We all lead hectic lives, which is why slow cookers’ “set it and forget it” feature is so appealing. To have a warm, home-cooked meal waiting for you at the end of the day, place the ingredients for your favorite recipe in the appliance and turn it on.
We evaluated the newest batch of 6- to 7-quart slow cookers in the interest of convenience. (It doesn’t get much easier than a meal you can set and forget!) These bestsellers, starting at $50, have risen to the top. See our picks for the best slow cookers and Crock-Pots below and continue reading for tips on maximizing the use of your slow cooker or Crock-Pot.
Our Top Picks
$49.99 $89.99 $19.99 $879.00 $99.99 $59.99
What is a slow cooker?
As their name suggests, slow cookers are cooking appliances that simmer food. They are the antithesis of pressure cookers, renowned for rapidly cooking food. The ceramic crock in slow cookers is also known as crock pots. Depending on the type of food, a slow cooker can be used for anywhere between one hour and ten hours.
How does a slow cooker work?
The basic components of a slow cooker are the base, the cooking vessel (or crock), and the lid. The base contains the heat-conducting metal lining, which is then transferred to the cooking vessel. Slow cookers generate heat at the bottom, raising the sides to warm the food evenly.
Slow cookers aid in tenderizing meat, mainly when the cut is not the most expensive. Additionally, they enhance the flavor of your ingredients and, depending on their size, allow you to cook large portions of food in a single pot. The best thing about slow cookers is that they will enable you to arrive home to a fully cooked, delicious meal.
Advantages of Utilizing a Slow Cooker
- A slow cooker meal eliminates the temptation to order takeout, which is frequently less nutritious and expensive.
- Typically, slow cookers allow for one-step preparation. Placing all the ingredients in the slow cooker saves time on trial and cleanup.
- Slow cookers are helpful all year round. The aroma of hot soup is welcoming after a chilly winter day. Slow cookers are also beneficial during the summer because they do not heat the kitchen like an oven.
- Due to the prolonged, low-temperature cooking, slow cookers aid in tenderizing less expensive cuts of meat.
- Slow cookers enhance the flavor of foods. Slow cookers can cook various foods, including one-pot meals, soups, stews, and casseroles.
- A slow cooker is more energy-efficient than an oven.
Best slow cooker for every budget
To compile this list of the best slow cookers, we evaluated dozens of models based on various criteria, including capacity, cooking modes, care instructions, and more.
How to use a slow cooker
- No liquid escapes from a slow cooker, so reducing any added liquid by one-third when adapting a non-slow cooker-specific recipe.
- Avoid losing heat by avoiding frequent lid removal.
- Before cooking, the inner pot needs to be at room temperature. If you have refrigerated a slow cooker dish, you must allow it to warm up before turning it on.
- Follow the instructions in your slow cooker’s owner’s manual for recommended temperatures and cooking times.
- Cooking rice and pasta dishes on high for the shortest time is optimal. Always use easy-cook rice that has been thoroughly rinsed; the more starch you remove from the rice, the better the final product will be.
- Take the time to brown your meat thoroughly. Slow cookers have a propensity to rob meat of its color, so it is essential for appearance and flavor that the meat be well-browned, to begin with. The liquid will not become more concentrated, so try to pack as much flavor as possible into the liquid.
Four Tips on Using a Slow Cooker
Get a Jump on It
Preparing ingredients, the night before saves time in the morning. Instead of refrigerating the meat, vegetables, and liquids in the slow cooker insert, refrigerate them in separate containers. Starting with a cold insert prevents food from reaching the proper cooking temperature quickly, which can affect cooking time and pose a threat to food safety.
Ditch the Deep Freeze
Always thaw frozen meat or poultry before cooking it. This helps keep food out of the “danger zone” (40 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit), where bacteria thrive.
Keep a Lid on It
Each time you lift the lid of your slow cooker, heat escapes. Returning to temperature can take up to 30 minutes, extending the cooking time.
