Is there anything better than coming home and having dinner ready and waiting? Instead of relying on delivery, a slow cooker can make it happen. With a slow cooker, like our favorite Cuisinart 3-In-1(available at Amazon for $159.95), you can set up your meal to cook over the course of the day. That way, by the time you get home from work, you have a hot meal standing by, whether it be chicken, beef, pork, or soup.
Slow cookers have been around for ages, providing a practical way to simmer soups, stews, pot roasts, and much more safely over a long period of time. You can use a slow cooker to make anything from pulled pork to cinnamon rolls. And while not as trendy as newfangled Instant Pots and other multicookers, slow cookers have earned a top spot in kitchens since the '70s.
There are a few key things I look for in my favorite full-meal kitchen cooking gadgets (like pressure cookers, slow cookers, and Dutch ovens). And slow cookers have them all, so we set our minds to finding out what is the best slow cooker on the market today. Enables you to make cheap, healthy meals? Check. Makes enough food to feed friends or have leftovers for lunch? Check. Easy enough to use that it won’t just collect dust in my cabinets? Check.
Really the only downside is their size (they do tend to be a bit large). But if you have the space and are tired of cooking individual meals after work and want something that cooks food in bulk, a slow cooker might be for you.
After countless hours of testing, here are the best slow cookers we tested, ranked in order:
Cuisinart 3-In-1 Cook Central 6-Quart Multi-Cooker
Crock-Pot 6-Quart Cook & Carry Programmable Slow Cooker with Digital Timer
Calphalon Digital Sauté Slow Cooker, Dark Stainless Steel
KitchenAid 6-Qt. Slow Cooker with Standard Lid
Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 6 Quart Programmable Slow Cooker
Cuisinart 3-in-1 Cook Central 6-Quart Multi-Cooker
After years as our best pick and four new rounds of testing, the Cuisinart 3-in-1 remains our favorite slow cooker. Not only did this cooker perform near perfect on all of our food tests, it was by far the easiest to use and to keep at a safe temperature on a warm setting. Because the pot is a nonstick aluminum rather than a traditional ceramic, it’s lighter than the others. This makes it easy to lift even when full of liquid, and significantly easier to clean.
The inner pot of the Cuisinart has large plastic handles, which also makes it the simplest to lift. This is in part because these handles—along with the handle on the lid—never get too hot to lift with your bare hands. This means I didn’t have to worry about burning myself if I forgot to put on oven mitts, or about dropping the pot—because oven mitts and small ceramic handles can be a slippery combination.
The large rectangular size of the inner pot also makes it easy to cook and serve both chili and lasagna—and whatever else you want to make. To top it off, the control panel for temperature settings on the front of the cooker is completely intuitive. You simply press what function you want, hit “plus” or “minus” on time and temperature, and you’re off to the races. (As a note: This slow cooker is technically a multicooker, as it can also saute and steam foods. However, since it’s main function is slow cooking and anyone looking for a true multicooker should gravitate towards pressure cookers, we considered it a slow cooker for the sake of this roundup.)
The only real downside of this appliance is that the construction doesn’t feel as though it will last forever. Because the inner pot is nonstick aluminum rather than ceramic, I’m not sure if it will prove as ageless as a more traditional slow cooker. That said, I would still choose the Cuisinart 3-In-1 over the ceramic pots in a heartbeat.
The name Crock-Pot is almost synonymous with the term slow cooker, and for good reason. Crock-Pot was one of the original brands making the appliance, and their products still hold up. This cooker did well on every test, and offered a few bonus features for easy everyday use.
The way this cooker is configured made it feel smaller than some of the others, while still making the same amount of food. This means it’s easier to move around the kitchen, and to store in my limited cabinet space. The Crock-Pot also has special latches to secure the lid to the housing, which make it easy to pick up the entire appliance and bring it somewhere while full of food—say, to a picnic or potluck.
Using this slow cooker was also intuitive, and I felt comfortable forging ahead without reading the instructions through to the end. Overall, for this price point, the Crock-Pot is hard to beat.
I’m Bethany, an avid home cook constantly looking for ways to make more leftovers to take to work for the week. That’s one of the reasons why slow cookers are so appealing to me—I actually already owned one, even before writing this article. I’ve tested pressure cookers, rice cookers, ice cream makers and more for Reviewed in the past.
I also grew up with a slow cooker. My parents used one frequently to prepare meals for our family when I was young. A common sight in our kitchen was my mother preparing ingredients the night before and putting them in the ceramic pot to leave in the fridge overnight. She would then pop the pot into the base in the morning, turn it on, and let it cook while we went to school and she to work. So I’m already familiar with slow cookers and the miracles they work, and was curious to see if they’d changed much in the 15-plus years since my childhood.
Reviewed first tested slow cookers in 2016 before the Instant Pot craze really took hold, so we wanted to update our ranking and see how these digital slow cookers compared in 2019. Assuming that every top-rated slow cooker could achieve the basics, our tests aimed to delve a bit deeper and ask questions related to their practicality. Ultimately, we ran the same four tests on each, ranking them each on how the final product turned out, how easy or not they were to use, and whether cleaning posed a challenge. It doesn’t matter how well something cooks—if it’s impossible to clean, I’m only going to use it once.
