Recipes that would benefit from a long cooking time at a low temperature are ideal candidates for preparation in a slow cooker. You can put your ingredients in your slow cooker before work, and by the end of the day—voilá, a home-cooked meal will be ready for you. Slow cookers first achieved popularity in the 1940s with fundamental designs and few options, but today, there are many on the market with high-tech features. Using a slow cooker takes the guesswork out of cooking and ultimately requires fewer pots, pans, and dishes, so the cleanup and the work are significantly lessened. Here are some of the best slow cookers you can buy.
Why buy a slow cooker?
At its most basic, a slow cooker is comprised of a metal base that contains the electric heating element and its controls, the ceramic or stoneware cooking container that’s inserted into the base, and a lid, most often made from glass. The unit can sit on your countertop and cook away, so you won’t have to turn your stovetop or oven on and heat up the whole house. It allows you to prepare food in advance (you can just dump the ingredients in and go!), so you won’t have to finish off a busy day by cooking an entire meal from start to finish. Plus, slow cookers are super convenient for serving food at parties since they can keep food warm for hours. They’re simple yet extremely valuable options for less labor-intensive cooking.
What should you look for in a slow cooker?
Here are a few things to consider before you buy a slow cooker:
- Capacity: A 1-to-3-quart slow cooker is great for making food to serve one to two people; a 4- to 5-quart size works well for two to three people. Serving more people calls for a 6-quart capacity and above. A good rule of thumb for the best results is that your ingredients should only fill 1/2 to 2/3 of your slow cooker when you start your recipe. While the quart size obviously refers to capacity, a less obvious feature that impacts what a slow cooker can hold and cook well is its shape. A round slow cooker is great for soups, stews, and sauces, but they don’t work as well for roasting meats or vegetables; an oval shape is best for roasting meats. If you primarily want to cook a pot roast or a chicken in your slow cooker, an oval cooking insert may be your best choice.
- Inserts and Lids: Be sure to check for lead-free cooking containers. Cooking at low temperatures for long periods may leach lead from ceramic cooking containers coated with glazes that contain it. Some inserts have nonstick coatings to help with the cleanup, or you can buy slow cooker liners so that you don’t have to worry about scrubbing at all. Consider lids made of clear glass to minimize how many times you have to open a lid during cooking. Every time you open the lid, your slow cooker loses about 10 degrees, and that can extend your cooking time for as much as 30 minutes as the cooker reheats to your cooking temperature again. Locking lids make it safer to transport your slow cooker full of food to a party or family feast.
- Temperature and Controls: The best slow cookers maintain a consistent temperature, whether on a low setting or a high one. Most slow cookers have three temperature settings: low, high, and keep warm. Some cookers may have options to test the food temperature to make sure it is thoroughly cooked, while others have presets for the type of food you’re cooking. Before purchasing a slow cooker, it’s a good idea to have in mind what type of meals you might like to prepare so that you can purchase one with the best features according to your plans.
What should you know about slow cooker safety?
Since most slow cookers come with glass lids, you’ll need to be careful about abrupt temperature changes. Moving a cold slow cooker pot and lid from the fridge directly to the base and turning it on could crack and break the lid and sometimes even the insert. You’ll also want to avoid touching the sides of the slow cooker while it’s on since some can get really hot and burn your fingers. If you’ll be moving hot soups, sauces, or even beverages like hot chocolate or mulled wine, lid locks can ensure the liquid doesn’t slosh around during transport and spill all over your lap or your car. The handles can get hot as well, so oven mitts can come in handy. Remember that slow cookers are created to be left on for long periods of time, so cooking something overnight or while you’re at work all day is safe as long as you are using the device correctly (setting it on low, using enough liquid, putting it on a safe surface, etc.). Once you know the straightforward rules for using a slow cooker (the manufacturers should cover all of them for the specific model when you buy one), you shouldn’t worry! Slow cookers are an extremely user-friendly cooking method that you’ll fall back on again and again.
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Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker
This slow cooker's integrated probe and programmable temperature function let you control how your food cooks.
Pros: The Hamilton Beach programmable slow cooker has an integrated temperature probe that inserts into one of four lid positions to monitor food temperature, particularly the internal temperature of meat. You can program the cooker to heat food to a specific temperature and maintain it for up to 24 hours, with a digital display that shows the countdown timer and current temperature. The hold temperature function can be used for sous vide, poaching, and braising, as well as for making yogurt or fondue. The 6-quart capacity will prepare a 6-pound chicken or a 4-pound roast.
Cons: This slow cooker design is bulky and will fill up more of your counter space while in use and your cabinet space while stored. The ceramic pot is delicate and needs to be handled with care to avoid cracks and accidental breakage. The probe might get in the way when you don’t need it.
