My mom caters. She cooks a lot. Her home kitchen is filled with heavy electric and gas appliances that she employs year-round. On Monday morning, I called my mom to ask whether any of her appliances, past or present, have ever exploded into flames. Specifically, I asked all about her approximately 40-year-old Crock-Pot. “What?” she answered, “you’re asking because of This Is Us?” I nodded. “Yeah.”
Here we must get into spoilers for a show I don’t even watch. In a highly anticipated, post–Super Bowl episode of the NBC drama This Is Us, an old, defective slow cooker explodes in the middle of the night, incinerating a house and killing Jack Pearson, a beloved, central character whose death was foretold at the start of the second season. The slow cooker was empty and powered off, but it was plugged into a kitchen wall and some faulty wiring provoked it to combust. It’s all so sad.
Apparently, This Is Us is such an emotionally engrossing show that its fans have, perhaps jokingly, thrown their slow cookers — mostly the classic Crock-Pot brand slow cooker — in the garbage, fearful that the Crock-Pot poses a fire hazard to households everywhere. An estimated 16.2 million viewers watched the most recent episode of This Is Us, and so the show’s explosive insinuations about slow cookers amount to a public panic, the biggest PR disaster in the history of the 47-year-old brand even though no actual, nonfictional people died in this case.
The ongoing Crock-Pot fiasco is the most bizarre kitchen appliance backlash since Sean Hannity persuaded his reactionary audience to demolish their Keurig coffee machines. But Keurigs are for losers who secretly hate coffee, and so I don’t really care whether weirdos ditch their Keurig machines to defend Sean Hannity’s honor among TV advertisers. Crock-Pots are for the people who love carefully cooked food. I want all of us — but especially those of us who toil over braises and stews — to be safe.
I should note that I grew up around a cherished Crock-Pot but don’t own one myself. I’m a millennial. I live in New York. I live a fast life. Naturally, I own and use an Instant Pot — a popular pressure-cooker model with slow-cooker functionality. I trust my Instant Pot but — plot twist — don’t totally trust New York’s electrical infrastructure, which runs through countless rat dens and shoddy apartments, to remain stable and nonviolent even when the lights are off. When dormant, my Instant Pot sits unplugged. When in use, my Instant Pot might go unattended on either setting — pressure cook or slow cook — for 90 minutes, max, but I would never leave it humming unattended through the night. I’d lose sleep. Even if the thing doesn’t explode, I imagine it would fail in some more passive and nonetheless infuriating way, perhaps cooking beyond the timer preset, thus ruining whatever braise I had going. That’s nearly as bad and expensive as an all-consuming house fire. Good meat ain’t cheap!
When I’m cooking at home, I worry mostly about cook times and temperatures and salt; explosions are among the least of my concerns. The Rival Company, which produces the Crock-Pot, is now very eager to explain that there is nothing about slow cookers in general, or the Crock-Pot brand in particular, that suggests an exceptionally high likelihood of combustion. In fact, my mom says the only kitchen appliance that she’s ever watched explode into flames was an old-school stovetop pressure cooker she was using to make collard greens. She tells me there was a leaf caught in the lid and that a bit of steam was escaping through the crack, so she tugged at the leaf to remove it — and that’s when the pot went up in flames on the backburner. Blessedly, no one died. Importantly, my mom didn’t quit cooking due to fear of further explosions.
Life is strange, dangerous, and tasty. I’ve seen a single, bland, and lifeless slice of bread set a toaster oven ablaze. I’ve summoned calamitous fires with a $15 wok. I have staged great fires in my mother’s microwave. Just this past weekend, I nearly engulfed a cassoulet-filled Dutch oven in duck-fat flames. If you’re going to fear death in a modern kitchen, you may as well toss every piece of hardware apart from the kitchen sink.