The Best Slow Cooker
The Best Slow Cookers can 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 hours of 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.
A best-in-class slow cooker designed to cook your food evenly and on time — no undercooked or burned meals here. Superior inner workings and a wonderfully simple control panel make this an easy top pick.
With its sturdy, spill-proof design and reliable low heat, this slow cooker both cooks well and travels well. This is our top pick for on-the-go users.
The Best Slow Cooker
- KitchenAid 6 Quart Slow Cooker with Easy Serve Glass Lid -
- Hamilton Beach Set and Forget 6 Qt Programmable Slow -
Best for Portability
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, watching football — wherever you’d rather be than in the kitchen. Our goal was to figure out what makes one slow cooker better at its job than another. We found two answers to this question, depending on what type of convenience is most important to you. 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. But if you plan to use it primarily for taking food to events and parties, then it should be a super portable appliance that travels as well as it cooks.
Our top pick, the KitchenAid 6-Quart Slow Cooker, is a thoughtfully designed machine that will cook anything you throw in it to perfection. It’s one of only two slow cooker brands we found that uses insulated heating and internal temperature monitoring to ensure low, steady heat. As a result, it’s guaranteed to cook food evenly without overdoing it. In our tests, the KitchenAid stood out for having crystal-clear controls that we knew how to program at a glance. We loved its hinged, half-opening lid that keeps food warm and saves space on the counter while you serve. The crock 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. At $160, this slow cooker is more expensive than your average model. But its above-average components and performance are well worth the price tag.
If the slow cooker isn’t a permanent installation in your kitchen, then we recommend the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget. This slow cooker is geared towards people who are constantly on the go. Out of all the portable models we tested, its sturdy lid latches were the best at sealing liquid inside. The Set & Forget can be sloshed and tipped without fear of anything leaking out. 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. The Set & Forget maintains a lower temperature than other portable cookers, which means it won’t burn your food. As a bonus, this is the only slow cooker we found that includes a probe thermometer setting to monitor heat and prevent overcooked meats. For a slow cooker that will cook well and travel without hassle, the Set & Forget is a great choice. And at $60 (less than half the price of KitchenAid) it’s an easier investment for someone who doesn’t use their slow cooker multiple times per week.
How We Found the Best Slow Cooker
Slow cookers are simple machines whose design hasn’t changed much since 1940. They all look alike, with an electric base, an insert (or ‘crock’), and a glass lid. And they all operate by maintaining a low simmer over a long period of time. Because slow cooker technology is so simple, any slow cooker can achieve the same core function — heat food slowly. Consumer Reports has even stopped testing them “because there is so little difference in overall cooking performance.”
Yet there’s still a deluge of slow cookers on the market, all with various features that aim to appeal to slightly different audiences. So, how do you know which features you should be looking for? And do any actually cook food better?
In order to answer these questions, we spent hours researching product specs, reading user writeups, and testing slow cookers ourselves to figure out what — if anything — makes a slow cooker “the best.”
Multi-Cookers Need Not ApplyFor this review we focused solely on slow cookers. If you’re looking for an InstantPot-style appliance that can also pressure cook, steam, and more, check out our review of The Best Pressure Cooker.
We set some initial standards for convenience and good cooking.
A slow cooker should make cooking more convenient. The whole philosophy behind these appliances is that you can dump in ingredients before work and have a homemade meal waiting when you get home. Set n’ forget, right? A really great slow cooker should also cook food evenly without creating “hot spots” that burn food around the edges.
To determine which features lead to convenience and better-cooking, we dug into slow cooker specs and sought expert advice. Based on that research, we learned that the best slow cookers would meet the following standards:
The original slow cookers were all manual, meaning they had a dial that could could be set to "high," "low," or "warm," and nothing else. These are still popular because of their low price tag (some are under $20), but they don’t quite allow you to “set and forget.” You must be present to turn the machine to "off" or "warm," otherwise it will continue cooking indefinitely and food dry out or burn. 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.
