Do you hate the clean up after a meal? A slow cooker saves you a bunch of pots and pans to clean but there’s still that one pot that needs soaking and scrubbing. Slow cooker liners change that. They make clean up painless and effortless. So, why would you not use them? What are the alternatives? Here I cover 10 pros and cons of slow cooker liners (and alternatives).
After a busy day, everyone wants a quick easy way of enjoying a hearty meal. A home-cooked meal prepared in an automatic slow cooker helps in a low fuss way and is enjoyable, but still, there’s always that clean up after the meal that’s a drag.
Slow cooker liners make life even easier, reducing the need to clean that pot after preparing the meal and giving you more time to enjoy the things you like to do.
What is a slow cooker liner?
What is a slow cooker liner? Designed for easy cleanup, slow cooker liners cover the inside of your slow cooker (AKA crock pots) to circumvent the mess you get from cooked food adhering to the pot. They are single-use plastic liners that you discard after use.
Many are marketed as bisphenol A (BPA-free) and formulated without BPS (Bisphenol S). Reynold’s kitchen state their bags are made of heat resistant nylon.
There are different brands available, probably with varying degrees of quality of plastic. But, even so, if they are sold in the US, they need to meet the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements.
The plastic typically used in slow cooker liners is a type of nylon that resists high heat.
The better quality is likely to be more expensive. But overall these are heavy-duty bags. They need to withstand high heat and avoid breakage when you are transferring a bag full of food to store in the freezer or take with you on an outing.
You’ll get four to several in a pack. A 50 piece pack would last six months of two slow-cooked meals a week.
The common ones fit 3 to 6-quart slow cookers of either round or oval shape.
How to use slow cooker liners
Slow cooker liners provide you with the no-mess easy clean-up after meal preparation. Here is a step-by-step on how to use them.
Total Time: 1 minute
Line the pot
Open the liner in the pot, evening it out vertically and horizontally. Tip: Avoid tucking the liner into the heating element section of the slow cooker as you don’t want it in direct contact with the surface temperature, which may exceed 400 °F.
Add the food
Add your ingredients to the pot with the liner in place. That is, place the food on top of the liner.
Cover the contents
Put the lid on the pot ensuring a good seal. Optional: Stand the excess liner up around the lid to avoid steam from under the lid dripping down.
After letting the slow cooker cool, simply lift out the liner and dispose of it in the garbage. Liners are not reuseable. And, there you have effortless clean up!
There’s no scrubbing.
Here’s a video showing you how…
Pros and cons of slow cooker liners
Like everything, there are pluses and minuses to using slow cooker liners. The following is a guide on what you need to know about using slow cooker liners.
10 Pros of using slow cooker liners
Many of these are obvious advantages. Some you may not have known.
Quick and easy clean up
Clean up is as easy as removing the liner and depositing it in the garbage. No more stubborn burned-on food that takes effort to remove.
Less water needed in the clean up — You won’t need to soak your slow cooker and this means you will use less water.
There’s more room in the dishwasher for other items, as there’s no need for this intensity of cleaning.
Freeze leftovers easily
Some home cooks freeze meals in these bags and then, when it’s time, place the frozen meal directly in the crockpot.
You should know that the manufacturers, Reynolds Kitchen, advise that “While the slow cooker liner material is excellent for cooking, it does not provide a barrier against moisture loss for food storage. Freezer storage is not recommended…”
So it’s probably not a good idea to leave these meals in these bags in the freezer for too long.
For many people, the liners mean less stress in preparing meals that they then take to other venues. They find that you can easily take the cooked food with you in the liner. Just place the liner containing the food into a vessel that is lighter, portable, or less fragile than the crockpot for transporting elsewhere.
Contrary to this, the manufacturers, Reynolds Kitchen, advise that “leftover food should only be stored in the liner while it is still in the slow cooker bowl. At no time should the liner be lifted from the bowl with food inside.”
This is probably a safety concern. If the bag busted the hot contents could burn you.
The liners make life easier for people who find the lifting and cleaning of crockpots difficult because of arthritis or other mobility problems or physical impediments.
Stress-free meal preparation
You can prepare the ingredients the night before and place these in the liner and store it in the refrigerator until the morning. This is more convenient than trying to fit a bulky crockpot in the refrigerator.
This makes the morning less stressful and preparing the slow-cooked meal in the morning is just a simple matter of taking the food out of the refrigerator and placing it in the slow cooker and turning the appliance on.
More nutritious meals
Slow cooking is a healthy option for preparing meals, as it locks in the flavor and goodness of the ingredients we add to the pot.
Using slow cooker liners makes life easier and you’re likely to enjoy using this way of preparing meals more frequently! This then equates to more nutritious home-cooked meals and fewer take-outs.
Cook multiple meals at once
By using two or more liners side by side, you can cook multiple items separately in the same pot. This is great news for someone within the family who requires a special diet or has a preference for certain foods.
Or, if you have a large slow cooker, you can prepare two separate dishes when entertaining or wanting to save time and energy costs if only one or two of you are dining.
Many uses in cooking
Slow cooker liners serve other cooking methods.
They are versatile in that most brands of liners can be used in the oven with bakeware or a roaster pan or in pans on the cooktop to steam vegetables or the like. People use them in rice cookers and toaster ovens. They are safe up to temperatures of 400 ºF (204 ºC).
10 Cons of slow cooker liners
Most of the following cons are environmental reasons. But there are also the $ cost, use problems, and health factors.
Single-use plastic bags
The liners are single-use plastic bags, which concerns environmentally conscious folks. Since they are neither recyclable or reuseable, the liners mean more waste going to landfill or ending up as debris in the marine environment.