Be Smart About Size
Typically, slow cookers range in size from 4 to 7 quarts. Always verify the recipe before beginning to fill. If you use a pot that is too small, your food may not be ready within the allotted time, and if you underfill a pot that is too large, your dinner may burn.
How we evaluate slow cookers
Our culinary experts put slow cookers through their paces by preparing beef stew and chicken soup for a side-by-side comparison. We prepared over 30 whole chickens and enough beef stew for over 100 people.
By taking readings of the food and liquid temperatures at various points in the cooking process, we ensured that the temperature was kept stable and uniformly applied. Each stove’s ability to distribute heat evenly is also evaluated. To do this, we first coat the inside of the slow cooker with shortening, followed by a thin layer of flour, and heat the cooker until the flour browns, at which point the degree of browning is measured against a standard chart (pictured below).
Each slow cooker was rated on its appearance, safety features, and ease of use, all determined without consulting the manuals. Meat tenderness, flavor evolution, and “keep warm” functionality was also evaluated. What we discovered pleasantly surprised us: conventional slow cookers deliver reliable results. The models of pressure cookers that also include a slow cook function performed well, albeit somewhat.
Consider the amount of counter space this appliance will require. Does it exceed the height of your cabinets? Will it consume an entire shelf if it is concealed? These are all factors to consider before making a purchase.
It is time to think about bells and whistles: Will your slow cooker allow you to brown food directly in the pot? Can the appliance only be used for slow cooking, or can it also be used to sear, cook rice, air fry, pressure cook, or sous vide? We favored models that included a temperature probe for monitoring the internal temperature of foods without having to open the lid. We also recommend a “keep warm” setting that holds food at 165°F, above the food-safe temperature of 145°F, without overcooking it.
Apps and programmable slow cookers
Some slow cookers can relate to smartphone apps that allow you to set the cooking time and temperature; others contain recipes with ingredient lists and step-by-step instructions. Others have a “delay start” function that will enable you to begin cooking without pressing buttons. This feature is very convenient, but we do not recommend using it for more than two hours, especially when cooking with meat; according to the FDA, when food sits out at room temperature for longer than two hours, bacteria begin to multiply exponentially, putting you at risk for illness.
Factors To Consider When Choosing The Best Slow Cooker For Every Budget
Slow cookers are typically available in capacities ranging from 3 to 8 quarts, making it difficult to determine which size you require. A smaller model will suffice if you only need a slow cooker for occasional soups and meats for one or two people. But if you’re cooking for a family, you’ll need a slow cooker with a larger capacity.
Slow cookers can come with the bare minimum settings (high, low, and warm) or an abundance of pre-programmed options that provide significantly more functionality. The style you select ultimately depends on personal preference and lifestyle.
People who enjoy “smart” products may desire a slow cooker with bells and whistles (like a browning function or WiFi connectivity). Stuart notes that a searing function can improve cooking efficiency, stating, “Hybrid cookers with a sear function are fantastic because they eliminate the need to dirty an additional pan for browning meats before adding them to the cooker.”
However, it’s not a bad idea to start with something simple and upgrade when you’re ready to “one with more functionality and features.”
Most slow cookers have two parts: an outer section that plugs in and provides heat and an interior insert where the ingredients are placed. Stuart asserts that a removable insert is a must for simple cleanup. Typically, these inserts can be cleaned in the dishwasher or by hand. Typically, the exteriors can be wiped down with a soapy cloth and then rinsed; be sure to unplug the device beforehand. However, you must always consult the cleaning instructions for your slow cooker.
Best slow cooker for every budget - FAQs
The settings on a slow cooker are relatively simple. “Low and high refer to the slow cooker’s temperature,” explains Pittman. “Low is around 190 degrees Fahrenheit and high is 300 degrees Fahrenheit.”
