The internet-of-things is actually starting to turn into the internet-of-everything. Before long, almost everything can be accessed or operated through an app and mobile device. Naturally, some products are better-fit for remote operation than others.
One of the latest “smart” appliances to hit the household is Belkin’s WeMo Crock-Pot, which is available now. You get all the crock-pot goodness, but with the added wireless capability to change temperatures and set timers. Leave the house and tweak how dinner cooks? Could it be too good to be true? Well, Belkin sent me a unit to check out and help people decide.
(Click photos for larger images)
Looking at the Belkin WeMo Crock-Pot, you wouldn’t think anything of it except that it looks like a standard 6-quart crock-pot. It easily blends in with all the other crock-pots you might see while shopping online or in store. What makes the Belkin WeMo one stand out is the built-in wireless connectivity, of course.
The black ceramic pot sits within the stainless steel body, with enough lip at the edges for a good grip when lifting it out. Although the ceramic is as heavy as most other pots I’ve used, the cooker itself is lighter than it looks.
If you’ve ever owned an older model of crock-pot, you’ll immediately feel the difference when lifting and moving the Belkin WeMo Crock-Pot around. I especially like the deep-set handles that let fingers dig in and hold.
Much like most modern crock-pots, the glass lid has a pair of holes in it. While some may prefer older crock-pots without hole-y lids, I absolutely prefer the holes. Lids with holes won’t bubble up and clatter with excess pressure, releasing both steam and heat. This adds to the cooking time. A good crock-pot won’t lose much (if any) moisture through the venting holes anyway. I do like how the lid handle is roomy to allow all fingers to grasp around it. I’ve had some so narrow to effectively stick a pair of digits through.
There isn’t much remarkable about the Belkin WeMo Crock-Pot, except that it allows the power cord to tuck within itself for storage. It also has rubber feet on the bottom to prevent slipping, much like any respectable crock-pot would. Although the heating element is below the ceramic, the lining does well to distribute it evenly around the edges of the pot.
Since most of the timer functions are provided by the WeMo app, the crock-pot itself needs only a single button. This is sufficient to cycle temperatures between warm, low, and high. The only other significant marking on the face is a LED-backed wireless signal that shows connectivity (or not). The Belkin WeMo Crock-Pot is absolutely usable with or without a connected network or mobile app. So fear not if your router has died and needs to be replaced.
Belkin WeMo App
This crock-pot has been enhanced with wireless connectivity via mobile app. This might seem strange to those who haven’t really cooked using a crock-pot that much. Trust me when I say it’s more useful than one might think. Not only does the app control temperature and timers, but you can change settings remotely. So instead of having to wait X minutes to set the crock-pot’s temperature from high to low, you can leave the house and do what you need to.
Connecting the Belkin WeMo Crock-Pot to your home network is easy. If you have Sprint, turn off the blasted intelligent network optimizer for this part. It’ll continually disconnect you from the crock-pot’s internal wireless while you’re trying to set everything up. The connection process is quick and takes only a couple of steps. Once your crock-pot has been shown the home network, you can use the app on 3G, 4G, and any other wireless connection.
Although the Belkin WeMo app controls other Belkin products, I’m only covering the crock-pot features. If you understand how to work a crock-pot, the app explains itself. You can cycle the temperature settings, set a timer (in 15-minute intervals), and hit the start button. Done. That’s it! You can keep track of your cooking without standing there to babysit. Manual changes on the actual crock-pot are reflected within the app. The app also keeps track of how long it’s been on the current temperature setting, which resets each time you switch the temperature.
Now, if you’re worried about other people (e.g. neighbors, drive-by mobile miscreants, etc.) accessing your WeMo Crock-Pot and ruining dinner, don’t be. The appliance only broadcasts its wireless network during set-up, until you have connected it to the home network. Once that’s done, scan all you like and you’ll never see it pop up in the list of available wireless connections. Until you remove or reset it, of course.
Firmware updates are common and much appreciated. It’s good to know that Belkin seeks to continually improve what they make, even if you can’t tell by outward appearances. These updates (of which I’ve had a few so far) can take up to 10 minutes, so plan accordingly.
Naturally, all the fancy schmancy, app-driven tech features don’t mean squat if the Belkin WeMo Crock-Pot can’t cook. Although marketing may tout its wireless ability much, to me it’s still a kitchen tool first. I’m totally serious about my food. A quality crock-pot should produce perfect results on all settings – you might be surprised at how many that don’t.