Bottom Line: The features of this slow cooker make it an amazing option for cooking many different meals. In addition to the digital display and temperature probe, this slow cooker has a lid clip which makes it easy to transport in a mess-free manner.
Elite Gourmet Electric Slow Cooker
If you want to make appetizers, dips, sauces, or small meals, this slow cooker is for you!
Pros: A bit on the smaller side, this 1.5-quart slow cooker is the ideal size for small meals or appetizers, dips, or sauces. The simple manual controls have high and low settings and a keep warm function to keep things hot while you’re waiting to serve. The body of the slow cooker is stainless steel, and the lid is tempered glass. Both the stoneware pot and glass lid are dishwasher safe. The handles also have a cool touch feature to stay cool while your food cooks. The size of this slow cooker is great for cooking for one, for taking dips or appetizers to a party, or for reheating soups or making oatmeal.
Cons: Because of its smaller size, it’s not great for cooking an entire meal for a larger family. The roundness of the pot also doesn’t allow for larger portions of meat to fit.
Bottom Line: Overall, this small but sturdy slow cooker is a great choice for those who don’t need to cook large quantities of food. Its basic settings allow for simple cooking, and it’s easy to clean it after use by running it through the dishwasher.
Hamilton Beach Extra Large Slow Cooker
Make a 10-pound turkey or tons of chili in this extra-large 10-quart slow cooker.
Pros: The Hamilton Beach Stay or Go slow cooker holds 10 quarts and can be used to feed a crowd. It can cook a 10-pound turkey, a 12-pound roast, or a whole lot of chili for your next party. It’s also useful for meal prepping, so you can make and freeze large batches of food. The high, low, and warm settings are controlled manually. If you need to take the slow cooker on the go, it comes equipped with a clip to seal the lid, and it’s easy to carry by the handles. Cleanup is easy since the stoneware pot and glass lid are dishwasher safe.
Cons: This slow cooker doesn’t have an indicator light to allow users to let it know it’s on, which is a feature many consider important. Users won’t be able to tell if the cooker is warm except by feeling it. The labels on the outside for the settings are delicate and if wiped too aggressively, they can rub off. The stoneware inner bowl needs to be handled carefully to avoid breakage.
Bottom Line: This slow cooker provides an extra-large pot for cooking larger quantities of food, which is a great choice if you’re serious about meal prepping or have a big family to feed. The device heats quickly and consistently, making it a reliable option for those who want to make large, home-cooked, soul-warming meals.
A three-in-one multi-cooker that can be programmed ahead of time to make mealtime easier.
Pros: The 7-quart Cuisinart multi-cooker allows you to slow cook, roast, brown/saute, or steam your food with the touch of a button. There are preset time and temperature controls to make it easier to do the processes together or separate. There’s also a keep warm feature to keep your food warm until you’re ready to serve it. The cast aluminum pot is removable and has a nonstick surface for easy cleanup. You can just put the pot and lid in the dishwasher, too. The extra-large blue backlit LCD display has easy-to-read time and temperature settings. This device has a convenient retractable cord to keep counters clutter-free and a glass lid for a clear view of ingredients while cooking.
Cons: While this device has a variety of cooking options, it doesn’t have an auto shut-off setting, so just make sure you remember to turn it off after your long day of cooking. The interior pot might show its wear over time, with the coating/interior lining bubbling or flaking after heavy-duty use.
Bottom Line: The features of this slow multi-cooker make it a fantastic choice for those looking to branch out a little bit from a traditional slow cooker.
Crock-Pot Manual Slow Cooker
A spacious, 7-quart manual slow cooker from a trusted brand.
Pros: This spacious, 7-quart manual slow cooker can easily cook meals that serve nine or more people, and it can fit a 7-pound roast. Simply set the cooking temperature to high and get a hot meal in about four hours, or set it on low, and dinner can cook while you’re at work. This slow cooker keeps the food at an ideal temperature for as long as needed with the convenient warm setting. It’s easy to clean up because the lid and removable stoneware insert are dishwasher safe.
Cons: The slow cooker can’t be cleaned with abrasive cleaning products or scouring pads. The exterior of the Crock-Pot does get warm to the touch, which could potentially be a burn hazard.
Bottom Line: This Crock-Pot slow cooker is a great value and will make family mealtime a breeze. It’s spacious, easy to use, and reliable.
Slow cookers are a great addition to almost any home to simplify mealtimes. It’s a low-maintenance way of cooking, and there are a variety of additional features available to provide an amazingly convenient experience in the kitchen.