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Slow cooking is a form of cooking born out of practicality. All around the world, big cauldrons were slung over always-on hearth fires, filled with liquid, produce, and protein, and left to simmer until dinner.
However, the invention we know as the slow cooker didn’t come to be until the 1940s when an electrical engineer named Irving Naxon developed a cooker that would mimic the way his Lithuanian grandmother prepared a traditional Jewish cholent stew in a pot in the oven. From this sprung the Crock-Pot, a self-standing, still-crucial small kitchen appliance whose name is still synonymous, to this day, to the slow cooker.
There are a plethora of slow cooker options to choose from nowadays, all with different features, which makes choosing the right one a little less straightforward. Luckily, Simply Recipes is here to help you narrow down the choices to the right fit for you, whether you’re cooking for you and one more, trying to make big-batch family meals, looking to take your goods to go, or trying to maximize your value with your purchase. Thanks to its one-size-fits-all practicality, the Crock-Pot Choose-a-Crock 6-Quart Digital Slow Cooker is our top choice.
Here are the best slow cookers to have in your kitchen.
Best Overall: Crock-Pot Choose-a-Crock 6-Quart Digital Slow Cooker
Dimensions (LxWxH): 16.1 x 11.4 x 10.5 inches | Weight: 13.8 pounds | Capacity: 6 quarts
Crock-Pot is still at the top of its game when it comes to slow cookers. Basic functionality, size customization, and an affordable price point make this a one-size-fits-all choice.
This slow cooker truly fits all with the three different removable ceramic inserts in three different configurations provided. There’s the 6-quart, which is the typical family size, and 4-quart for fewer folks or smaller batches, where you don’t want the liquid to dry out. Lastly, an innovative split 2.5-quart, which lets you slowly cook two different dishes simultaneously.
The whole slow cooker easily nests together for storage, too, which means you’re not losing precious cabinet or shelf space in order to have all of these options at your disposal. And the ceramic inserts and lid are dishwasher safe for easy cleanup.
Best Budget: Crock-Pot 4-Quart Digital Countdown Slow Cooker
Dimensions (LxWxH): 11.8 x 9 x 11.7 inches | Weight: 9 pounds | Capacity: 4 quarts
This classic model is a timeless starter cooker, popular as ever on wedding registries across America. It’s just the right size to make a meal for a five-guest dinner party and offers just enough features to get you started right.
It sticks to the basics in terms of functionality with low, high, and keep-warm settings and a simple digital countdown that goes from 30 minutes to 20 hours. A fingerprint-resistant stainless steel finish makes it practical as well as modern. It wipes clean easily, has a glass lid to let you sneak a peek at what’s cooking, and is lightweight and easier to store than larger models.
Best Portable: Black+Decker SCD1007 7-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker with Digital Timer
Dimensions (LxWxH): 17.3 x 14 x 9.7 inches | Weight: 14.9 pounds | Capacity: 7 quarts
Portability was clearly the number one priority when the folks at Black+Decker designed this one. Its features make it easy to take your slow-cooked dish anywhere, no matter what the occasion.
The 7-quart capacity is the right size for a crowd, and an automatic warming mode switchover keeps your work perfect. A tempered glass lid with leak-resistant rubber gaskets keeps your contents safe and secure during transport, while the thick, elevated handle on top and stay-cool, latching handles on the side keep you safe, too, while you’re at it. The built-in lid holder is another thoughtful bonus that makes it seamless from the countertop to the table.
Related: The Best Rice Cookers
Best for Big Batches: Instant Pot Aura Pro 11-in-1 Multicooker Slow Cooker
Dimensions (LxWxH): 16.7 x 11.6 x 13.3 inches | Weight: 15.4 pounds | Capacity: 8 quarts
If you’re making a giant batch of something, chances are you’re looking for convenience. This all-in-one has it in spades—not surprising for the slow cooker member of the versatile Instant Pot family.
What it doesn’t have in pressure cooker functionality, it offers in a bevy of other capabilities, which include pre-set slow cooker classic functions like stew and roast, and adds in sear/sauté, bake, steam, sous vide, yogurt, rice, and multigrain settings. Most important on the list is the sear/sauté; most meat benefits from browning before slow cooking to seal in the juices and create depth of flavor prior to cooking fully, and this feature saves you a pan’s worth of cleaning and time at the stove due to its high capacity.
Speaking of cleaning, its stainless-steel insert is dishwasher-safe, as well as metal utensil-friendly, which can’t be said about its 6-quart sister. This volume-cooking contender’s features and capacity just couldn’t be ignored, especially with a 24-hour delay start and keep-warm function—important for those planning and cooking for a crowd.
Best Multi-Function: De'Longhi Livenza All-in-One Programmable Multi-Cooker
Dimensions (LxWxH): 18.1 x 12.4 x 10.8 inches | Weight: 13.3 pounds | Capacity: 6 quarts
This slow cooker is set to impress, and we don’t just mean aesthetically. Sure, it doesn’t have quite as many features as the 11-function Instant Pot Aura Pro recommended for big batches, but it still allows you to bake, brown, steam, cook rice, and slow cook on three different settings.
Whatever you do, it’ll keep your dish warm for up to 12 hours before the automatic shut-off is engaged for safety reasons. One of the features that won us over was the ExacTemp technology that’s precise enough for cake baking—one of the 50 designed-for-this-model recipes included on De'Longhi's recipe app. There's also the ease of using a dial to select settings.
On a practical level, the shatter-resistant vented glass lid is a good safety feature, as are thick handles that help with carrying this heavier slow cooker. The nonstick aluminum insert is handled as well, should you want to bring that along instead of the whole cooker.