Given that these are nylon, they are not biodegradable. No form of nylon is biodegradable. So you can’t compost these if you are concerned about waste going to landfill.
Slow cooker liners are typically made of heat resistant nylon.
Good On You reports that the making of nylon produces greenhouse gas emissions of nitrous oxide. It uses large amounts of water (for cooling of the fibers) and substantial amounts of energy.
This is a downside for those wanting to reduce their environmental footprint.
There is the concern of plastic chemicals leaching into the food and the harm this may have on one’s health.
Slow cooker liners are typically BPA-free. But still, for some, there exists disquiet about the release and risks of non-BPA chemicals of which the risks and specifics are unknown.
Plastics have a softening point. This should not be a problem with the normal use of typical slow cooker liners. Slow cooker liners, made of heat resistant nylon, are safe to 400 ºF, which is beyond the heat of a slow cooker.
But, be aware when using these on or near stovetop burners or in the oven where the plastic could come into contact with heated elements the plastic could stick and create a clean-up problem.
The liner bag leaks
Some people complain of the liners leaking.
What to watch in this case is that using a sharp knife or fork to stir your food could puncture the bag. Cutting up the chicken while in the pot with a liner is not a good idea.
Some foods, such as chicken bones or fish bones, can pierce the liner creating holes allowing the liquid to leak out into the pot.
Shaking or stressing a full bag can also result in rips that cause leakage.
Moisture forms underneath the liner
Moisture can form on the bag and drip down into the pot or outside the pot. This doesn’t affect the cooking. It just means you’ll need to wipe out the pot and the surroundings after use. The clean up won’t be entirely effortless but still shouldn’t entail soaking and scrubbing.
Hot spots where the liner sticks to the pot
Not all brands are the same. Be aware that some liner brands require you to put an amount of water in the pot before adding the liner to stop the liner from sticking to the pot.
The humidity from the water prevents hot spots from forming where the liner sticks to the pot.
If for some reason you find the liner has burned onto the surface of the pot, soak the affected area in dishwashing water for a length of time and it should come off.
Another tip is to freeze the pot and then scrape the liner off.
Having to spend extra money
When you use slow cooker liners, there is an extra cost for cooking that meal.
The non-reusability of these means there’s an extra cost to every meal you make with the slow cooker.
Another item for your list
Using and being dependent upon slow cooker liners, to some people, means worrying about another item to have to replenish and store. If you’re someone who likes to simplify your life and have fewer demands, this has relevance.
Are slow cooker plastic liners safe?
The nylon liners are safe to use with temperatures up to 400 ºF (204 ºC).
Some people get nervous about heating food in plastic. Especially, disposable plastic that is often cheaply made.
Most slow cooker liners on the market are labeled BPA-free, which is a good thing. (Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a weak synthetic estrogen.) But, people could rightly wonder: What else do they contain that might be harmful and that we are yet to discover?
A 2011 study found that almost all plastic products they sampled, BPA-free included, leached detectable quantities of chemicals that imitate naturally occurring estrogen in our bodies.
Some people may want to reduce their exposure to chemicals in plastics, for example, in regard to the risk of breast cancer.
Alternatives – What can you use instead of slow cooker liners?
If you’re thinking, what can you use instead of slow cooker liners, here are some options…
Choose a pot that’s easy to clean
A slow cooker with a ceramic pot is easier to clean than an aluminum one. These inner pots are 100% ceramic with a tough lead-free glaze, which helps make cleaning the pot a breeze. I share a method in my final thoughts, below.
A slow cooker with a nonstick inner pot is also very easy to clean. The downside is that the nonstick coating wears away with use and exposes an aluminum base, which is not such a breeze to clean, nor a healthy option.
I wrote about the different inserts in my article on the best slow cookers.
Put it in the dishwasher
If the inner pot is dishwasher safe, you can put it in the dishwasher, which makes cleaning the cookware a ‘set and forget’ approach.
The ceramic inner pots are typically dishwasher safe.
I don’t recommend putting a nonstick inner pot in an automatic dishwasher. I cover the best way to clean this type in my guide on how to care and use nonstick cookware.
Line the inner pot
Options include lining the inner pot with baking paper or aluminum foil. The liquid would leak through into the pot but lining the pot this way should at least prevent the burned-on rim that forms around the top of the meal and which is generally the most stubborn to clean.
Oil the inner pot
Try spraying or wiping the sides and bottom of your slow cooker with some cooking oil. Some people find that this works.
Can you turn your crock pot on high when using liners?
You shouldn’t have a problem with this as the liners are designed to handle high heat, up to 400 ºF. Crock pots (aka slow cookers) cook foods slowly at temperatures of about 170-280 ºF.
Are slow cooker liners biodegradable?
No, slow cooker liners are not biodegradable, mainly because they need to be heavy-duty to withstand heat. They are also not reusable or recyclable. So they will need to go to landfill.
I can see why people enjoy using slow cooker liners. They benefit them by way of convenience and comfort.
If you are environmentally conscious in the kitchen, you might consider using these occasionally, not regularly.
Personally, I don’t use slow cooker liners. I have a slow cooker with a ceramic bowl, which I find easy enough to clean using this method…
- Soak your pot straight away after you’ve removed the contents. Add enough warm water into your pot to fill it to just above the mark of the food residue. Add some dishwashing liquid. Let this sit for half an hour or so, and then wallah! The residue should easily come away with a soft sponge. Follow this with a rinse and a dry, and you’re done!
I love using my slow cooker because it means I only have one pot to clean and it’s a healthy choice for home-cooked meals.