Even if you love to cook, there are probably many days you’re too busy to fuss in the kitchen but still want to serve a delicious home-cooked meal. For those times, a slow cooker is ideal. After some prep work, just toss your ingredients in the cooker, set it, and forget it—at least until it’s time to sit down and eat.
Slow cookers can range in price from not much more than the price of two movie tickets to as much as a monthly car payment. Will you get a better pot roast if you splurge on an expensive appliance? We put 10 popular models—including the iconic Crockpot that defined this product category—to the test to find out.
After months of slow cooking and evaluation, the best slow cooker is the Cuisinart 6 Quart 3-In-1 Cook Central Multicooker(available at Amazon for $159.90). It aced our performance and ease of use tests, and we loved its versatility.
If you’re looking to spend less, our best value pick is the Hamilton Beach Set and Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker (available at Amazon). It doesn’t look as pretty or include as many extra features, but it cooks a great pot roast.
Our extensive testing also found the GreenPan Slow Cooker (available at Willams-Sonoma) is worth the splurge and not just because it’s available in beautiful glossy colors. Its cooking results were neck in neck with our best overall, plus it offers additional cooking options.
Here are the best slow cookers we tested ranked, in order:
Cuisinart 6-Quart 3-In-1 Cook Central Multicooker
GreenPan Slow Cooker
Hamilton Beach Set and Forget Programmable 6-Quart
All-Clad 7-Quart Gourmet Plus with All-In-One Browning
Instant Precision 6-Quart Dutch Oven
KitchenAid 6-Quart Slow Cooker with Solid Glass Lid
Crockpot 8-Quart Programmable
Hamilton Beach Temp Tracker 6-Quart
Crockpot Design 7-Quart
Beautiful 8-Quart Slow Cooker by Drew Barrymore
Cuisinart 6-Quart 3-in-1 Cook Central Multicooker
Not only is the Cuisinart 6 Quart 3-In-1 a handsome appliance, it’s a multifunctional one, too. In addition to slow cooking, it can brown/sauté, roast, and steam. You can even sear food right in the insert before simmering it. The heat settings include an ultra-low simmer slow cook mode which will cook food very slowly or hold it at a piping hot internal temperature for serving.
On the stainless-steel base, there’s a series of buttons to set the cooker and the cooking program and time are displayed on a small LCD panel. This was one of the few programmable models that was easy to set without referring to the manual. After cooking, it automatically switches over to the warm setting for eight hours.
During testing, pot roast cooked in the Cuisinart came the closest to tasting like it was cooked on the stove. Both the meat and the vegetables were moist, tender, and flavorful, and the roast stayed intact so it could be cut into long attractive slices.
The breasts and thighs in a butter chicken recipe melded with their spicy sauce, but still kept their shape and texture. My chili finished cooking with a rich sauce, chunky with beef and beans. As the Cuisinart holds food at an ideal serving temperature on its keep warm setting, there’s no need to worry that dinner will overcook if you come home late.
The only exposed part of this slow cooker that became too hot to touch was the rim of the cooking vessel. As the front surface and the handles stay cool and they’re the parts you’re most likely to touch, there’s minimal chance of burning yourself.
On the pot, there are oversized plastic handles that make it very easy to lift out of the base. Its aluminum and nonstick finishes make the cooking insert easy to clean compared to the heavy ceramic crocks that come with most models. Cuisinart also supplies a very thorough manual with attractive slow cooker recipes.
Yes, it’s expensive, but the GreenPan is worth the price for its excellent cooking performance, versatility, and good looks. The version in this guide has a glossy black exterior with beautiful stainless-steel handles, but it comes in several colors (cream, light blue, fig, and pine green) and the Premiere stainless-steel model.
On the bottom of the appliance are small buttons for programming the various heat settings which are displayed on an LCD screen. The slow cook mode includes a low, high, and warm setting as well as simmer for keeping food hotter than just warm (great if you're serving a meal via buffet). The appliance also includes an unusual reheat setting; most slow cookers can’t be used for reheating.
In addition, there are brown/sauté and steam functions so you can brown stew meat or a roast right in the unit before slow cooking to avoid getting a skillet dirty. After cooking, the GreenPan automatically switches to a keep warm mode for eight hours.