Best Pressure-Cooking Slow Cooker: Breville Fast Slow Pro
Dimensions (LxWxH): 12 x 12 x 13 inches | Weight: 14 pounds | Capacity: 6 quarts
In this era of multi-cookers, we did want to include at least one option for those who want their modern slow cooker to do even more. This gorgeous, streamlined stainless model by Breville—a brand that's been well established in the pressure cooker space long before the ever-popular Instant Pot—fits that bill and does it with posh style and 1100 watts of power.
It’s elegant, down from its subtle branding to an informative LCD display that shows function, program, status, time, and even exact but adjustable pressure levels. Better yet, for slow cookers, this screen turns red when your food is done, providing an easy visual cue that it has switched automatically to keeping food warm in its nonstick ceramic-coated aluminum insert. Before you get to that point, though, it’ll cook for up to 12 hours, with dual sensors to help keep things precise.
Like a standard slow cooker, the lid is fully removable and features a wraparound moat to catch condensation. There are also three steam release functions for when you're done pressure cooking. Cool-touch handles, dial controls, and a three-way safety system all make this even more of a winner.
Related: The Best Pressure Cookers
Best for Brown & Braise: Calphalon Digital Saute 5-Quart Slow Cooker
Dimensions (LxWxH): 14.5 x 12.5 x 9.5 inches | Weight: 7.3 pounds | Capacity: 5.3 quarts
As we mentioned before, searing your meat before slow cooking can make all the difference in your dish. Caramelizing your vegetables before tossing them into the pot also adds richness. This slow cooker model from Calphalon lets you do both without ever having to reach for a pan.
This model’s insert is nonstick ceramic-coated aluminum, which means you can cook with it on any kind of stove, including induction, before placing it back into the slow cooker, or even the oven if you need to. A digital countdown glows out of a striking dark stainless body, making it as aesthetic as it is practical. The tradeoff is that you'll need to wash this by hand to protect the coating.
Best for Precision: Hamilton Beach Temp Tracker 6-Quart Slow Cooker
Dimensions (LxWxH): 12 x 17 x 11.9 inches | Weight: 13 pounds | Capacity: 6 quarts
Slow cooking can sometimes be seen as imprecise. It used to be that all a slow cooker needed to do was hold a low temperature for a long time. Nowadays, not only can they serve as multi-cookers, they can be technologically advanced and computerized enough for the most precise cooking tasks, like sous vide.
This slow cooker can handle that as well as delicate fondue, yogurt, and poaching, plus simmering or braising whatever you decide to task it with. For all of those functions and the slow cooking you bought it for, a temperature tracking probe—with built-in storage when not in use and four different insertion points—makes sure your dish is on track. The clear display simultaneously shows current and target temperatures as well as time remaining, saving you the hassle of having to toggle. This is a boon for anyone planning on making a lot of roasts or cooking whole meats.
Once your food gets where you need it to be, the cooker switches over to keep it warm for up to 14 hours before the automatic shut-off is activated. It’ll hold its heat through transport, too—a wonderful benefit of stoneware inserts—and get there securely with a lid lock that clips to the cooker’s large exterior handles.
Related: The Best Instant Pots
For a one-size-fits-all slow cooker solution, you can’t go wrong with our best overall pick, the Crock-Pot Choose-a-Crock slow cooker (view at Amazon). For those looking to upgrade from their basic slow cooker or reduce the number of small appliances in their kitchen, spring for the Breville Fast Slow Pro (view at Williams Sonoma).
What to Look for When Buying a Slow Cooker
Ease of Cleaning
In a best-case scenario, your food comes out perfect, both in execution and from your slow cooker insert. The real-life scenario is there’s some sticking from ingredients sitting against the hot cookware too long without any liquid or, worst-case, you didn’t use enough liquid and your meal scorched. This is why easy-to-maintain stoneware is great as a slow cooker insert, and it's dishwasher-safe. You should also look for nonstick finishes with other materials.
For safety reasons, it’s best to seek out a slow cooker that will automatically shut off after a certain amount of set hours. This helps prevent fires and your food from scalding. An automatic switchover to keep your food warm also prevents it from overcooking and/or drying out, and ensures that your meal remains at a safe temperature for eating no matter when you dig in.
What's the difference between a Crock-Pot and a slow cooker?
Crock-Pot is a brand name. "A Crock-Pot is a brand of slow cooker, made by the Rival Company, that has been around since the 1970s and has been the dominant slow cooker in the market since," says Jessica Randhawa, owner and head chef of The Forked Spoon.
There are some differences between Crock-Pots and other slow cookers. "The main differences are that crockpots have a ceramic or porcelain pot and the slow cooker has a metal pot," says Carla Contreras, chef, food stylist and health coach. "The heating element is also different with a Crock-Pot, it heats up from all sides and a slow cooker is just from the bottom."
Can you leave food in a slow cooker overnight?
If you’re cooking it, yes. Chef Contreras recommends it, in fact. "You can cook food overnight," she says. "It’s actually a game-changer." Randhawa agrees. “Yes, you can absolutely leave food in a slow cooker overnight," she says. "However, make sure to read the instruction booklet to make sure that you're not leaving the slow cooker on longer than recommended for your specific slow cooker model." Also, you should never leave food in a slow cooker that isn’t turned on to a low or high setting.
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Su-Jit Lin has over a dozen years of experience writing about food, twice that in cooking it, and thrice in enjoying all of it with extreme and likely unseemly gusto. A budget-conscious, research-driven buyer with an eye for fine details and convenience, she’s delighted to guide folks in making smart buys that help them love their time in the kitchen—like slow cookers.
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