Slow cookers are a must-have for colds day or busy lifestyles. These handy little appliances mean you can create delicious slow cooker recipes with little effort. For hearty stew dishes, mac and cheese, and even lasagne, the best slow cookers transform simple ingredients into tasty meals - and all while you’re busy doing other things. Here are our recommendations for the best slow cookers.
This Hamilton Beach Stay or Go Slow Cooker is stylish and high quality. It features a clip tight lid and easy-grip handles. It’s fully programmable with two heat settings and dual timers. Its six-quart capacity is perfect for cooking family meals at home or bridging a good-sized dish to a party.
For a mid-size slow cooker for a family, the Crock-Pot 5-quart round pot is a great option. It isn’t digital, but it does have three heat settings. This slow cooker has the convenience of dishwasher-safe inserts and a compact design which will easily tuck away in kitchens and on cupboards. The Crock-Pot round slow cooker features a professional look with a smudge-proof finish.
The Calphalon Digital Sauté Slow Cooker has a 5.3-quart capacity, digital programming, and an oven-safe pot that you can move between the slower cooker and the oven without a worry. You can saute all your ingredients in the pot before adding additional ingredients and continuing on to the slow cooking process. This slow cooker features a digital LCD display with an adjustable digital timer.
Catering to the big crowds
The Black+Decker 7-Quart Digital is big and stylish, with innovative features including a large capacity and digital controls. The lid locks in place to avoid spills while moving your food to the party scene. This slow cooker has the standard ‘Low, High and Warm’ heat settings, which means you can cook tender meat slow and low, or whip up a quick meal on the high setting with ease.
Great for college students
The Crockpot 2.5-Quart Mini Casserole Crock Slow Cooker is perfect for college students or one-person households. There's a lock and carry lid which helps to transport dishes and store them in shared kitchens, and there's also oven-safe stoneware. This mini slow cooker has a funky design which will make a great feature in any space.
Helpful tips on slow cookers
Before you purchase a slow cooker, think about how many people you will be feeding and how often. This will help you determine what size pot you need. Another feature to consider is whether you need, or prefer, and manual or digital slow cooker. We’ve put together this quick guide to help you know what you need before you buy.
What is the difference between manual and digital slow cookers?
The average inexpensive slow cooker comes at the price of digital functions, but is this a trade-off you want to make?
The main advantage of digital slow cookers is the ability to set timers, letting you leave your cooker unsupervised for long periods of time without having to worry about your food overcooking. Many Americans like slow cooking for the ease of being able to throw a bunch of ingredients into the pot before leaving in the morning and coming back to a home-cooked meal. However, manual slow cookers will continue to cook on whatever setting you left them on until you turn them off, so if you’re unable to check on your food regularly it may overcook and become tough or dry. Digital slow cookers step in to resolve this problem, letting you set timers and automatically switching to a ‘keep-warm’ setting when these timers finish, meaning that if you’re kept late at the office or held up in traffic you can come home to a warm and perfectly cooked meal, regardless of how long you’ve been gone.
However, manual slow cookers often come at a cheaper price and with the same ‘High, Low and Keep Warm’ heat options as digital models. Certain staple slow cooker meals don’t need to be precise. For example, it’s well-known in cooking that the longer you leave certain cuts of meat to cook on low heat, the more tender they’ll be. So what difference does it make to your beef stew if you end up leaving it cooking on low for an extra few hours? Pork and chicken will shred more easily and you won’t see a significant difference in mince or sausage meat, making a manual model just as useful for easy, low-effort, and imprecise recipes.
The real issue arises if you’re cooking with grains such as rice or lentils which can overcook when left for too long. Nobody likes overcooked, mushy rice or pasta which disintegrates when left for too long, so if you’re cooking mac and cheese or biriyani, you’ll want to adhere strictly to the recipe. For recipes such as this, a digital slow cooker is more appropriate.
In our tests, we found that it is possible to buy digital slow cookers for affordable prices, but if you’re on a tight budget you’ll struggle to find a digital at the low prices of some manual cookers. Most small-capacity cookers come in manual models, so if size matters to you it might be worth sacrificing the convenience of digital models. After all, we don’t recommend leaving your slow cooker unattended for long periods of time anyway.
What size slow cooker do I need?
When testing, it was important for us to consider slow cookers of all sizes. The smallest we tested is the Crock-Pot Mini Casserole Slow Cooker which has a neat 2.5-quart capacity, and the largest was our pick for parties, the Black+Decker Digital Slow Cooker which comes in at 7-quarts.
The best slow cookers for college students, small families, and couples would be between 1 and 3 quarts in size. This size of pot will happily cater for 1-3 people or serve as a great dish for dips, sides, or appetizers at events.
For the average-sized family, we would suggest a slow cooker between 3 and 6 quarts. Most slow cooker recipes come designed for a standardized 6-quart capacity, making this size ideal for easy cooking with no math involved in measurements. It’s also a good capacity if you like having leftovers for later in the week. However, you don’t need to fill your slow cooker every time you make a meal, meaning you can still cater to a family of four or less in a 6-quart model with the option of bulk-cooking for events of midweek convenience if it suits you.
For events and large groups, we suggest a slow cooker at 6+ quarts. The largest slow cooker we reviewed was 7-quarts, which will make 8+ servings, perfect for events or potlucks.