Best Slow Cookers of 2018
You don't have to babysit dinner with our top three slow cookers. Check out this shopping guide to find the right one for you.
Best Slow Cookers for Mouthwatering Recipes
We'd all love to eat a hearty, home-cooked meal every night, but after a busy day of work and/or family obligations, we don't always have the time—or the energy—to cook.
That's why a slow cooker can be a godsend. Just add your ingredients in the morning, press a few buttons, and return home hours later to a piping-hot meal, ready to serve.
With their utter convenience and ability to make tasty meals, slow cookers have become a modern staple in the kitchen. At BestReviews, we're here to help you find the tools you need to enjoy a perfect, no-fuss dinner. We tested slow cookers in our labs, consulted experts, and analyzed existing data and customer opinions in order to bring you our top three recommendations, seen in the product matrix above.
We invite you to sit back and enjoy this shopping guide, comfortable in the knowledge that we never accept free samples from manufacturers that could sway our opinions. Our aim is to give you honest, unbiased information you can use, and our hope is that you will return to us again and again as you face life's purchasing decisions.
Why Buy a Slow Cooker?
- A slow cooker saves you time. Once you've done the initial prep, simply turn it on and let it work its magic. No standing over a hot stove.
- Using a slow cooker can encourage healthy eating, as most slow cooker recipes center around vegetables and protein.
- Slow cookers consume far less electricity than conventional ovens.
- You dirty only one pot with a slow cooker, so you'll have fewer dishes to wash.
Slow Cooker Features to Consider
You can find slow cookers in a range of sizes.
- Small slow cookers vary from 1.5 to 2.5 quarts and are best suited for one or two people.
- Medium slow cookers range from roughly 2.5 to 4.5 quarts. They easily serve three to four people.
- Large slow cookers span a range of about 4.5 to 8 quarts. A family of five to seven can eat comfortably from a large slow cooker pot.
- Extra-large slow cookers hold up to 10 quarts of food. Unless you're cooking for a crowd or you like to freeze lots of leftovers, this capacity could be overkill.
The majority of slow cookers are either round or oval. There's no real difference in how they cook, but you may find that it's easier to fit certain items—like a whole chicken—in an oval slow cooker.
Otherwise, just choose whichever one you prefer aesthetically or which will fit better in your kitchen.
Some slow cookers have a searing function that lets you brown onions or sear meat before you add the rest of your ingredients.
If your slow cooker doesn't have this function, you must perform any necessary browning in a separate pan on the stove.
Keep Warm Function
The Keep Warm setting on a slow cooker allows you to store your food in the warm appliance without overcooking it. Once the meal is cooked, the slow cooker will hold it at a safe temperature until you're ready to eat.
Other Slow Cooker Features
Slow cookers don't have delayed start timers, as leaving uncooked meat out of the fridge for several hours could cause harmful bacteria to grow. But some models have a timer that will switch on the Keep Warm function once the designated cooking time is done.
Let's say you're going to be out of the house for eight hours, but your slow cooker meal needs only six hours to cook. You could program the appliance to activate the Keep Warm setting after six hours, so you'd still come home to a warm meal.
Ease of Cleaning
To simplify the cleaning process, we recommend that you look for a slow cooker with a removable cooking bowl, as this will make cleanup much easier. Some slow cookers even have cooking bowls that are dishwasher safe.
Slow cookers have one of two types of controls.
- Analog controls come in dial form and have "low," "high," and "off" settings—and possibly a "keep warm" setting.
- Digital controls are programmable. They allow you to fine-tune your slow cooking experience, setting the appliance to cook for a specified amount of time. If you want your slow cooker to do all the work while you're out of the house, opt for one with digital controls.
Slow Cooker Tips
For the uninitiated, slow cookers can seem a bit daunting. Here are some of our favorite slow cooker tips.
- To get the best taste and texture, avoid cooking most recipes at a temperature higher than 180°F.
- If your dish ends up with too much liquid, remove the lid for the last 30 minutes to help cook down the excess.
- If you need to add ingredients like pasta, rice, or fresh herbs, do so toward the end of your cooking session. These fragile ingredients don't hold up well over a long cooking period.
- Fill your cooker no more than two-thirds full. The ingredients could bubble over if you fill it right to the top.
- Consider preheating your slow cooker for 20 minutes before you add ingredients. Some people say the food tastes better this way. Simply turn it on as you start prepping ingredients, and it should be ready when you've finished chopping.
How Much Does a Slow Cooker Cost?
Slow cookers are surprisingly affordable when you consider how helpful they are in the kitchen. But prices do vary depending on size, brand, and whether they have digital or analog controls.
$10 to $20
You can find small analog slow cookers for less than $20. They may be from unknown brands, and they're usually quite basic. A unit like this would probably be fine if you plan to use it occasionally for one or two people.
$20 to $30
In this price range, you'll find medium-size analog slow cookers and small slow cookers with digital controls. Again, these are generally from lesser-known brands, and they may not have the extra features that pricier models do.
$30 to $50
At this price point, you'll start to see some recognizable household names, such as Crock-Pot and Black+Decker. Slow cookers in this bracket tend to be either large with analog controls or medium with digital controls. However, you may find large digital models from lesser-known brands.
$50 to $80
Here you're mostly looking at medium and large digital slow cookers, plus some analog models from big brand names.
At this price point, you'll find durable, top-of-the-line slow cookers with extensive programmable controls that can brown and sear. If you go over $100, you will even find some models than can be controlled via Wi-Fi.
Slow Cooker FAQ
Q. How much food can I fit in my slow cooker?
A. When gauging how much food would fit in a particular cooker, product descriptions can be a bit misleading. For instance, don't assume that you can cook six quarts of food in a six-quart slow cooker. While this is a logical assumption, it's not the case. Slow cookers shouldn't be filled all the way to the top because the ingredients might simmer over. Check the manufacturer's specifications for the actual cooking capacity of any given model.
Q. Do I need a slow cooker with a timer?
A. We generally recommend buying a slow cooker with a timer that will switch over to the Keep Warm setting after the main cooking time is through, because this function allows you to have warm food waiting for you when you get home. That said, if you'll always be home while your slow cooker recipes are bubbling away, a timer is an unnecessary function.
Q. Where can I find slow cooker recipes?
A. Numerous books and websites offer delicious slow cooker recipes. You can also adapt many one-pot recipes—soups, curries, stews, and so on—to be made in a slow cooker by reducing the liquid somewhat, though this may take a little trial and error.