During testing, a slow-cooked pot roast emerged perfectly. The meat was moist and flavorful and could be carved into beautiful thin slices, while the vegetables were fork-tender but held their shape.
The butter chicken thighs and breasts were exceptionally tender and didn’t shred. The ground beef and beans in a chili recipe kept their texture while the sauce stayed a rich red color with a complex flavor. When kept warm for two hours, the chili remained at a serving temperature—not a cooking temperature.
While cooking, the outside of the unit and the outer and inner handles stayed cool to the touch, however a potholder is needed to lift the glass lid. The insert can also be used on the stovetop or in the oven.
While the pot is dishwasher safe, the GreenPan slow cooker is very easy to wash by hand. Not only does it have a durable nonstick coating but because it’s aluminum, it’s light enough to turn around easily in the sink.
By scanning the QR code that comes with the slow cooker, you can access a very enticing selection of recipes to make the most of the appliance.
Hamilton Beach Set and Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker
While the Hamilton Beach Set and Forget isn’t fancy-looking, it’s programmable, comes with a probe thermometer to help you read precise temperatures of your meat, and is very moderately priced. All in all, this stainless-steel model with a ceramic insert and a touch control pad with a digital display is a very good buy.
There’s an option of simply setting slow cook on low or high without programming in a time. If you do select a slow cooking time or use the temperature probe, the cooker will automatically go into the keep warm mode for up to 14 hours.
To test, a pot roast was set to slow-cook for eight hours, and then tested again with the temperature probe set to 180°F. After six hours, the pot roast cooked with the probe was ready. While the meat cooked by both methods came out moist, tasty, and held its shape so it could be sliced, the potatoes were much more tender and delicious when cooked for the full eight hours. Indian-style butter chicken was tender enough to cut with a fork and the chili had a full-flavored meaty sauce.
Our only complaint about this slow cooker’s performance is that it holds food at a high keep-warm temperature so it continues to cook, getting more well done the longer it sits.
During cooking, the base sides get extremely hot, as does the crock itself. As the insert doesn’t have large handles, you have to be careful if you lift it out for serving. However, the handles on the base and the lid stay cool enough to lift with your hands. If your dishwasher has rack space to spare, the crock is safe to wash in the machine.
There are clips to lock the lid onto the unit to prevent a stew from sloshing out when you transport the slow cooker to a potluck. This slow cooker also comes with a serving spoon and there’s a groove in the lid handle where it can rest when it’s not being used.
Hi, I'm Sharon Franke and I’ve been testing kitchen equipment for over three decades. Before that I wielded a knife and rustled pots and pans as a chef in New York City restaurants. When I’m not working, I like nothing better than trying new recipes in my own kitchen.
My experience as both a professional chef and a passionate home cook come into play when I’m evaluating how well pots and pans, appliances, and tools perform as well as how convenient they are to use. Even though I like the intricacies of cooking, there are some days when I’m working or doing errands or just relaxing, when I crave comfort food but not the fuss of preparing it. That’s when I pull out my slow cooker.
I tested 10 slow cookers. In each one I cooked three different dishes that are commonly prepared in slow cookers: a beef chuck pot roast with lots of vegetables, a spicy ground beef chili, and Indian-style butter chicken using breasts and thighs. I looked for flavorful sauces and tender but not overcooked meat and vegetables.
In each cooker that had a keep warm setting, I kept the chili warm after cooking, measuring its temperature every half hour for two hours to see if it stayed hot enough for food safety and to serve but not so hot that it continued to cook after it was done.
I took into consideration how easy it was to use the controls and program each model as well as what helpful features it offered. After using them, I washed them by hand to see how easy it was to clean them and then how convenient it was to store them.
What to Know About Buying a Slow Cooker
Unlike multi-cookers or pressure-cooking appliances, slow cookers are relatively simple. They consist of a cooking vessel or insert that sits in a base that contains a heating element. A manual slow cooker will have just three settings—low, high, and warm—and couldn’t be easier to use, but you must be home when cooking is finished to manually turn them off, or set them to warm.
Many slow cookers are now programmable so that you can set them to cook for a specific time after which they’ll automatically go into a keep warm mode. Some models have additional features like the ability to brown food in the insert or cook to a specific internal temperature rather than for a period of time. As you would expect, extras come at a higher price and usually detract to some degree from the simplicity of programming the controls. However, they do expand the versatility of the cooker.