The first test was chili. This was my baseline, establishing that the slow cooker could perform as advertised. The second test was lasagna. Would each slow cooker be able to handle layers of noodles, sauce, cheese, and chopped veggies? The third test was tomato sauce. If I kept a jar of tomato sauce on warm for six hours, would it be burnt and tasteless, or would it be perfectly warm and flavorful? The final test was melting chocolate. Chocolate is notoriously finicky to melt properly, and whether the slow cookers burned the chocolate—or if it hardened up again once the cooker was changed to “keep warm”—would be a good test of each cooker’s heating element.
After these tests, I also looked at each cooker subjectively. Beyond cooking prowess, did the cooker have any special features like handles to easily carry it to a potluck or a temperature probe to check the heat inside the pot? How easy or difficult was it to use? For me, the whole point of a slow cooker is to make my life easier. If running the slow cooker was going to be a challenge, I didn't want to use it. How easy or difficult was it to clean? Are the inner pots dishwasher-safe?
What You Should Know About Slow Cookers
Slow cookers have been around since the 1970s, though an earlier iteration hit shelves as early as the 1950s. And their basic construction has remained largely unchanged. (If it ain't broke don’t fix it, right?)
In general, a slow cooker is made up of three parts: An inner cooking pot—often made of porcelain or glazed ceramic—with handles, a glass lid, and an outer housing that contains an electric heating element at the bottom. Often, cookers can be turned to a few settings: “Keep Warm,” Low, Medium, and High. And you can set them to cook in half-hour increments.
Because the lid doesn’t create a high-pressure seal, there’s no safety concern around sudden releases of steam. And as long as you follow the instructions and take a few common-sense precautions, like keeping the slow cooker on a non-wooden surface away from the wall and making sure there’s enough water inside, there’s no problem with leaving it on all day while you’re at work. This makes slow cookers the ideal appliance for dinner-ready meals on weeknights.
Why Should I Buy A Slow Cooker?
The best slow cookers tend to make enough food to feed a family. Or, to feed one or two people dinner and lunch the next few days. This makes them perfect for those with busy schedules who just don’t have the time or energy to cook everyday. Personally, I also see my slow cooker as a cost-saver. Because I’m making budget-friendly dishes in bulk, I’ll take the leftovers for lunch and avoid the overpriced salads and bowls by my office.
The Calphalon Digital Saute Slow Cooker has a non-traditional design and some amazing features. The nonstick aluminum inner pot was easy to lift and clean, and the dial-plus-lever system for setting cooking time and function was a dream come true. It was incredibly easy to use, and I never had any confusion over what setting I had chosen.
Not to mention that this slow cooker lets you program things in 15-minute increments rather than only 30, which helps with more precision cook times.
It isn’t a perfect device, however. The pot is a deep bowl, which is great for soups and stews and more limiting for lasagna and baked goods. The inner pot and connected handles also get very hot and retain their heat, meaning you have to use oven mitts whether you’re moving the pot around or checking on the contents.
The KitchenAid 6-Quart Slow Cooker was among my favorite cookers to use, if only because the cooking interface was so intuitive. The buttons were simple, and I never needed to consult the manual if I needed to switch to warm. It handled all of our tests quite well, never burning anything (even if it did undercook the vegetables a bit in the chili and lasagna). If you’re just using the “Keep Warm” function for a few hours, the ceramic handles and knob on the lid never get too hot to handle. This makes it easier to quickly check on your food and pick up the pot if necessary.
After the six-hour tests, however, oven mitts were absolutely necessary. And while a tad slippery, the handles were large enough to grip without too much fear of dropping the pot. That said, this pot is heavy. Particularly when full of food, this inner pot takes some muscle to move around confidently. That, along with the sheer size of the ceramic pot, makes it a bit tougher to clean without a very large sink.
Hamilton Beach Set 'n Forget Programmable Slow Cooker, 6-Quart
I wanted to love our former best value pick, the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget, because of its special temperature probe and large housing handles and locking lid, but after putting it through its paces in our tests, it landed at the bottom of my list. I found the temperature probe more gimmicky than useful, and the inner pot difficult to remove from the outer housing.
The handles on the inner pot were quite small, and because they’re connected to the pot itself they get hot during cooking. This made lifting the pot from the housing nerve-wracking, as I often worried I was going to slip up and drop the heavy ceramic bowl. I was also frustrated by the cooking interface. On first glance it seems straightforward, but in practice it wasn’t as intuitive as many of the others.
This cooker is a beast. Both the inner pot and the outer housing are massive, which make the cooker hard to move around, tough to clean, and difficult to store. The handles were large enough that I didn’t worry so much about dropping the pot itself, but when filled with food the whole thing was quite heavy.
While its cooking interface is straightforward, each of the settings has pre-programed time windows that you can't deviate from. (For example, cooking on low has to fit in a four to 20-hour window, and you can't cook on low for any less than four hours unless you set it for four hours and then manually time and turn off cooking.) So while the cooker worked well enough, the inflexibility in cooking times felt stifling. Without a few program updates, and perhaps a change of size, I won’t be using this one again.
Bethany is a freelance contributor for Reviewed. An avid home baker and aspiring home cook, she reviews and writes mostly about kitchen gadgets (with the occasional fitness review thrown in). Her specialty might be fancy desserts, but she's never met a batch-cooked dinner recipe she didn't like.
Outside of her work for Reviewed, Bethany is a content creator working on clean energy and climate change at a regional non-profit and runs a tabletop game at her local comic book shop.
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