The Best Slow Cookers
How We Found the Best Slow Cooker
29 Promising Slow Cookers
13 Tested Hands-On
2 Top Picks
The Best Slow Cookers
Slow cookers create a lot of home-cooked goodness with very little effort. Whether you “set-it and forget-it” every day or only once a month, your slow cooker should be easy to use and it should cook your food well without burning it. We did the research, spoke with experts, and tested a collection of slow cookers to find the ones that will fit best with your lifestyle — and your kitchen.
How We Chose the Best Slow Cookers
At its heart, the slow cooker is a tool of convenience. It’s a little electric chef that cooks dinner while you’re at work, at soccer practice, or watching football, and the design hasn’t changed much since 1940: an electric base, an insert (or ‘crock’), and a glass lid. By maintaining a low simmer over a long period of time, slow cookers simply heat food slowly. Consumer Reports has even stopped testing them “because there is so little difference in overall cooking performance.”
So to find the best, we focused on convenience. For the avid home chef who slow cooks often, the best slow cooker should be a well-oiled machine that makes food impeccably every time. And if you plan to use it primarily for taking food to events and parties, it should be a super portable appliance that travels as well as it cooks.
Classic, cheap slow cookers are manual, meaning you have to be there to turn it down or off, or it will keep cooking indefinitely. Programmable slow cookers, on the other hand, allow you to set the heat and cook time. When their timer is up they automatically switch to "warm" so that food stops cooking but stays hot and ready to eat. This feature was universally recommended by the experts we consulted, including slow cooker cookbook authors Leigh Anne Wilkes, author of Holiday Slow Cooker, and Cheryl Alters Jamison.
As chef Hugh Acheson puts it in The Chef and the Slow Cooker, “the real key is to find a model with a heavy porcelain or weighty enameled insert” instead of “a crappy aluminum one.” Some of the newer models have metal crocks that can be used for browning on the stovetop, but these tend to heat faster and hotter than traditional stoneware inserts. As a result, it’s harder for the aluminum models to maintain the low and steady heat that is necessary for slow cooking. Ceramic warms up more slowly and retains heat more evenly, which helps to protect against hot spots and uneven or overcooked food.
Six to seven quarts, oval-shaped
Slow cooker users and experts agree that if you only own one, this is the most useful size and shape. An oval-shaped slow cooker can accommodate any dish a circular one can, in addition to whole chickens, larger roasts, and oddly-shaped cuts of meat. Six or seven quarts is enough to feed a mid-size family (4-6 people) or cook larger shareable dishes. Stephanie O’Dea, best-selling blogger and cookbook author, also notes that most recipes are tailored to a six-quart crock.
No unnecessary features
We got rid of any ‘multi-cookers’ with added functions for in-pot browning, searing, and sautéing. According to Cheryl Alters Jamison, the author of Texas Slow Cooker, you often have to swap out the order of ingredients after browning meat, or drain excess grease from the pan, so searing inside the slow cooker doesn’t save time or dirty dishes. We also cut slow cookers with gimmicky features like the digital Crock-Pot iStir. After looking at more than 200 slow cooker recipes, we can tell you that none require stirring except to add an ingredient at the end.
The Best Slow Cookers
- KitchenAid 6 Quart Slow Cooker with Easy Serve Glass Lid -
Best for Frequent Use
- Hamilton Beach Set and Forget 6 Qt Programmable Slow -
Best for Portability
Why we chose it
If your slow cooker is a weekday warrior that lives permanently on the kitchen counter, you should invest a little extra in one that’s sure to cook perfectly every time. Our top pick, the KitchenAid 6 Quart Slow Cooker with Easy Serve Glass Lid, is a thoughtfully designed machine that will cook anything you throw in it to perfection. In our tests, the KitchenAid stood out for having crystal-clear controls that we knew how to program at a glance.
Two pro-grade features
Only two brands, KitchenAid and All-Clad, boast the two essential features of a high-performance, digital slow cooker. One: insulation. America’s Test Kitchen took slow cookers apart to study what makes them tick, and found that an added layer of insulation surrounding its heating element prevents hot spots and therefore overcooked food at the narrow ends of the oval. Slow cookers can be used for anything from chili to baking moist, fluffy cakes — but only if they’re able to cook evenly. Two: internal thermostats. In tests performed by America’s Test Kitchen and Food & Wine Magazine, cookers with internal thermostats constantly tweaked the heat to keep it below boiling. These slow cookers maintained the lowest temperatures, ensuring that food cooked slowly without being overdone.
Ingenius lid design
We loved its hinged, half-opening lid that keeps food warm and saves space on the counter while you serve. The crock also offers large, comfortable handles that make it easy to take out of the base for presentation if you wish to do so. To top it all off, the KitchenAid’s design is simple and sleek, so you won’t mind leaving it on your counter for easy access.
Points to consider
Priced at more than $150, this slow cooker is more expensive than your average model. But its above-average components and performance are well worth the price tag. It’s also about $20 cheaper than the All-Clad, the only slow cooker that can hold a candle to its design and functionality.