6- to 7-Quart Oval
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.
Fill 'Em UpSlow 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.
We brought in 13 candidates to pit against each other.
We found a total of 29 slow cookers that met our three criteria. Then we went ahead and trimmed that list down to only the most promising players.
First, we got rid of any ‘multi-cookers’ with added functions for in-pot browning, searing, and sautéing. We spoke with Cheryl Alters Jamison, the author of Texas Slow Cooker, and she explained why this feature isn’t necessary. 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. Our verdict: Brown or sear meat first to improve its flavor, but don’t pay on average $60 extra to do it in the same pot.
"A multi-cooker is not as all-inclusively fabulous as it might sound."
We also cut slow cookers with gimmicky features like the Crock-Pot iStirTM. After looking at over 200 slow cooker recipes, we can tell you that none require stirring except to add an ingredient at the end. So we don’t recommend paying an extra $20 for a built-in stirring mechanism on your Crock-Pot. It’s not worth it.
After weeding out multi-cookers and unnecessary features, we ended up with a list of 13 slow cookers we wanted to test in person. This group represented every brand and major feature on our list. We wanted to know which cookers could go beyond ‘good’ and take slow cooking to the next level. We also wondered if any would surprise us with shortcomings. This is where we came to a fork in the road.
We sorted our candidates into two camps: Portable and Performance slow cookers.
We discovered a divide between two important attributes: convenience and perfect cooking. Because so many people take their slow cookers on the go, we knew that portability was an important part of convenience. We also knew from user reviews that people often struggle with hot spots and overheated cookers, so we wanted safeguards against these issues. We ended up with some slow cookers that have great portability features, and some that truly maintain low and even heat all the time. Unfortunately, we didn’t find a machine that could do both things perfectly.
Depending on what you’ll use your slow cooker for most often, your search should be geared towards one category or the other. 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. 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.
We looked for insulation and internal thermostats to ensure top-notch performance.
Insulation means even cooking.
America’s Test Kitchen did some of the dirty work for us, actually taking slow cookers apart and studying what makes them tick. Their top pick had an added layer of insulation surrounding its heating element. This extra layer acted as a buffer between the crock and heating element to prevent hot spots. Models without it tended to overcook food at the narrow ends of the oval, where heat is more concentrated.
We called every manufacturer on our list to ask whether they use insulation. Only two did: KitchenAid and All-Clad, which explains why they produced the most evenly cooked results in professional kitchen tests.
Thermostats prevent overcooking.
Internal thermostats work to maintain a steady simmer. 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.
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.
We did our research and, yet again, KitchenAid and All-Clad were the only two brands with this feature. One of our cookers did offer an external thermometer. The Hamilton Beach Set and Forget with Probe can be programmed to switch to ‘warm’ once the thermometer detects a certain temperature. This method isn't as foolproof as an internal thermostat, but it does help to prevent overcooked meats.
We tested portability features to find the most travel-worthy slow cookers.
Latching lids should prevent chili spills.
We looked for portable slow cookers with awesome lid-locking systems that were both effective and easy to use. Some brands, like Elite and Bella, used chunky front-side locks that were difficult to open and close. Some simply failed at keeping liquid inside. We liked the locks on Hamilton Beach’s Set & Forget and Crock-Pot’s Cook and Carry with a few reservations. The Set & Forgets lid locks work perfectly, but only if you latch both sides at the same time. The Cook and Carry was a tossup — sometimes it held everything in without losing a drop, but sometimes we tipped it and water poured out from under the lid. Unlike our easy solution for the Hamilton Beach, we couldn’t figure out a trick to keeping the Cook and Carry sealed.
Cool-touch handles make for safe carrying.
We were pleased to find that all the handles we tested stayed touchably cool. However, some of their designs were much more comfortable to carry than others. For instance, Hamilton Beach’s handles felt awkward. They’re small, solid, and have lid clasps right in the center so you can’t really get a good grip. Crock-Pot’s Cook & Carry, on the other hand, has spacious side handles. They are wide enough for a comfortable grip, and allow generous space between your hand and the pot.
