Types of Slow Cookers
Just like their pricier counterparts, basic slow cookers can turn out tasty meals after allowing food to simmer at a low temperature all day long. The main difference is that you'll have fewer features. For instance, buyers often won't get a timer or any cooking modes beyond the basics: low, high, and keep warm. You may also be limited to a smaller capacity, and it can be harder to find the sleekest stainless-steel designs in this category. But many owners prefer the simplicity of these models, and they certainly prefer the cheaper price.
Some slow cookers, whether basic or programmable, offer additional features that make them more portable. Locking lids and rubber gaskets help keep food from spilling during transport. Others will have rubberized handles that are easy to grip on the go, or sleeves they can be set into with handles.
Programmable slow cookers boast a few more bells and whistles than basic models. For a little more money, you'll get up to a 24-hour timer that will automatically keep your food warm once it's done cooking. You'll also typically have a digital display. If money is no object, you may also get additional slow-cooking modes or even a model that can sauté, brown or steam your food, too.
The best basic slow cookers
cookers will satisfy the majority of casual cooks. If you're concerned that a
less expensive model won't turn out food as delicious as pricier programmable slow cookers, don't be: ConsumerReports.org has found that features,
not cooking performance, account for the price difference between models. For
that reason, the website no longer rates slow cookers, as they explain in this
free buying guide.
The Hamilton Beach Set ‘n Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker (Est. $50) is the runaway winner
among basic slow cookers. Though a bit pricier than other models in this
category, reviewers say you get your money's worth with additional features. For
instance, the 6-quart capacity means enough room for a sizeable family meal. The
included temperature probe, a feature unique to the Set ‘n Forget, lets you monitor
the food's temperature so you can be sure it's perfectly done. A top handle
provides a handy spot to rest the included serving spoon. Finally, a locking
lid makes the slow cooker easy to move around or even to take to a party,
though some may find the handles a bit skimpy for gripping.
say the Set ‘n Forget is easy to use, allowing cooks to use pre-programmed or
manual settings. TheSweethome.com's Christine Cyr Clisset and Camille
Chatterjee say the unit cooked food reliably during testing "at or just below a
modest simmer," though she did wish the power cord and probe were a bit longer.
CNET's Megan Wollerton also found that the Set ‘n Forget performed reliably
compared to pricier units. While the controls "aren't overly complex," she notes
that they sometimes require more button-pushing than should be necessary, and
owners will likely need to take a couple of spins through the manual before
knowing their way around the display.
the Set ‘n Forget are similarly enthusiastic, giving it high ratings in hundreds
of reviews. They like the included features for the money, with most saying
it's easy to program and doesn't burn food. A few complain that the unit simply
wouldn't work after a few uses or say there was a foul odor during cooking, but
these are a tiny minority.
looking for a basic slow cooker without any bells and whistles, the Crock-Pot 4-Quart Oval Manual Slow Cooker (Est. $26) is a good pick at a
great price. The unit is big enough for a small family and can handle a chicken
or roast. However, as Real Simple's Lindsay Hunt and Brigitt Hauck note, it's still relatively compact, making it a
contender for those with limited counter space.
price, you'll sacrifice a timer or any other sort of programmable controls. Of
course, the upside of that is simplicity -- turn the dial to "low," "high" or
"warm," and you're set. The removable stoneware insert and glass lid are
dishwasher-safe. If you're looking for something portable, beware that this
Crock-Pot lacks a locking lid with a rubber seal.
are more than satisfied with the Crock-Pot's performance, giving it high
ratings in hundreds of reviews. They appreciate the value, too, saying it cooks
the perfect amount of food just as well as pricier slow cookers. Some reviewers
say the outside gets too hot and food is overcooked on the low setting, however.
Others say the stoneware insert cracked under normal use.
Portable slow cookers let you take
homemade meals on the go
cookers are portable to some degree, but some models are a much better bet when
you need to take a meal to your work, church or neighborhood potluck. The king
of portable slow cookers, the Proctor Silex Portable Oval Slow Cooker (Est. $15) comes
at a very budget-friendly price. That's largely because of its capacity -- only
1½ quarts. It certainly won't hog counter space at about 9½ by
9½ by 8 inches, and the size makes it ideal for party-friendly foods
such as appetizers, dips, and fondue. Real Simple's Hunt and Hauck say it's also the perfect
size for increasingly trendy overnight oats recipes.
Silex has simple manual controls: Turn the dial to "low," "high" or "warm" and
you're done. Of course, this means you may have to watch your food a bit more
closely, and you won't have a timer to rely on to tell you when your food is
ready. The removable stoneware insert can be popped in the dishwasher for easy
cleanup or into the refrigerator for food storage. The glass lid has a rubber
seal with a lid latch strap to make sure your food stays in the slow cooker
when you're on the go.
love the Proctor Silex, giving it high ratings in hundreds of reviews. Though they
say it's great for entertaining, many owners find it equally useful as a
day-to-day slow cooker for small households, including college students and
empty nesters. Others like using it on their RVs or boats. While most say they
have no issues with performance, some reviewers complain the unit takes too
long to heat up and fully cook food. Many negative reviews say it's simply too
small for their needs, which is certainly not the fault of the slow cooker.
If you need
a portable crockpot for bigger meals, the Hamilton Beach Stay or Go Portable Slow Cooker (Est. $25) is a great value with a 6-quart insert that
is roomy enough to feed a crowd. Of course, the greater capacity means it will
take up more counter space than smaller units, whether that's at home or a
with Good Housekeeping note, the Stay or Go is fairly basic when it comes to
cooking: It has three basic settings (low, high and keep warm) and a simple
dial control. It is not programmable. However, it does have extras that make it
a good pick for travel: a clip-tight lid, spill-resistant seal, and large
handles that can fold down for easier storage. A hinged lid can stay open for
serving but detaches for cleaning. It's available in either silver or a green football-themed
design that will fit right in during game-day parties.
the Hamilton Beach Stay or Go give it strong marks in hundreds of reviews.
Several say they take it frequently to potlucks or other get-togethers and it
has stayed true to its spill-free claims. They also like the hinged lid, which
eliminates the problem of finding space for a hot, potentially drippy lid at
parties where space is limited. A small group of reviewers say the glass lid on
their slow cooker shattered during cooking, however.
Finding The Best Slow Cookers
Editors of Good Housekeeping, As of November 2016
Editors of Cook's Illustrated, Oct. 1, 2014
Christine Cyr Clisset and Camille Chatterjee, Sept. 14, 2016
shortage of expert and owner reviews of slow cookers, including tests by
TheSweethome.com and Techlicious.com. Good Housekeeping and Cook's Illustrated
are also good sources for hands-on tests, as are roundups from magazines
including Real Simple and food blogs such as TheKitchn.com. Finally, user
reviews at Amazon.com and BestBuy.com provided crucial information on how slow
cookers stood up to day-to-day wear and tear. In all of these reviews, we
focused on ease of use, durability, features, and performance to choose the top
slow cookers for your kitchen.