard to argue that they're worth an additional $70, even considering the this slow cooker's strong cooking performance.
Whether slow cooking needs this kind of technological updating is up for debate. I expect there are many people out there who will roll their eyes at this product. If you use a slow cooker often, and you also like the idea of micromanaging the cook and timer settings from anywhere, this connected Crock-Pot will have obvious appeal. For the majority, this will seem like an overpriced appliance that adds unwelcome responsibility to a style of cooking normally prized for its hands-off nature.
This six-quart stainless steel Crock-Pot looks similar to the $60 Crock-Pot Cook & Carry Digital Slow Cooker we reviewed earlier this year, although with a higher-end sheen. Clear effort was made to streamline this appliance and give it an updated look. I think Belkin and Jarden were successful -- insofar as anyone would be able to make a slow cooker look modern.
Jarden replaced the dated, touchpad-style buttons with a single button to alternate between high, low, warm, cooking modes and the off setting. A small WeMo logo and an LED Wi-Fi signal indicator are the only nods to the connected tech on the cooking hardware itself. You'll notice them if you look closely at the CrockPot, but they're not so obvious that they give off an overly high-tech aesthetic. A see-through lid with two vents, side handles, and a black stoneware cooking insert round out the design.
The WeMo integration is the most interesting aspect of this slow cooker. It allows you to check the status of your meal and make changes to its settings while you're away from home. No, it isn't really adding more features, it's just changing how and when you can use them.
When you go to work and run errands, you have more control. If you set a pot roast to cook on low for six hours, the Crock-Pot will auto-default to warm mode after that time has elapsed. But if you have a meeting that runs long or if you end up stuck in a traffic jam, you can extend the timer for the warm mode via the app to make sure it doesn't turn off and get cold before you do get home.
This Crock-Pot talks to your phone via Wi-Fi, although Belkin's cloud-based technology lets you send signals to it remotely via cellular network, too. I wouldn't recommend this slow cooker to anyone with consistently patchy home Wi-Fi, though. Instead of seamless app integration, you'll get error messages during Internet outages and notifications saying your food may be "unsafe for consumption."
It supports Android and iOS devices (Android 4.0 or higher and iOS 6 or higher), both of which have a free WeMo app to control the Crock-Pot. In addition to adjusting temperature and heat settings, you can set and modify timers and receive alerts when the timer is done. I've tested the app's functionality and found it to be very simple to set up and use.
I connected my phone to the Crock-Pot in about five minutes, and I was able to make adjustments to the slow cooker's settings using an iPhone 5 and a Nexus 7 tablet on Wi-Fi, 4G, and 3G. And, unlike D-Link's smart app , the WeMo app stores your connected Crock-Pot's setup information and won't make you go through the whole process again after that initial install, unless you want to connect it to a new home Wi-Fi network.
Unlike Belkin's other WeMo products, this slow cooker isn't compatible with IFTTT (short for "if this, then that"), the wide-ranging app that lets you associate devices and various internet services together to execute automated actions. You might set up an action in the IFTTT app to make your lights blink when the slow cooker's timer goes off.
Belkin says on its Web site that it's considering adding IFTTT support to the WeMo CrockPot. The smart home early adopters will miss IFTTT, but I expect anyone new to home automation would either ignore it, or find it an adds too much complexity.
Belkin also told us that it held back the ability to its own WeMo app to trigger a delayed start for the Crock-Pot. There is some appeal in the idea of putting food in a device in the morning before you leave the house, but without a refrigeration function (like the one in FNV Labs' forthcoming Mellow smart sous vide machine ), such a feature creates a food safety issue.
I do wish this Crock-Pot came with a temperature probe. The $60 Hamilton Beach Set 'n Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker I reviewed earlier this year has one, and it was accurate and useful. It would also be a great feature to add to the WeMo app -- set the internal temperature you want your food to reach, let the app track the temperature, have it automatically switch to warm mode when it hits that target, and then send you a notification.
I compared this smart Crock-Pot to the two best-reviewed slow cookers from previous testing: the $60 Crock-Pot Cook & Carry Digital Slow Cooker and the $60 Hamilton Beach Set 'n Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker . I cooked cannellini beans on high for three hours and then on warm for two hours. I also cooked pot roast on low for six hours. Yes, there was a taste-testing frenzy in the office this week.