Cord storage reduces hassle.
We loved the slow cookers with a smart way to wrap or stash their cord. It’s awkward (and potentially dangerous) to juggle a dangling cord and a steaming hot cooker at the same time. Cord storage on the bottom of the unit was incredibly hard to maneuver with a full crock, making it basically useless. On the flip side, Crock-Pot’s Cook & Carry had cord-wrapping on the back, which was wonderfully hassle-free. We even looked at some with retractable cords, but none had locking lids so they were out of the running for portability.
Easy-to-use controls are important.
We got rid of slow cookers with poor or unintuitive programming. One model could only be set to two, four, six, or eight hours, which sacrifices a lot of wiggle room for recipe tweaking and time setting. Another had only a single dial for setting both time and temperature. It was unmarked and totally confusing to program. We kept only the cookers with clear, easy settings that didn’t send us running for the manual.
What we found.
After making cuts for poor portability features and controls, we were left with two contenders: Crock-Pot’s Cook & Carry, and Hamilton Beach’s Set & Forget. Crock-Pot stood out for its awesome handles and thoughtful cord-wrapping design; Hamilton Beach’s handles were uncomfortable, and its cord storage was not ideal. However, the Set & Forget won us over for having the best locking mechanism of the bunch.
Our Picks for the Best Slow Cooker
If you’re looking for a top-notch slow cooker that will deliver excellent results, we recommend the KitchenAid Slow Cooker with Easy Serve Lid. We can tell KitchenAid put care into making a reliable appliance that would cook food evenly and to the perfect temperature every time. The thoughtfulness of its construction coupled with the simplicity of its design makes cooking easier and ensures that the end result will be more satisfying.
KitchenAid promises great performance, and that claim is backed up by its well-designed components. Our favorite feature is the internal thermostat, which constantly monitors and tweaks temperature to keep the contents at a low simmer. Among the countless user reviews we read, the most common complaint was that slow cookers made in recent years run much too hot. We can’t imagine anything worse than coming home expecting a delicious hot meal, only to find something charred and inedible in the slow cooker. KitchenAid’s thermostat feature prevents this from happening.
Taking quality construction one step further, the KitchenAid is built with insulation around its heating element. A layer of insulation in the base protects the crock from developing hot spots. This is especially important if you use your slow cooker often and want to put it to work on a variety of tasks. Slow cookers can be used for anything from chili to baking moist, fluffy cakes — but only if they’re able to cook evenly. Hot spots aren’t a huge problem with soups and other very liquid meals, but once you start making more delicate dishes (for example, strata) they can make or break the meal. Because of its insulation and thermostat, the KitchenAid can do it all.
KitchenAid also offers an “Easy Serve Lid” for their slow cooker, which we love. In her interview, Cheryl Jamison pointed out that hinged lids or lids that open halfway are a great addition. As opposed to a large, unwieldy glass top that comes all the way off, a lid that you can leave on the pot saves space on the table and helps retain some heat while you’re serving. Unfortunately, the KitchenAid is not ideal for transport. It has no lid latches, and its handles are too small to easily carry; they leave your hand uncomfortably close to the hot exterior of the pot. This model works best as a stay-at-home slow cooker.
Let’s circle back for a moment to KitchenAid’s only real opponent, the All-Clad. KitchenAid took home the gold for its simple, easy-to-use controls that we loved in testing. Its large buttons are clearly labeled and satisfying to press. The All-Clad, in its quest to look sleek, has small metal buttons that are uncomfortable to push and a display that is harder to read. Its ultra-reflective exterior coupled with the gray lettering make its labels obscure from any angle other than straight-on.
