The Thermal Cooker and Container Cooking
Updated: Sep 30
Containers elevate the versatility of your thermal cooker.
The thermal cooker can be used for much more than soup, stews or as a warmer. Using containers, increase the types of food prepared and helps control portion sizes. Foods such as bread, lasagna and meatloaf, which cannot physically come to a boil, can easily be prepared using containers.
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When I started writing Let's Make Sense of Thermal Cooking Cookbook, it was obvious that if I was not careful soups, grains and beans would dominate the recipes in the book. I understood that to use a thermal cooker, (retained heat cooking) food in the pot needed to come to a boil. For food to boil it had to be relatively thin. But I wanted more options!
Helpful discoveries I found during my container cooking research.
I was introduced to the concept of making a loaf of bread in the thermal cooker.
The idea is to put solid food in a container, place the container in a pot, then surround the container, in the pot with water. The water is then brought to a boil and the boiling time is extended. This method really opened my mind to the possibilities available. Virtually anything is possible - unless you want it crispy. For foods which require a crunch, a brick oven is a form of retained heat cooking which works great for that. But that subject is for another day.
The preparetodaywardnewsletter.blogspot.com introduced me to the concept of using oven bags as a container.
Using an oven bag to keep food out of the water while cooking in the thermal cooker, added another level of creativity to my thermal cooking adventure. Boiling food in sealed bags is actually a thing... it's called Sous vide in French cooking. The idea of cooking everything in one pot came from this one simple concept. Now it is one of my favorite ways to cook. The meat and seasoning goes in the oven bag which is boiled over potatoes in the bottom of the large pot. Veggies can be prepared in the
2. Portion Control
I noticed, as I tested different containers, that I was naturally adjusting the quantity of food being prepared. One of the questions I receive most often is how to use a thermal cooker effectively to cook smaller quantities of food.
Food in bulk is great for large families, potlucks and emergencies, but what about those who are cooking for two? The answer - container cooking.
3. Thermal Mass
Traditionally, efficient retained heat cooking produces large volumes of food. This is because retaining heat effectively is determined by thermal mass.
*The more thermal mass (volume of heat) you have the longer it stays hot.
For instance, if I were to place two pots of water on the stove, one holding 1 Liter of water, the other 7 Liters, bring the water to a boil, then turn off the fuel source. Which water will cool first? The 1 Liter of course. This is because there is less water in the pot, less thermal mass.
If I then insulated, equally, the pots of boiling water, the amount of time the water will remain hot increases, but the 1 Liter pot of water will always cool sooner.
When preparing smaller amounts of food it is OK to use thermal cookers which are smaller in volume. Just know, if not compensated with quality insulation, it will cool sooner.
*Is it a problem to have your food cool down sooner in the thermal cooker?
Well it depends.
What are your needs?
If, in the morning, you prepare a 'small volume' meal and are planning to eat it for lunch and the food is still hot at lunch, then there is no problem. If you were hoping it would stay hot until dinner, and the thermal mass is such that it only stays hot until lunch, you will be disappointed.
Cooking with Containers
I love using containers. It is possible to be very creative using containers.
I find myself using leftovers more often. Monday is a great day for Shepherd's pie in the thermal cooker, we always seem to have leftover mashed potatoes from Sunday. On other days, I may have leftover pasta, making mini lasagnas in containers is fast, convenient and economical.
- For both of these examples, assemble the meal into containers (Mason jars are pictured). - Place the covered containers into the inner pot of the thermal cooker
- Cover with water, so that the pot is 75-80% full
- Place lid over pot
- Bring to a boil on the stove
- After boiling for appropriate time (see chart below), place pot in thermal unit
- I usually eat these meals between 2 and 5 hours of placing into the thermal unit
The boiling time will be determined by the size of your container (see below).
Remember that it is OK to boil containers longer than the suggested. Generally, the longer the water around the container boils the hotter the food inside will be and the longer it will stay hot in the thermal cooker. The times listed are minimum estimates. Use wisdom, boiling them for an hour+ is defeating the purpose of the thermal cooker and is unnecessary.
Mason jars are my "go to" container. They are inexpensive and seem to be something most people have. For the most part, I use jars which do not curve in at the top so the food is easily removed. Cooking food in a mason jar does not constitute a 'preserving method', they are convenient for 'cooking'.
Listed are the boiling times I use based on the size of the mason jar.
When using mason jars, mix and match them based on what you are preparing. When using different sized jars in one pot, boiling time is for the size of the largest jar.
Pyrex glass Snapware type containers have been a great addition to my thermal cooking kit. They are available at Walmart, Target and sometimes Costco has them in a set.
Although the lids on the container will not last forever, they do work well. The lids sustain heat up to 270 degrees, with thermal cooking the temperature does not get over 212.
Most often I use two at a time, stacking them inside of the Saratoga Jack 7 Liter pot. If you are using another brand/model of thermal cooker, adapt what works for you. Often I make, meat loaf and potatoes, lasagna and herb bread, chicken enchiladas and corn bread.
- Put food into containers
- Place them into the 7 L pot
- Fill pot with water (an inch or so from the top)
- Bring to a boil
- These containers when stacked require 25 - 30 minutes of boiling time
- Place in the insulated unit
- I usually eat these meals between 2 and 5 hours after putting into the thermal unit.
To make bread in the thermal cooker see the article, "Making Bread in the Thermal Cooker". This article is completely devoted to..... well... making bread in the thermal cooker.
Cake and cupcakes are also simple to prepare in the thermal cooker using containers.
Many meals in our home are made with the basic ingredients of meat, potatoes and a vegetables. With the addition of the oven bag this meal is simple and effective to make. Trade out the meat, seasoning and vegetable for a totally different meal, it can then be prepared often. It is also very easy to make this meal for exactly the number of people who will be eating.
This is how I prepare a full meal using one thermal cooker:
- Place 5 - 6 potatoes in the bottom of the 7 liter pot
- In a Reynolds type oven bag put 1- 1/2 to 2 pounds of meat (chicken tenders or ribs)
- Add your favorite seasonings or sauce
- Mix sauce and meat, by working them from the outside of the bag
- Pull the top of the bag together and flatten meat to fit over the top of the potatoes
- Place over the potatoes with the top of the bag hanging over the side of the pot
- Use the handle to secure the bag
- Add water, just covering the meat in the bag
- The cooker should have enough room in it for the top pot
- Put the potatoes and meat on the stove and bring to a boil
- Boil for 10 minutes
- In the smaller 2.5 L inner pot cook your choice of vegetable
- Place vegetables over the meat and potatoes
- Place into the thermal unit
- Eat between 2 and 6 hours
- When you are ready to serve, remove veggies and oven bag
- There will be liquid in the bag, sprinkle Ultra Gel or another instant thickener into the bag
- Mix, by working from the outside of the bag, hold a hot pad, it will be hot
- In about 5 minutes you will have gravy for your meal
Have a Wonderful day!