The “keep warm” setting of many slow cookers (165 degrees Fahrenheit) is above the food-safe temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit without overcooking the food.
The experts we consulted advise against placing frozen meat in a slow cooker. It does not get hot enough to thaw the meat before bacteria begin to grow. This can be done with other devices, such as the Instant Pot’s pressure-cooking setting or an air fryer, but never with a slow cooker.
In addition to avoiding frozen meat, it may be prudent to avoid all frozen foods. I prefer not to put anything frozen in the slow cooker. I don’t want to take the chance of combining thawed meat with frozen vegetables because it could cause the slow cooker’s temperature to remain lower than the manufacturer intended, posing a food safety risk.
Stuart also emphasizes the importance of monitoring milk or cream recipes, stating, “Recipes with a high dairy content are more likely to curdle.”
This is a somewhat tricky question! All slow cookers are Crock-Pots, but not all Crockpots are slow cookers. “Crockpot” is Sunbeam Products, Inc.’s famous line of slow cookers brand name. Like “Kleenex” has become a synonym for facial tissue, “Crockpot” is commonly used to refer to all slow cookers. As you can see from our list, numerous slow cooker manufacturers are available.
However, one difference in cooking techniques: Crockpots and crockpot-style cookers typically consist of a ceramic pot inside a base with an encircling heating element. Non-crockpot slow cookers are likelier to have a metal pot and a single heating element on the bottom. These may offer a browning function, whereas Crock-Pots and other slow cookers typically do not.
Traditionally, slow cookers employ a large ceramic casserole dish that heats and cools slowly. These are heavy and will shatter if dropped, but they retain heat well, making them easy to transport to the table and serve from.
Many contemporary slow cookers have a metal pot. This is typically made from aluminum with a nonstick coating, making it lightweight and easier to clean, but it does not retain heat.
A slow cooker allows food to simmer at a low temperature for extended periods and requires less attention than a conventional stovetop. This makes the cooker ideal for cooking large portions of meat, but it can also handle appetizers and desserts. Typically, you plug in the slow cooker, add the ingredients, cover the crock, and set the temperature and cooking time. After that, the electronic device performs all tasks for you.
Long, low heat from a slow cooker can tenderize lean cuts of meat, and a few tricks make it simple to prepare tough cuts. Plenty of liquid in the pot prevents the meat from drying out, while acidic ingredients, such as tomato or vinegar-based sauces aid in tenderization. Extremely tough meat can be tenderized further by marinating overnight in the refrigerator. Once the lid is on the cooker, it must remain on. The condensation collects aids in keeping food moist. Although low and slow are the rules of the game, leaving the meat in the cooker for too long can cause it to become rigid.
In a slow cooker, foods that cook in much liquid or have been pre-browned or sautéed in oil are unlikely to stick, rendering a nonstick spray unnecessary. Starchy foods, such as risotto, pasta, and beans, tend to adhere to the bottom of the insert; therefore, a spray or light rubbing of oil may be helpful. If the recipe calls for spray, a light coating before cooking will likely prevent a mess.
Recognize Your Slow Cooker
Most slow cookers feature two or three settings. Using the low setting, food will take between six and ten hours to cook. Using the high ground reduces the cooking time to four to six hours. If possible, set the slow cooker too high for the first hour of cooking, and then switch to the appropriate setting.
One hour on high is equivalent to approximately two hours on low. One hour at 350 degrees Fahrenheit equals about four hours on high or eight hours on low. Similarly, three hours in the oven corresponds to four to six hours on high and eight to sixteen hours on low.
The capacity of slow cookers ranges from 1 to 7 quarts. Larger slow cookers are ideal for significant cuts of meat and soups, while smaller slow cookers are ideal for dips and sauces. A 3.5- to the 4-quart slow cooker is perfect if you cook for four or fewer people. If you will be cooking for five or more people, or if you want leftovers, a 5-7-quart or larger slow cooker is perfect.
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