Kitchen appliances large and small have gotten more sophisticated — or complicated, depending on your perspective. It’s easy to shift into autopilot and do what you’ve always done with your oven, Instant Pot or toaster.
Maybe you got a new appliance you haven’t learned all about yet. Maybe you just never read the manual. No matter the reason, there may be things you can do with your appliances that you’re probably not familiar with or not using to the fullest extent.
Here are some of our favorite settings that you may have overlooked (as always, consult the manual of your particular appliance before trying a new feature).
Delay start on the oven. Becoming a parent has made me rethink a lot, and once I started really getting into sourdough bread, I knew that my preferred evening bake time was going to start clashing with a lot of bedtime routines. Before baking loaves, I like to preheat the Dutch oven in the oven for an hour. Waiting until my son was in bed to start preheating would push the process too late, so I’ve taken to using the delay start function on my oven.
Before I start the bedtime process, I slide my pot in the oven and set it to start about an hour before I know I’ll be up and ready to bake. I think preheating is the best use for this feature, as there’s not much food I would leave sitting on a rack for an extended period to start cooking as soon as the oven turns on, though a baked potato or slow-roasted vegetable might be doable.
Slow cook on the Instant Pot. Pressure cooking is the primary feature that prompts most people to acquire an Instant Pot. But don’t forget that the Instant Pot and other similar appliances are known as multicookers. They’re no one-trick pony.
While there are plenty of slow-cooker devotees, you may not as readily think of cooking that way if you’ve been focusing on pressure cooking in your multicooker. A good number of sources that offer pressure-cooked recipes will also include a slow-cook time. That makes experimenting with slow-cooking fairly straightforward. However, if you’re hoping to adapt a recipe designed for a traditional slow-cooker to make in a multicooker, it can be a little trickier.
Check the recommendations of your particular model. Instant Pot, for example, says that on its slow cook function, Less corresponds to a low (8-hour) slow-cooker setting; Normal corresponds to a medium (6-hour) slow-cooker setting; and the More mode corresponds to a high (4-hour) slow-cooker setting. You may also see varying results due to the differences in shape (slow-cookers generally have a larger surface area) and construction (multicookers feature one heating element on the bottom and slow-cookers often boast a band around the side as well).
A closed slow-cooker will also release more steam than a multicooker, even with the lid vented. As America’s Test Kitchen found, temperatures in some multicookers set to slow cook can fluctuate significantly, leading to uneven or longer cook times. These aren’t deal-breakers, but you may need to choose or tweak your recipes accordingly.
Warming features on multiple appliances. You’ll find a handy keep-warm setting on a wide variety of appliances. I use it on my oven most often when I’m making a batch of pancakes or waffles and want to ensure — not always successfully! — that our family can sit down together to eat. The warm feature on my oven is at 170 degrees. If you don’t have one, you can just set the oven manually.
As the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension notes, most hot foods can be held for about 15 to 20 minutes in an oven set to 200 to 250 degrees. Any longer and you’ll want to use a food thermometer to make sure the food is at a safe temperature of 140 degrees or above. Also: “Keeping foods hot for extended periods (more than a couple of hours) may reduce the quality of the food,” it says.
See if your cooktop is equipped with a warming (or warmer) zone. “The purpose of the warmer zone is to keep hot, cooked foods at serving temperature,” according to Frigidaire, noting that this burner, which should not be used for heating cold food, is ideal for vegetables, gravies, casseroles, soups, stews, breads, pastries and oven-safe plates.
Keep-warm functions on small appliances such as slow-cookers and multicookers are great, too, as they are programmed to ensure the food is kept at a safe temperature. Even if you’re not cooking food in the appliance, you can transfer it there to hold. I’ve done this with warm beverages and mashed potatoes around the holidays. My Washington Post colleague G. Daniela Galarza has a pop-up toaster with a keep-warm setting, too.
Bridge or sync burner on the stovetop. One of the more annoying things about the coil-style electric cooktop I had in my previous condo was trying to stretch a long griddle over two burners. So I was thrilled to see that the oven in the house we bought has a ceramic top that features a bridge burner function. This means I can place a large griddle or pot, such as my oval Dutch oven, across two burners and have it heat in the space between them, too. Some casserole dishes or roasting dishes can be used there as well.
On my range, the bridge burner is controlled on the same knob as one of the individual burners, which means I have to take care not to accidentally turn on the filler when I only want a single burner.
Washington Post food editor Joe Yonan says his induction cooktop features a sync burner capability, which is slightly different. This allows you to control the temperature of two burners at a time so they’re the same, though it won’t heat up the space between them — not a huge concern if you’re using a good piece of cookware that will eventually heat evenly across the entire surface.
Express or quick wash on the dishwasher. My parents recently sang the praises of the express-wash function on their dishwasher. As Whirlpool explains, “Using more water, energy and heat for fast results, a quick wash cycle, sometimes called a 1-Hour Wash, can be completed in around an hour depending on your dishwasher model. This is a good choice for quickly cleaning up a load of lightly soiled plates, bowls or other essentials you need in a hurry.”
For my parents, a two-person household with not a lot of very dirty dishes, this often makes sense. I’ve also had times — pre-pandemic, anyway — when I’ve had guests and have needed a quick wash turnaround before the next meal. Keep in mind that the express wash may not include a drying cycle, in which case you’d need to select that option if you want it.
Melt on the microwave. I melt a lot of butter for recipe testing, so I was thrilled to see that my new microwave featured a melt option. It runs at a lower power level and allows you to specify how much you’re melting (half or full stick).
I also often melt chocolate in the microwave. As with butter, slow and steady is better, since chocolate that’s overheated can easily be ruined. The reduced heat combined with frequent stirring makes this a relatively mess-free strategy when you don’t want to bother with a double boiler on the stovetop.