While slow cookers cook for a relatively long time, for the most part they don’t always cook at a low temperature, even on a low setting. They take considerable time to heat up but once they do, many, particularly ones without electronic controls, cook at a high or even a boiling temperature.
Food that’s cooked in these cookers, comes out extremely tender to the point where it can be stringy, dry, or mushy. In our experience, it’s worth paying extra for a model with a probe or temperature setting which allows you to cook to a precise degree. In general, most of these models don’t overcook, even when you simply set them to slow cook and don’t use the probe or set a specific temperature.
While most slow cookers have ceramic cooking vessels or “crocks,” some come with metal inserts that are coated with a nonstick surface that makes them easier to lift and maneuver in the sink for washing. Most slow cooker inserts and lids can be cleaned in the dishwasher but they are large and will take up a lot of rack space.
Other Slow Cookers We Tested
All-Clad 7-Quart Gourmet Plus Slow Cooker with All-In-One Browning
Made completely of gleaming stainless steel, the All-Clad 7-Quart Gourmet Plus Slow Cooker is the Rolls Royce of slow cookers. And as would be expected for its astronomical price, it gives top-notch cooking performance. Food comes out ultratender but not overcooked. In addition, the All-Clad sports just about every bell and whistle imaginable.
It can slow cook on low, high, or a combination of the two and has steam, rice, sear, simmer, reheat, buffet, and warm settings. The problem is that with so many options, it can be confusing to decide which one to use and to program the cooker. While the manual details how to set the controls and includes charts for rice and steaming, it doesn’t explain the difference between the various programs and which one to use for which purpose. It also doesn’t help that it's difficult to read the wording on the small buttons.
Once selections are made, the heat level and time are clearly displayed on the LCD screen. With the exception of the sear mode, after cooking, the slow cooker automatically goes into keep warm mode, with the maximum length of time varying depending on the setting.
The outside of the unit and the outer handles stay cool to the touch but you will need oven mitts to lift the lid and the insert out of the base. The aluminum cooking vessel can’t be used on top of the stove or in the oven. Although the lid is safe for dishwasher cleaning, the pot has to be hand washed. Fortunately, its nonstick coating makes the job easy.
The Instant Precision 6-quart Dutch Oven, from the company that gave us the Instant Pot multi-cooker, is an unusual slow cooker. Rather than a ceramic crock or a metal pot, the insert is a covered enameled cast iron pan. When it's removed from the base, it looks just like a traditional Dutch oven and makes a great serving piece.
The appliance has an LCD screen and a button to control the functions. While the slow cook setting doesn’t offer a choice of low or high, there’s a manual mode that lets you choose the precise cooking temperature. In addition, you can choose a braise program, which browns and then lowers the temperature to simmer, and a sear/sauté setting for browning. After slow cooking or braising, the Dutch oven automatically switches to a keep warm mode for three hours.
On slow cook, this model simmers at an ideal temperature so that food comes out fork tender without being overcooked. The chicken breasts and pot roast that were made during testing weren’t stringy and could be cut into neat slices. The chili's ground beef didn’t become overly soft and tasteless, and the beans didn't turn to mush. After cooking, the Instant Precision keeps food piping hot without further cooking it.
While the exterior of the cooker stays cool to the touch, the cast iron insert and its lid get very hot. That means you don’t have to worry about accidentally burning yourself by brushing against the exterior but you do need a pot holder to lift the pot out of the base and lift the lid.
Silicone handle covers as well as a trivet come with the unit. Although the Dutch oven has a 6-quart capacity, it’s round rather than oval, so long items like a corned beef or rack of ribs may not fit unless you cut them into pieces.
At over 9 pounds, the pot is extremely heavy to lift and maneuver in the sink while washing it. Fortunately, it’s also dishwasher safe if you have the room for it. The entire appliance weighs more than 20 pounds so it will take some strength to lift it in and out of a cabinet. Included with the appliance is a booklet of appealing recipes.
With its brushed stainless-steel finish, the KitchenAid 6-Quart Slow Cooker is attractive and solidly designed. It is strictly a slow cooker, offering only low, medium, high, and warm settings. However you can program it to set for a specific time, after which it will automatically keep food warm for up to four hours.
