Shuttle Chef Thermal Cooker Review
Shuttle Chef slow cooker

Allan and Lindi Rush from Thermal Cookware sent us one of their unique slow cookers to trial and in the process helped further our culinary education.

Always interested in innovative and more efficient methods to prepare a meal on the road we were keen to give it a go.

The tub like apparatus is called a Shuttle Chef and is manufactured by 'Thermos' who most will know as the legendary flask maker who have been around since 1892.

The days of a glass lined inner container surrounded by a metal casing have long gone and today the Shuttle Chef incorporates modern materials technology in a neat, robust package.

What Does It Do

The Shuttle Chef still utilises the same technology as the famous 'Thermos' flask - essentially it's a steel cooking pot that rests inside an insulated outer pot. Partially cooked food is prepared on the stovetop in the steel pot, brought to full temperature, and then placed inside the insulated outer pot. A hinged lid clamps the whole thing sealed and the meal slowly cooks in it's own heat. Simple really, no need to supply any more energy in the form of a flame or electricity. The Shuttle Chef maintains it's own heat for up to 8 hours. It's a plug and play slow cooker.

We spend a lot of time on the road so the attraction for us is the fact that we can prepare a meal in the morning, close up the cooker and be eating a perfectly cooked meal some 8 hours and 800km later without burning another ounce of gas or electricity.

First Impressions

The Shuttle Chef arrived in a neat canvas style bag about the size of a small bucket. A round cutting board, recipe book and DVD with some instructional recipes accompanied the actual cooker. The cutting board was a nice inclusion as it provides a solid base for the cooker to sit on as well as utilising valuable space.

The outer insulating container is a double walled metal cylinder capped with a heavy plastic base and hinged lid. The inner wall is reflective, designed to rebound heat back into the food while the void between the walls uses 'patented vacuum technology', which Thermos claims is currently the best insulator available.

The actual cooking pot - the stainless steel inner container, looks and feels like a quality product from the outset. The weight of the pot is obvious as is the perfectly round form and highly polished finish. Included in the package was a second smaller pot, a Bain Marie, made identically to the main pot and of equal quality. The Bain Marie rests inside the main cooking pot where a serve of rice or vegetables can be prepare in addition to the main meal.

Both cooking pots look good enough to provide service in the kitchen as normal, everyday pots.

Light My Fire

In practise the stainless steel cooking pots proved to be adept performers. The base consists of thick, sandwich layers constructed of stainless and high carbon steels.

The instructions state that the pots can be used on gas or induction stovetops and we assume a camp fire is acceptable as well.

Compared to some expensive, big name stainless pans we use the Shuttle Chef worked every bit as well. Stainless pans require a slightly different cooking technique that require searing meats to 'release' from the metal surface. The pots included with the slow cooker 'released' extremely well, in fact they may be better than our regular pans but that may also reflect their newness.

Heating was quick and even and simmering meals revealed a consistent spread of temperature across the food, a sure indication of quality construction.

The main cooking pot and the Bain Marie both come with fold down hinged handles which don't get overly hot. We handled both pots bare handed from the burner but we must admit our toughened digits are not the hands of a beautician.

The key to cooking in the Shuttle Chef is to get the quantities right and ensuring the heat rises to cooking temperature. The main cooking pot requires filling to 80%. This provides enough mass to maintain heat within the insulated enclosure and ensure thorough cooking. Our first meal was braised lamb shanks and we needed to pre-cook the casserole enough to ensure that the lamb was heated to the bone. After that it is a matter of inserting the cooking pot into the outer pot, closing the lid and forgetting about it. No need to add more heat, stir it or open it up until you're ready to dig in.

This is where the size of the Shuttle Chef plays an important role. We received an RPC 4500 which holds 4.5 litres and seems about right for 2-4 people. Thermal Cookware produce a larger model the RPC 6000 which caters to larger families. The Bain Marie which arrived with the cooker nestles inside the main pot meaning a smaller meal can be prepared with the Bain Marie compensating for the lower mass of a smaller meal. We added some large potatoes to the Bain Marie and cooked them above the lamb shanks to produce some great mashed potato. Electric slow cookers or crock pots cook in a similar way and also only work at their best when they're properly filled.