In order to test how well the Belkin WeMo Crock-Pot performed, I poured four liters of water in it and measured the temperature every five minutes using thermometers. No cooking. Just numbers and heat. I did this for the low, high, and warm settings.
At my room-temperature starting point of 77 degrees (Fahrenheit), it took the crock-pot two hours to reach 165 degrees for both low and high. That’s the magic number to ensure food safety for cooking meats. Up until that point, both temperature settings increased equally. They diverge around two and a half hours.
On low, the Belkin WeMo Crock-Pot peaks right under 210 degrees. The high-setting peak measured at 213; my thermometers may have been slightly off. The water only had a dozen or so tiny bubbles appearing at any given time. To me, that’s right on the line of boiling point for water (212 degrees Fahrenheit). Regardless, the water did not actively move or boil, which means Belkin succeeds.
You absolutely do not want to own a crock-pot that will boil your food, since you may also find burnt bits around the bottom edges of the ceramic. Not only does it alter flavor profiles, but it makes cleaning more involved than it should be.
While I would have liked to see the low temperature setting peak around 200 degrees, 210 is just fine. If you have a crock-pot that doesn’t max past 190 degrees on low, send it back. You want a slow-cooker, not a poacher.
Once the Belkin WeMo Crock-Pot has been set to warm, you can expect a gradual decrease in temperature until it holds right at 170 degrees. Throughout the testing, no discernable water vapor escaped through the lid holes. Any loss of water was negligible, since the water level measured the same as what went in.
No one gets a crock-pot just to poke around with water and graph numbers. So dinners involved beef shoulder, pork loin, and spaghetti sauce, all from the Belkin WeMo Crock-Pot. Once served, the beef only required a knife to make bite-sized morsels, and the pork separated with just a fork. I couldn’t have asked for better results. But the favorite, by far, was the spaghetti sauce. I was told that the melding of flavors was “the best yet”, though I’m sure the test subjects (family) are biased. Nonetheless, my method of spaghetti sauce (which is also great as pizza sauce, homemade) is so good that I’ll share it.
First, start browning a pound of ground beef over medium heat. While that’s going, crack open a beer, chug half, then nurse the rest of it as you slice mushrooms (~4oz.), chop peppers (one each red and green bell), dice tomato (2-3 medium ones), and mince garlic (about two tablespoons worth) and onion (half of a medium yellow one). Drain as much grease as you can from the beef. Open another beer. Now toss the onions, garlic, and some fresh-ground pepper into the beef. Cook until fragrant (a couple minutes), then put everything from the pan into the crock-pot (set on low). Following the beef mixture goes: a jar of store-bought spaghetti sauce (any), a half-can of sliced black olives (drained), a can of tomato paste, and those prepped vegetables. You should almost be done with the current beer by now, so be sure to grab another along with Worcestershire sauce from the fridge.
Put 1-2 tablespoons of Worcestershire into the crock-pot. Then you’ll want a teaspoon of red pepper flakes, 3-4 bay leaves, a tablespoon of parsley flakes, rosemary (8-inch branch fresh, or one tablespoon dry), and a vigorous shaking of roasted garlic & red bell pepper spice (McCormick brand, way better than plain salt, but use salt if you don’t have this magical flavoring). Throw a fat pad of butter in there too (just do it). Measure out two, eight-ounce glasses of red wine (old vine Zin preferred); dump one into the crock-pot and drink the other. Refreshing! Chase it down with the rest of your beer (if it still exists). Stir everything until mixed, cover the pot with the lid, and grab another beer before leaving the kitchen. Find some place comfortable to kick back and relax for 5+ hours, getting up only for more beer or the call of nature. A mini-fridge for beer, in the bathroom, will streamline this process.
So there you have it. If the Belkin WeMo Crock-Pot didn’t have remote operation, it would still be a fantastic choice due to excellence in cooking performance. Being able to change temperatures and set timers without having to physically be there adds a benefit (more or less, depending, from person to person). My smartphone serves as my clock, alarm, and timer, so the WeMo app fits right in with my lifestyle. And there’s no buttons or LCD screens to break/damage on the crock-pot itself.
While some may not agree with me, I prefer the lightweight design of this Belkin crock-pot. It makes it easier to move and store. The only nitpick I have is that there is not that big a difference between the high and low temperatures. I would like to have seen the low setting peak out at around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. When it comes to cost, some may balk at the price. If you’re on a serious budget, then opting for a non-wireless choice makes sense. But considering that a crock-pot should last over a decade of use (easily), we’re talking about the difference of pocket-change on a monthly basis.