"Hold on, I'm updating the firmware on my Crock-Pot®"
Those were words I never expected to pass my lips, but they did during the setup of the new Belkin WeMo-enabled Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker (US$129.99). This kitchen appliance is one of a duo from Crock-Pot and Mr. Coffee that are hitting the market, providing a way to control your slow cooker or your coffeemaker from your iPhone. The two devices were first teased to the public at CES 2014 in January, and the Crock-Pot is the first to make it to market.
As this device doesn't really fit into our regular review categories, I thought I'd test it the best way I know how -- making pulled pork sandwiches. This involves throwing pork loin, sliced onions, and tangy barbecue sauce into a slow cooker to be cooked for hours over low heat, eventually creating succulent and tender pulled pork that's served up on a bun with a side of cole slaw.
What makes the Smart Slow Cooker different from your run-of-the-mill "dumb" slow cooker? Belkin WeMo connectivity. I've discussed other WeMo products on TUAW for years, and have a lot of fun automating lights, fans, even an outdoor fountain with switches and motion detectors. While food safety common sense requires you to pretty much start cooking your food in the Crock-Pot as soon as it's put into the big (6 quart) stoneware dish, the idea behind this product is that you can set the temperature and food timer from your iPhone. If you're going to be late getting home to finish cooking, you can easily reduce the temperature remotely or switch the Crock-Pot to its "warm" setting.
Belkin has made setting up the Crock-Pot a breeze. Since I already have other WeMo devices, I already had the free app on my iPhone. I plugged in the Crock-Pot, and immediately the Wi-Fi symbol began flashing red to indicate that it was ready to be set up. Opening Settings > Wi-Fi on my iPhone, I connected to the Crock-Pot's Wi-Fi network, and once I found the device in the WeMo app, it was ready to receive my Wi-Fi network information.
Once that was complete, the Wi-Fi symbol turned green, and the device was on my home network. Almost immediately I was notified of an update to the Crock-Pot's firmware, which was installed with a tap.
Early this morning I loaded up the Crock-Pot with the necessary ingredients to make my juicy and delicious pulled pork sandwiches, then pulled out my iPhone to set the temperature and cooking time. Note that you can manually set the temperature by just tapping a button on the Crock-Pot, but since I wanted to set a timer I used the app instead.
As you can see in the slideshow accompanying this post, the controls tell you how long the meal has been cooking, when it's expected to be done, and what temperature the Crock-Pot is currently at. You can change the temperature or even turn the device all the way off if you expect to be home soon.
Of course this is a first-generation device, but I would love to see a future version that would include refrigeration to keep ingredients cold until a later starting time, a webcam to view the cooking food, and a way to remotely give the ingredients a stir every once in a while. As it is, I love the fact that if I'm away from my home for a while and can't make it home on time, I can tweak the temperature of the Crock-Pot or even shut it down.
The world of connected devices keeps growing, now with the addition of a standard kitchen appliance to the long list of devices that can be remotely controlled, monitored or programmed from your iPhone. Crock-Pot and Belkin have teamed up to teach an old classic new tricks with the Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker, and for a first-of-its-kind product, they've done a fantastic job.
Rating: 4 stars out of 4 stars possible