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.
Hamilton Beach Stay or Go 6-Quart
This Hamilton Beach Stay or Go slow cooker features a clip-tight lid and easy-grip handles. It’s fully programmable with two heat settings and dual timers.
- Digital model
- Clip-tight lid
- Generous size
- Bulky to store
This six-quart capacity of this cooker features 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 hour cook times. It is perfect for cooking family meals at home or bridging a good-sized dish to a party. It's size and oval shape does make it tricky to store in between meals.
Crock-Pot Smudgeproof 5-Quart Round
The Crock-Pot 5-quart slow cooker has the convenience of dishwasher-safe inserts and a compact design which will easily tuck away in kitchens and on cupboards.
- Easy to store
- Not a digital model
- May overheat
The Crock-Pot round slow cooker features a professional look with a smudge-proof finish. It isn’t digital, but it does have low, high, and warm settings. Because it isn't digital, it won't automatically switch to the warm setting once your food is cooked. This means it easy for it to overheat and cook foods until they are very well done.
Black+Decker 7-Quart Digital Slow Cooker
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.
- Locking handles
- Digital design
- Holds plenty of food
- Not the highest temps
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. The highest temperature on this slow cooker reaches 190 degrees. This is good for cooking a variety of meals, but it may mean cooking other foods longer. Other functions include sous vide, a temperature probe, and a timer. The instruction manual comes with some great recipes, and the clear lid means you can watch these meals cook throughout the day.
Crock-Pot 2.5- Quart Mini Casserole Crock
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.
- Adorable design
- Oven-safe pot
- Manual mode
The pot is made from oven-safe stoneware, so you can use it in the oven, too. This mini slow cooker has a funky design which will make a great feature in any space. It isn't a digital model, but it easily adjusts from low, high, and medium with the turn dial. There isn't a lot of additional features, so the overal cost for such a small and simple slow cooker is a bit high.
Calphalon Digital Saute Slow Cooker
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 worry.
- Durable stoneware
- Good choice for foodies
- Non-dishwasher safe pot
You can saute all your ingredients in the pot before adding additional ingredients and continuing on to the slow cooking process. This is because the pot is made from durable stoneware. This slow cooker features a digital LCD display with an adjustable digital timer. It comes with 'low, highe, and keep-warm' settings. The cooking pot is removable, but it is not dishwasher safe.
Reviewing slow cookers: What we looked for
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When reviewing slow cookers we considered a number of factors. Value-for-money was a very influential factor when it came to scoring, and to figure this out we took factors such as size, additional functions, customer reviews, and durability of materials into account.
As slow cookers are products that promise convenience to users, we took into account whether or not the stoneware and lids were dishwashable. We also considered the versatility of stoneware pots. An added bonus of a select few models is the multifunctionality of these pots, and whether they can be used on the stovetop or in the oven.
Glass lids are preferable for slow cookers as you can watch your food cook without letting out the heat by opening the lid. Shape is also important, as oval-shaped cookers can fit large or long cuts of meat more easily than round models and provide more cooking flexibility to users.
Some slow cookers come with clip-on lids and easy-grip stay-cool handles, which are great for traveling with dishes without fear of spillage or messy mishaps. We also looked out for quirks such as design and exterior. From tactile dials to groovy designs, we’ve seen it all.
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 the 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.
What can I cook in my slow cooker?
Slow cookers have been lauded for their ability to cook a wide range of foods. This includes several types of meats, briskets, stews, soups, desserts, and even oatmeals. There are hundreds of sites that specialize in slow cooker recipes to help you find the perfect dish for any occasion. We like the Crock-Pot site, which has plenty of options for all courses, ingredients, and cuisines. From a vegan slow-cooker mac and cheese to a delicious duck ragu, we think this is a great place to find recipes for all dietary needs and preferences.
The Food Network site also has over 1000 recipes designed for slow cookers. A cursory glance showed a berry cobbler, Thai red curry chicken, and even peppermint hot chocolate.
Although not all slow cookers come with recipes included, there are hundreds of sites that will give you a myriad of options with just a simple google search. The real question is, is there anything you can’t cook in a slow cooker!
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