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There are likely nights when the last thing you may have the time (or energy) for is slaving over a hot stove to cook dinner. Luckily for you, we know just how to make your evenings less stressful and more delicious—by using a slow cooker, of course! Whether you’re entirely new to the low-and-slow scene or you’re wondering when you should replace your slow cooker, we have all the info you need to master this mealtime ritual.
Our top picks
How we picked these products
If you’re dying to know what’s the best slow cooker on the market, we’re ready to drop some knowledge. We turned to our friends at the Good Housekeeping Institute to determine the top-rated slow cookers. Their team of on-staff experts—which includes all types: engineers! data analysts! registered dietitians!—rigorously put everyday products to the test (and then more and more tests) in their New York City-based labs to determine which ones you can trust. They tested a wide variety of slow cookers and multi-cookers over the course of 432 hours (!!!) to determine which ones were worth the investment. After analyzing their data on each model’s performance, temperature control, consistency, ease of use, safety features, and other capabilities, we’ve narrowed down the cream of the crocks.
Do slow cookers and Crock-Pots cook the same?
In a word: Yes! All Crock-Pots are slow cookers, but not all slow cookers are Crock-Pots. Crock-Pots are a brand of slow cookers that debuted in the 1970s, and they’ve been changing lives ever since. Similar to a Dutch oven, these gadgets cook food at a low and steady temperature and need at least a little bit of liquid to prevent your dinner from going up in smoke—literally. This makes them a perfect tool for preparing comforting fall soups and even dips.
Slow cookers and Crock-Pots may cook the same, but if you’re worried these small appliances might use a lot of electricity, we have some good news and bad news. The good news: They don’t! The bad news: We gotta go back to math class to explain why. According to a study conducted by Iḷisaġvik College, a slow cooker “consumes around 250 watts of power while an [electric] oven can draw up to 4000 watts—depending on how you’re cooking… Using a conventional electric oven for one hour can cost around 20 cents, while operating a [slow cooker] for 7 hours costs only 10 cents, [resulting in] an energy savings of 50%.” In short, you’ll be saving time, energy, and money, so it should come as no surprise that this retro kitchen staple remains on top.
Should I buy a slow cooker or a multi-cooker?
Sure, slow cookers have been the go-to countertop appliances for decades, but thanks to innovative tools like the infamous Instant Pot and air fryers, multi-cookers are becoming increasingly popular—so how can you know which one’s right for you?
The main draw to multi-cookers is that they essentially serve as a bunch of appliances and gadgets in one, saving you valuable kitchen real estate. These added features mean multi-cookers also tend to be bulkier—a key factor to consider if you have a small space.
While multi-cookers can do a lot, there are some functions that slow cookers can do, well, better, such as tenderizing large cuts of meat and offering more control when it comes to dishes like beef stew. During their testing, the Good Housekeeping Institute found that “traditional slow cookers performed well and were consistent,” while multi-cookers “did well also, but with slightly lower results.” That being said, if you want a slow cooker that can do more than just slow-cooking, you've got options.
Is it worth buying a slow cooker?
Whether you want to cook healthier meals or don’t have the time to plan a full-on feast, these appliance require minimal prep in exchange for cooking sublime slow-cooker recipes. It doesn’t matter whether you’re cooking for yourself or for a crowd, because the best part about these adaptable devices is that there’s something out there for every person and lifestyle. Here are some factors to keep in mind while shopping:
Capacity: We’re not just talking about the quantity of food your slow cooker can make at a time. First, you’ll want to take into account how much space you have in your kitchen and on your counters for usage and storage. It’s no use dropping cash on a small appliance only to never use it because it doesn’t fit underneath your cabinets or is too wide to securely place on your counter.
Curious as to what size slow cooker is best for a single person? During testing, the Good Housekeeping Institute found that smaller models—so, 4 quarts or less—“produced a superior beef stew to slow cookers that had a capacity of 6 quarts or more.” Pair that with being less bulky and easier to lift and you’re sure to be a happy camper, whether it’s just you or two of you.
That being said, if you tend to cook bigger batches because you have a larger family or just love some good leftovers (and who doesn’t?), there are models available that are as large as eight quarts to meet your needs.
Temperature settings: At the very least, slow cookers have two temperature settings: High, which usually reaches about 212° , and low, which clocks in just above 200° . If you’re willing to pay a little more, you can find models with settings like browning meat, making rice, even sous vide.
The most handy feature to look for, especially when you're using your slow cooker while you're out and about for the day: a “keep warm” setting, which usually hovers about 20° above the recommended temperature for food safety at around 165°.
Features: In addition to the aforementioned browning, rice-making, and sous vide settings that some models offer, you can find a slow cooker that can do just about anything, from air frying to monitoring your food’s internal temperature with a built-in probe thermometer. Some appliances even offer additional conveniences to fit your lifestyle, like “delay start” settings and ovular shaped if you often plan on slow-cooking roast beef.
They can even come with nonstick inserts (which are more ideal than ceramic options because they’re typically lighter and easier to hand-wash) or lockable lids and rubber gaskets to effortlessly transport your food.
What are the top tips for slow cooking?
Brown your meat before putting it in the slow cooker. Though it may seem like the slow cooker can do it all, there are a few things you should avoid putting in your slow cooker. (Check out foods to never make in a slow cooker.)
Experiment with different time and temperature settings. Each slow cooker is different, so see which yield the best results for you.
Keep a lid on it. Removing your slow cooker’s lid while in use causes heat to escape, which can result in uneven cooking and longer wait times.
Submerge meat fully in liquid. Be sure your meat is fully submerged in any liquid you’ve added—like chicken broth or gravy—to ensure it evenly cooks. Otherwise, the portions simmering in liquid can end up overdone while you wait for their fellow portions to play catch-up.
Use a food thermometer to make sure your dishes are cooked all the way through. Stick it in the thickest part of the meat (usually the middle).
If you find that food is consistently overcooked, reduce the cook time if you plan on using the warm setting. You can leave your slow cooker on low overnight, but do not leave it on high. Most models recommend only using the high temperature setting for 4 to 6 hours. If you’d like to prevent your food and your home from being burnt to a crisp, be sure to use your appliance responsibly.
Kaitlin Mahar is a California-based freelance writer covering the shopping and lifestyle beats. When she's not sharing her passion for the Oxford comma with anyone who will listen, she is a proud cat parent, avid yogi, tea enthusiast, and co-host and co-producer of the podcast "Crime Culture".
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