The time and setting are displayed on a small LCD screen. It's also completely intuitive to program without experimenting or checking the manual.
Of all the slow cookers in this guide, the KitchenAid cooks at the lowest temperatures. That means it never overcooks. While testing, chili and chicken came out perfectly. However, the meat and vegetables in pot roast still had some bite and could have benefited from longer cooking times. If you love meat that’s super tender to the point that it shreds, such as pulled pork, this is definitely not the model for you.
As expected on the warm setting, this slow cooker keeps food at a serving temperature rather than a cooking temperature. The stainless-steel outside of the cooker and the crock get very hot but the cooker handles and the lid stay cool enough to grip without pot holders. The pot is also dishwasher safe.
Even though the Crockpot Design 7-Quart Slow Cooker sells for a rock bottom price, it produces great cooking results. This slow cooker, however, has absolutely no bells and whistles of any kind. Its heat settings only include off, low, high, and warm, and it’s not programmable. While there is a specific time setting, you must manually switch it off or set it to a warm setting when it’s finished cooking your meal.
The Crockpot keeps food at a simmer while it cooks, rather than a boiling temperature, so food will emerge very tender without falling apart, and chili will retain its texture.
Using the warm setting, the Crockpot keeps food steaming but not so hot that it will continue to cook.
However, during cooking, the stainless-steel housing will get too hot to touch. Fortunately, the plastic cooker and lid handles stay cool enough to use without pot holders. For easy cleaning, the crock is dishwasher safe.
The Crockpot 8-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker is a step up from a completely manual model. Its black stainless-steel finish gives it a contemporary look and it can be set to cook for a specific amount of time and then automatically go into a warming mode. However, this appliance doesn’t have any extra features like most of the other slow cookers with electronic controls that were tested.
Unfortunately, even on the low setting, this Crockpot overcooks the food. During testing, pot roast could be broken up with a fork and melted into its sauce, and the chili was burnt around the edge. Using the warm mode, it keeps food hotter than optimal, but won’t boil it.
During slow cooking, the stainless-steel housing gets too hot to touch. However, the handles on the base and the lid remain cool. Like the other Crockpot in this guide, the crock is dishwasher safe.
The Hamilton Beach Temp Tracker not only comes with a probe for cooking to a specific temperature, it can also hold food for a set time at a precise temperature. That means you can use it as a sous vide cooker as well as a slow cooker.
Using the probe, a pot roast was tender but not overcooked, although the potatoes that cooked alongside it were a bit underdone. However, when the same recipe was prepared on the low slow cook setting, the meat fell apart and shredded as soon as it was lifted out of the pot. Likewise, in the butter chicken test, the breasts and thighs were very overcooked.
Unfortunately, when this model switches into the keep warm setting, it actually continues to cook at a high temperature.
As the slow cooker operates, the stainless-steel base and the ceramic crock both get extremely hot. But neither the handles on the appliance or the lid heat up making it easy to check on food or move the entire unit without oven mitts.
The crock is dishwasher safe. On either side of the appliance, you’ll find clips that you can latch onto the lid if you’re bringing a big batch of pulled pork to a potluck or family reunion.
Cook to temp mode (with probe), warm, and hold temp settings
The Beautiful 8-Quart Slow Cooker by Drew Barrymore is generously sized and very reasonably priced. You could say it’s beautiful in its simplicity. The exterior has a matte finish in sage green, black, white, or gray with a few gold accents and has one small knob with high, low, and warm settings.
However, it’s a little too basic. It’s hard to see the settings on the dial and there’s no light to indicate the slow cooker is running. Plus, it can’t be programmed to cook for a specific time and it won’t switch to the warm setting automatically.
Unfortunately, even on the low setting, this slow cooker boils food rather than slow cooks it, which results in food that’s severely overcooked. For example, when chicken thighs and a pot roast were taken out of the crock, they plopped on the carving board and turned to mush. When the chili was kept in the warm setting for two hours, it burnt at the side of the pot.
The exterior of the Beautiful gets very hot while cooking, but the lid handle stays cool enough to lift without a pot holder.
With the Beautiful, you get a wire attachment that hooks onto the side of the pot to hold the lid when you’re stirring or serving. While the ceramic insert is dishwasher safe, if you prefer to wash it by hand, you’ll find it heavy and unwieldy.
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