I put two pounds of dried cannellini beans in each slow cooker, added 10 cups of water, three cloves of garlic, and two teaspoons of salt. I set them on high for three hours, and then had a taste-test. All three batches were undercooked to varying degrees. The Crock-Pot Cook & Carry's beans were downright crunchy, the Hamilton Beach's beans weren't much better, and the Crock-Pot WeMo's were crunchy too, but not as crunchy.
Then, I let them sit on warm mode for another two hours, got temperature readings, and taste-tasted them again. They were still undercooked (more a failing of the recipe to estimate cooking time), but the Crock-Pot WeMo's beans were edible. The other two slow cookers still needed significantly more time to cook the beans (particularly the Crock-Pot Cook & Carry). After two hours on warm, the Crock-Pot WeMo beans clocked in at 170 degrees Fahrenheit, the Crock-Pot Cook & Carry was 165 degrees, and the Hamilton Beach was 164 degrees.
I checked the wattage of the three slow cookers to see if there was any clear distinction among them. The Hamilton Beach model has 275 watts, the Crock-Pot WeMo model has 250 watts, and the Crock-Pot Cook & Carry has 240 watts. These wattage specs don't seem to relate directly to the results of the bean tests. The model with the highest wattage (Hamilton Beach) had the lowest temperature reading, the model with the lowest wattage (Crock-Pot Cook & Carry) had the second lowest temperature reading, and the model whose wattage fell in the middle had the highest temperature reading. This is probably due to small variations in the heating elements.
After the bean test, I loaded all three slow cookers with chuck roast, potatoes, carrots, onions, celery, garlic, and beef broth. Then, I set each one on low for six hours. At the end of this time, I checked their temperatures. Consistent with the bean test, the Crock-Pot WeMo was the hottest at 206 degrees, followed by the Crock-Pot Cook & Carry at 200 degrees and the Hamilton Beach at 189 degrees.
All of them had well exceeded the 160 safe temperature for chuck roast, so naturally, we had a taste-test. While the temperate disparity was larger than after the bean test, the results were much better. The Crock-Pot WeMo pot roast was the best, tender and falling apart, with soft vegetables that weren't mushy. The regular Crock-Pot was next in line with similar results, but ever so slightly less done. The Hamilton Beach pot roast was by far the worst. It was rubbery and difficult to pull apart; its vegetables were still crunchy.
Overall, I was happiest with the Crock-Pot WeMo's results. It seemed to maintain the highest temp overall but never overcooked anything. So, even though it has a lower wattage than the Hamilton Beach slow cooker, it seemed to cook more efficiently and produce the best, most consistent results. And while the two Crock-Pot brands had similar pot roast results, the Crock-Pot WeMo's beans were noticeably better than the Crock-Pot Cook & Carry's beans -- another indication of the Crock-Pot WeMo's predictable performance over the other two models.
Kitchen appliances large and small are a bit of a sticking point for the Internet of Things. While smart home proponents have managed to find useful applications for their connected gadgets throughout the house, truly useful kitchen devices still largely evade us. Take the LG Smart ThinQ range . Its app was so confusing both during setup and regular operation that it actually made the oven more difficult to use.
But, more and more folks are seeing opportunity in this open smart home sector and are finding new ways to innovate within it. Drop is one such appliance -- this iPad-integrated kitchen scale lets you scroll through recipes and adapt them based on the ingredients you have on hand. While it isn't for everyone, it has clear appeal for iPad users who already use their tablet to peruse recipes.
Belkin and Jarden clearly intended for their smart slow cooker to fall on the Drop side of the connected kitchen pendulum. It's designed to give you greater flexibility over your meal, and it really does. The problem is that a lot of people don't want more control over their slow cookers; they often enlist their slow cookers on days when they don't want to bother with the more involved aspects of the cooking process.
Is the $130 Crock-Pot WeMo Smart Slow Cooker worth it, then? Yes and no. If you want a slow cooker that can make a very good pot roast and don't care about smart features, the $60 Crock-Pot Cook & Carry offers the best value. But, there's a niche group out there that will appreciate WeMo functionality and the remote access you get with the connected model. Since this smart Crock-Pot also happens to be a quality slow cooker, it straddles those two previously unrelated worlds very well. Still, I'd like to see a thermometer probe added to the list of features. And Belkin, what about a smart scale a la Drop?