The Science

Thermos have gone to great pains in their literature to assure people that their products are safe to cook in. The Australian Food Standards state that food temperature must be maintained above 60°C to prevent bacteria from growing. The insulating quality of the Shuttle Chef is so efficient that it only loses 3-4°C an hour meaning that after 6 hours of cooking an RPC 4500 will still hold a temperature of 71°C. Our experience proved that the food was still very hot some 7 hours after going in.

The Proof of the Pudding

- is in the eating, they say, and the Shuttle Chef certainly doesn't disappoint. This little slow cooker produces highly tasty and good looking food straight from the pot.

It is a different cooking method than all other systems including electric slow cookers. Pots that are exposed to constant heat, whether by electric cord or stovetop, continually move the food within the container. They also concentrate heat around the pan surface so that any sauce with surface contact overcooks a little and contributes to the flavour of the meal. The Shuttle Chef does neither of these things and offers a completely different taste. It is a very natural process that allows the individual flavours to combine without a dominant sensation of the meal actually being, how would you say…cooked.

But cooked it definitely is, and properly. It's simply because there hasn't been any simmering movement or subtle burning from the sides of the pan, the meal is rendered differently. Meats are extremely tender without disintegrating while vegetables that have cooked for 7 hours maintain their shape, colour, texture and most importantly taste. It's difficult to accurately describe but it is a unique and very satisfying taste. Without getting pretentious, it is gentle food.

In a Nutshell

The Shuttle Chef proved to be a real winner with us.

The ability to prepare a meal and continue to cook it for extended periods without the need for additional heating or stirring means we can reduce our consumption of cooking fuel dramatically.

The Thermos package is well thought out and well constructed while the pots, which come complete with their own lids, are good enough to use as stand-alone cooking pans. In fact, if you like to keep things simple, the Shuttle Chef could provide all your travelling pot requirements in one package.

Meals prepared in the slow cooker have a unique, healthy and highly flavoured taste. Cleanup of the quality cooking pots is a breeze and everything packs away in a reasonably compact fashion.

We would be cautious about loading the cooker up for a foray into rough 4WD country. A low, stable section in the car and staying on the highway shouldn't see any spills, especially if you are careful not to overload the unit.

The PRC 4500 that landed on our door retails for $289. The 4500 accessory pack which contains the Bain Marie, Carry Bag and a Recipe Book adds another $70. Apparently Thermal Cookware release the odd special that sees the accessory pack thrown in for free. $289 seems like a lot of money when compared to electric crock pots which start around $60. The difference is in the quality of materials and construction and the absolute convenience of being able to cook without a heat source. Consider that the Shuttle Chef can cook cakes and puddings and that it is every bit as efficient when used as a cooler and this slow cooker begins to look like real value. We also see the potential for the caravan fraternity to be able to use it as a small esky or even to defrost foods. Apparently the Shuttle Chef can maintains a temperature below 5°C for the same extended periods.

We can see a Shuttle Chef becoming an absolutely vital piece of our camping artillery. Equally useful for seagoing folk, the caravan brigade and good enough to use at home in place of a conventional slow cooker, this neat little unit has won us over.

Pros
  • Great build quality
  • Pots can be used as regular cooking utensils
  • Dramatically reduces cooking fuel usage
  • Set and Forget cooking
  • Offers a unique cooking style for travellers
  • Great tasting food that holds it's shape and flavour
  • Impossible to burn or overcook
  • Can be used as a cooker or chiller
  • Plenty of accessories
  • 5 year warranty backed by 'Thermos'
Cons
  • Cost
  • Leak proof cooking pots would have been great
  • We hate storing round stuff but have yet to see a workable square saucepan

Some of the recipes we've tried in the Shuttle Chef -

Coffee Braised Lamb Shanks

Chicken Cacciatore

Hot and Sour Pork and Potato Curry with Rice

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