All-Clad’s slow cooker is also less intuitive to program, with labels that aren’t as straightforward as KitchenAid’s. When we cycled through All-Clad’s settings we came to a flashing ‘Low / High’ that we didn’t understand, and wasn’t explained in the manual. When we stopped pressing buttons, it beeped at us for reasons that we couldn't decipher. To top this off, the All-Clad has a heavy, solid glass lid and no easy place to store it. (Did we mention how much we liked the Easy Serve Lid?).
And on top of everything else, the KitchenAid is simply a better price. It goes for $160 on KitchenAid.com (but we’ve seen it as low as $120 on Amazon), while the All-Clad is $180. For the same features (insulation and thermostat) and a more user-friendly design, we think the KitchenAid is a much better pick.
Best for Portability
Hamilton Beach and Crock-Pot went head-to-head for this title. Both slow cookers had some boons and some big drawbacks. Crock Pot’s portability features were honestly our favorite. However, we picked the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget because we don’t value portability features on their own. The Best Slow Cooker, in our books, should be one that marries portability with great cooking ability — and that’s what we found in the Set & Forget.
First, here’s what we loved about Crock-Pot: The Cook & Carry’s handles are superb. Its cord-wrapping system was the smartest of the bunch. And the Single Hand carry feature is a nice touch, allowing you to lift the crock with one hand and leave the other free. This cooker was a breeze to move around and super comfortable to handle. If ease of transport is your main concern, even above cooking ability, you’ll probably be happiest with the Crock-Pot Single Hand Cook & Carry.
Unfortunately Crock-Pot has a huge flaw that we couldn’t overlook. We’d read in Food & Wine’s slow cooker review (and in many user reviews) that Crock-Pot brand slow cookers run too hot. We investigated this issue ourselves and confirmed that the rumors are true. We heated water in the Cook & Carry on low and found that temperature rose above 200°F in four hours, and above 213°F in under six. We literally watched the pot boil. Keep in mind that slow cookers should simmer for eight hours on low — between 180 and 190°F. They should never boil. That excessive temperature means most dishes, other than liquid-heavy soups, would be dry and unpleasant after eight hours in the Crock-Pot.
We can’t dub Crock-Pot the best slow cooker if it does a poor job cooking slowly. Which is why we ultimately preferred the Hamilton Beach. Its big advantage is that it maintains low and steady heat. After eight hours on low, the Set & Forget only reached 195°F — a full 19 degrees cooler than Crock-Pot (and well below boiling). You can leave this cooker on all day and return home to well-cooked, non-burned food. We think that’s pretty neat.
What do I set the thermometer to?The USDA recommends these temperatures for food safety: Roasts: 145°F to 160°F; Poultry: 165°F; Soups, stews, sauces: 165°F.
Finally, the probe thermometer setting is a cool bonus. The ability to program for a specific temperature can help protect against over- and undercooked meats. Since none of our portable options use an internal thermostat like the KitchenAid, this is a nice safeguard. Phyllis Pellman Good, author of the famous Fix-It and Forget-It cookbook series, recommends this slow cooker solely for its thermometer.
Admittedly, the Hamilton Beach’s portability features weren’t as well designed as Crock-Pot’s. However, the Set & Forget is still much easier to transport than most other models. Its handles are large enough to grab without burning yourself on the side of the pot, unlike a lot of other slow cookers we tested. And we did love the Set & Forget’s lid locks for actually holding in liquid. If you’re worried about mess-free travel, this is a plus.
Although we preferred Crock-Pot’s large, comfortable handles and rear-wrapping cord, its downfalls were too significant to overlook. Awesome portability features aren’t worth a lot if the food inside the slow cooker isn’t servable. The Hamilton Beach Set & Forget’s lower cooking temperature and excellent lid locks made it our choice for Best Portable Slow Cooker. This is an appliance we’d be pleased to bring along on any outing.
Slow Cooker FAQ
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
Why did my crock break?
We read lots and lots of user writeups 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.
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 (below 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?
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 slow cookers 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.