Why we chose it
Reliable in the kitchen and on the go
If you attend a lot of potlucks, chili cook-offs, or sporting events, you’ll most likely want a slow cooker that emphasizes portability features. Hamilton Beach Set and Forget 6 Qt Programmable Slow cooks well and travels well. The Set & Forget maintains a low and steady heat, which means it won’t burn your food: After eight hours on low, the Set & Forget only reached 195°F, meaning you can leave this cooker on all day with confidence. And while no portable options offer an internal thermostat like the KitchenAid, Hamilton Beach comes with a probe thermometer – a nice safeguard against over- and undercooked meats.
Spill-proof latching lid
We looked for portable slow cookers with awesome lid-locking systems that were both effective and easy to use. Some brands use chunky front-side locks that were difficult to open and close. Some simply failed at keeping liquid inside. Out of all the portable models we tested, the sturdy lid latches on Hamilton Beach were the best at sealing liquid inside.They hold everything in without spilling a drop so long as you latch both sides at the same time. We also felt safe carrying it while still hot — the plastic handles stay cool to the touch, and its casing won’t scorch your knuckles.
Hassle-free cord storage
We loved slow cookers with a smart way to wrap or stash the cord. It’s awkward (and potentially dangerous) to juggle a dangling cord and a steaming hot cooker at the same time. Hamilton Beach’s cord-wrapping system was the smartest of the bunch.
Points to consider
Better portability features exist
For sheer portability, we actually preferred the features on another model, the Crock Pot Single Hand Cook & Carry. Its large, comfortable handles and rear-wrapping cord were tough to beat, but awesome portability features aren’t worth a lot if the food inside the slow cooker isn’t servable. Crock Pot couldn’t compare with Hamilton Beach’s controlled, even cooking.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Perfect Slow Cooker
Decide on your key features
If a slow cooker means home-cooked goodness that stays in the home, no need to scout for portability features. But if you plan on bringing pulled pork to the barbecue or your award-winning chili to the fair, then your slow cooker has to be built for more than counter use. Once you know what you’re using your slow cooker for, you’ll know which features to prioritize.
Fill them up
Slow cookers work best when they’re about ⅔ to ¾ full. Any less, and food is likely to dry out. However, you don’t need to buy a two- or four-quart cooker in order to make smaller dishes. O’Dea points out that you can place a corningware or other oven-safe dish directly inside the crock to reduce the cooking space for smaller recipes.
Avoid crock-pot cracks
We read lots and lots of user write-ups while making this review, and noticed that broken or cracked crocks are a very common problem. There are a couple ways to avoid “crack-pots” (as they were labeled by one disappointed reviewer).
- Never subject the stoneware crock to abrupt temperature changes, like putting a cold crock into a preheated base, or a hot crock directly into the refrigerator. Consumer Reports notes that a sudden change in temperature can lead to cracks.
- If your slow cooker had a lid-latching mechanism you should never cook with it in the locked position, according to Crock-Pot’s website. The lid must be unlocked allowing a little steam to escape, otherwise too much steam may build up and the unit could break.
Slow Cooker FAQ
What about the best crock pot?
You may be wondering what the difference is between a Crock-Pot and a slow cooker. In fact, they’re the same appliance. Crock-Pot is a brand name for the original slow cookers made by Rival in the 1970s. They were so popular that “Crock-Pot” has become more or less synonymous with “slow cooker.” We tested a few Crock-Pots, but due to their higher-than-average heat, none made it into our top picks.
What should you set the thermometer to?
Slow cookers should hold a very low cooking temperature; Cooking Light puts the simmer point as low as 180 - 190°F. If that temperature goes above the 212°F boiling point, food will overcook and dry out.The USDA recommends these temperatures for food safety: Roasts: 145°F to 160°F; Poultry: 165°F; Soups, stews, sauces: 165°F.
Is it safe to leave my slow cooker on while I’m out of the house?
Yes. Cooking all day while you work is what this appliance was designed to do. These machines are all safety certified by the Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories UL and ETL, so you don’t have to worry about them exploding or starting a house fire. For extra peace of mind, here are a few safety tips from Business Insider:
- Place it on a hard, flat surface at least a few inches away from the wall and other objects
- Keep the top on, but not locked
- Fill it between ⅔ and ¾ full
- Keep it on low, especially if you’ll be out of the house all day
Can I use frozen food or reheat food in my slow cooker?
No. The USDA recommends always thawing food, especially meat, before putting it in the slow cooker. Otherwise it can take too long to rise out of the danger zone (between 41°F and 140°F) and may allow unsafe bacteria to grow in the food. For the same reason, the USDA recommends not reheating food in the slow cooker.
Can I get a slow cooker with a delayed start function?
Again, no. According to the USDA, it is unsafe to leave uncooked food sitting at room temperature for an extended period of time. This is why there are no programmable crock pots with a delayed start function. Instead, invest in a programmable slow cooker that begins heating food right away, but switches to warm automatically when cook time is over.
The Best Slow Cookers: Summed Up
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