An appliance that combines slow cooking, baking, browning, and roasting all in one machine sounds like a dream come true. Does the Ninja 3-in-1 Cooking System live up to the hype? Here are test results and a review from a home cook.
Using the Ninja 3-in-1 Cooking System
Being able to bake, roast, steam, and slow-cook all using the same unit is a pretty cool concept. The Ninja 3-in-1 Cooking System does live up to its claims for the most part, albeit perhaps not in the exact way to which you are accustomed.
This appliance functions best as a roaster. If the price were less, it could be recommended for that purpose alone. It works great for roasting chickens, beef, pork, and lamb without heating up the kitchen and uses much less energy. Most of all, clean-up is a dream, you don't even need to use your dishwasher.
The stove-top mode just doesn't get hot enough to replace a skillet without adding cooking time. The steam-bake function works well, but some people would use that rarely. It can't compete with a traditional oven for baked goods as space is limited, necessitating smaller batches and equipment.
The one-pot meal options, using a layering effect with the rack, are just okay. Due to the nature of the design, whatever is on the bare bottom (under the rack) is going to get brown and crusty. This can be fine for some foods, like potatoes and casseroles, but doesn't work as well for pasta dishes with the protein layered on the rack.
If you're thinking of replacing your slow cooker with the Ninja, you have to consider the vent-hole, which allows moisture to escape. It does the job as a slow cooker but may need a watchful eye to be sure you don't lose too much moisture with some traditional crockpot recipes. This defeats the purpose of setting and forgetting. On the other hand, if you like your roasts well done, use the rack and let it go. When using the rack, you won't have to worry about the bottom getting too crusty, and you won't get that boiled texture as with a crockpot. Be forewarned that you may notice a burning smell as the juices drip to the bottom, evaporate, and burn. Good thing clean-up is a snap.
- Measurements: 18 inches in length including handles, 13 1/2 inches in width including knobs, 12 inches tall with lid on.
- Function dial switches between Stovetop, Slow Cook, and Oven allowing browning, sauteeing, slow cooking, steam cooking, baking, or roasting.
- Allows easy cleanup, with a non-stick interior surface. Apple juice completely evaporated and burnt to a crisp in the bottom lifted right out. Use non-stick plastic or silicone utensils.
- Includes a fine-mesh chrome roasting rack with handles, which is also surprisingly easy to clean, even with blackened, burnt bits.
- Use as a mini-oven during hot seasons to avoid heating up the kitchen, much like a stand-alone roaster.
- Can brown foods in the same base pot as roasting, baking, or slow-cooking, thus saving cleaning time.
- Browning meats and poultry will naturally reduce cooking time, so keep this in mind when converting your favorite recipes to this unit.
- Removable roasting pan is lightweight, unlike heavy slow cooker crocks.
- The entire unit is lightweight, about 6 pounds.
- Unlike a sealed crockpot, the lid contains a small vent-hole. This is beneficial for roasting meats, as it helps avoid that "boiled" texture common with crockpots.
- Steam roasting is optimum for fish, seafood, vegetables, and puddings.
- When roasting, the temperature gauge toggles into a timer.
- Stovetop settings are Low, Medium, and High. Medium is suggested for sauteeing vegetables, while High is for browning.
- Lid handle stays cool to the touch.
- When steaming, plan on a cup of water lasting about 10 minutes before evaporating. You may need to replenish water often with some recipes. Water must not come higher than the bottom of the roasting rack.
- Base roasting pan is dishwasher safe, however, the roasting rack and lid are not. But they are easy to clean by hand.
- The unit may be used as a buffet server to keep foods warm for 30 minutes up to 12 hours.
- 8-inch square glass baking dishes will fit the cooking pan and rack. Small, toaster-oven size foil baking pans will fit. Most 9-inch loaf pans are fine. There is a listing of miniature baking accessories with sizes that will fit.
- A small cookbook with 25 recipes is included. The Ninja website package includes a larger recipe book with more than 150 recipes, although the price is higher than retail outlets. There is also a limited collection of recipes on the website. Some recipes are also included for making an entire meal in the unit, such as a main dish, side dish, and vegetable.
- Ninja Helpline is available for questions.
- The exterior of the unit gets very hot when in use. Be careful not to bump into it.
- There is no buzzer, beeper, chime, or any other auditory sound when the timer runs out. In the bake mode, the heat will turn off after about 60 seconds. In slow-cook mode, it will automatically switch to a warm setting.
- As with crockpot recipes, in order to get any color on the food, it must be browned first.
- Placing the roasting rack into the hot base, and removing it, is awkward due to the handle design on the rack. You will need silicone oven mitts to avoid getting burned.
- Although the manual says no pre-heating is required, the stovetop High setting took a very long time to get hot. You may have to resort to using the oven setting at 425 F. for browning. Even so, it will not get as hot as a skillet, so browning will take longer than the traditional skillet method.
- Foods will get quite browned and crunchy when cooked directly in the base pan without the roasting rack. This is due to the roasting pan resting directly on the heating unit. This can be detrimental to some roasts, so it may be best to use the roasting rack inside the pan for meats. However, it is a positive feature for those who like brown, crunchy-edged vegetables or macaroni and cheese.
- When slow-cooking and steam-roasting, you may need to add water because the vent-hole allows moisture to escape. This can be a nagging babysitting ordeal with some recipes.
- The unit must be used on an open counter due to the vent-hole. Do not use it pushed back under overhead cabinets and be sure the vent-hole in the lid is facing outward.
- Baked desserts must be inverted to show any color or choose recipes that will be frosted with icing or topped in some manner to cover pale tops.
- When baking cupcakes, individual silicone baking cups must be used in order to fit the rack. There is a maximum of six cupcakes at a time, which could mean multiple batches for most standard recipes.
- Largest baking pan to fit roasting rack is 9-by-8 inches; without the rack, the size is 10-by-8 inches.
- Maximum width is 8 inches, so a pie pan will not fit.
- When trying some of the recipes in the cookbooks, many needed cooking time adjustments, both up and down.
The Bottom Line
Overall, the unit performs as advertised, with the caveats listed above. Use it as a roaster, but know that you may not give up your skillets or crockpot anytime soon. The other options are nice, but may not work as well as you expect.