Slow cookers were originally introduced in the 1970s to cook beans and beans alone—now these electric appliances (and the recipes for them) have evolved, making them versatile cooking gadgets capable of soups, stews, meats, breads and deserts. One of the benefits of cooking with a slow-cooker is that, well, they’re slow. They cook things at a relatively low heat, making it easy to throw things in before work in the morning and come home to a ready dinner. Things to consider when shopping for a slow cooker include:
Materials: Slow cookers come with a base and a removable crock or cooking pot. The removable portion can be made of stainless steel, porcelain or glazed ceramic/stoneware.
Size: The general range is from about 2 to 8 quart capacity. To make smaller amounts of food, it’s better to get a smaller slow cooker, rather than trying to cook a small amount in a larger model.
Heat settings: Some are one heat fits all, while others come with low, medium and high settings (typically 170 degrees to 200 degrees). Some slow cookers also come with warming settings, and some allow you to program heat changes ahead of time (i.e., four hours high, eight hours low).
According to ratings site ConsumerSearch.com, you may also want to look for: A clear, snug-fitting lid, which allows you to check their food without releasing steam and thus slowing the cooking progress; an indicator light, which lets you know the slow cooker is working and can prevent you from accidentally leaving it on overnight; stovetop-safe crocks, so you can transfer between cooking electronically and on the stove.
We scoured consumer and expert reviews to bring you slow-cooker recommendations for price ranges—and kitchens—big and small. Here are six of your best bets: