Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Vita-Chef: A review

When a package arrived on my doorstep from Vitachef, I was pretty impressed. Dubbed the Healthy Lifestyle Cooking System, this beast performs the functions of an electric skillet, steamer, slow cooker, roaster, and indoor smoker.

The world probably doesn't need another slow cooker. I was much more interested in the other functions.

It's a skillet

An electric skillet is meant to replace a skillet, with a wide surface and relatively shallow sides that makes it easy to flip your food over. Yup, this puppy does that perfectly well in the bottom pan. The pan heats quickly and you can get a good sear on meats. Or turn the heat down for more gently cooking. It does its job really well. If you can do it in a skilled or frying pan, you can do it in this pan, including poaching, stir frying, and shallow frying.

As far as steaming, you'd place the steamer insert (the one with the long handle) on top of that bottom pan, add water, then add the food you want to steam. If you're steaming a lot of food or tall/bulky food, like crab legs, you can add the ring to the top of the steamer insert to expand the amount of space you have.

Smoking

For smoking, you'd use the same setup as for steaming, but without water, and with dry wood chips in the bottom pan.

The instruction manual didn't have any information on smoking, but I found instructions on the manufacturer's website. Unlike my stove top smoker, this uses dry wood chips, which means the prep time is a lot shorter since you don't need to soak the chips for the usual 20 minutes.

I was a little bit skeptical about using dry wood, cranking the heat to 400 degrees, and cooking fish for 20 minutes. I was a little afraid that I'd end up with fire, billows of thick smoke, and dry, overcooked fish. What I got was gentle smoke - yes, is smelled a little smoky in the house, but it didn't get foggy or hazy. It wasn't unpleasant at all, and no smokier than my stovetop smoker.

I cooked some tilapia, and after 20 minutes the two thin filets were nicely cooked, still moist, and they had a gently smoky flavor. The wood seemed barely burned. Hmmm. Interesting.

I've yet to try smoking anything for a longer period of time, but I don't see any reason why it wouldn't work. So, yes, it does work well as a smoker.

Slow Cooking

Slow cookers have higher sides, so you can toss in a roast or other bulky items. This has a ring that you can place on top so you can cook taller foods. So it works as a slow cooker for braising. If you wanted to fill it with liquid (for example, for making a large batch of soup), you wouldn't be able to do that. But it still holds quite a bit of liquid in that bottom pan, so you could make a decent amount of soup or sauce.

Since I use my slow cooker quite often for making stock, I don't think this could completely replace the slow cooker. But it comes close. And it performs additional functions, which is cool.

You can roast or bake in this, and it has a glass lid with a vent hole that fits all the pieces. The thermostat   goes from 200 to 400 degrees with a "warm" setting below 200, so you've got a wide range of temperatures.

All the cooking parts are dishwasher safe, but it's easy enough to wash by hand. It's all non-stick coated, so nothing sticks. My dishwasher doesn't easily accommodate pieces like this, so it's good that it cleans up so well.

The final verdict

I have to say that this has done everything it has claimed to do, but like any such appliance, its ultimate usefulness is going to depend on where you keep it. Store it in a place that's inconvenient to get to, and you probably won't pull it out very often. Keep it on your counter, and you'll probably use it regularly. Maybe even every day.

And if it's the only thing you've got to cook with - like in a dorm room - you'd get a LOT of use out of it. I wish I would have had this thing when my stove decided to suicide. There's not much I couldn't manage to cook in this.

I received this product from the manufacturer for the purpose of a review.
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