From Season 4: One-Pot Wonders
Slow cookers (better known as Crock-Pots, a name trademarked by the Rival company) may be the only modern kitchen convenience that saves the cook time by using more of it rather than less. And part of their appeal has always been price. But as slow cookers have gained popularity in recent years, manufacturers have added new features-and larger price tags. Does more money buy a better slow cooker? To find out, we rounded up seven models priced between $40 and $150 and put them through some very slow tests in the kitchen.
Time, however, is not really the name of this game. It turns out that what matters is size, at least with our pot roast recipe. We recommend buying a slow cooker with a minimum capacity of 6 quarts. Anything smaller and a modest 5-pound roast, pork loin, or brisket won't fit.
Shape also matters. We found the round crock styles to be deeper than the oval crocks, and they heated more evenly. That said, while the depth and shape of these round cookers made them perfect for submerging a roast in braising liquid, it proved a hindrance with recipes requiring bulky, layered ingredients, such as chicken parts or ribs. Oval-shaped slow cookers have more surface area for cooking and are better suited to these kinds of recipes. Because oval cookers also work when making chilis, stews, or roasts, they are the more versatile choice. However, if you're going to use your slow cooker only for stews and chilis, a round cooker is a possible option.
In addition to differences in size and shape, we noted a variety of features on slow cookers, some of which are quite helpful. A "keep warm" setting is sensible (it turns the heat down once the food is done), but only when paired with a timer. This way, if you are late getting home from work, dinner will still be fine. Without a timer, the keep warm function seems useless. We also liked models with power light—without one, it's hard to tell if the slow cooker is on. As might be expected, a dishwasher-safe crock and lid are desirable. Other features we found beneficial were insert handles (which make it easy to remove the hot insert), and a clear lid that allows you to see the food as it cooks.
One new feature proved less desirable. Two of our models claimed to have stovetop-safe inserts that could be used to first brown the meat and then put directly into the slow cooker. We found, though, that neither insert browned meat very well—the recommended maximum medium heat simply doesn't get the job done. To give this option a final test, we tested a $250 model that had an aluminum pan insert that could take the higher heat. Frankly, we still found the job messy. You still have to cook food in batches for big recipes (which means dirtying another bowl) and pouring off excess fat was a bother. We’d still rather buy a cheaper slow cooker and use a separate skillet for stovetop cooking.
Victorinox (formerly Victorinox Forschner) 6-inch Straight Boning Knife: Flexible
The nonslip grip and narrow, straight blade let testers remove the smallest bones with precision and complete comfort. Perfectly balanced with enough flexibility to maneuver around tight joints. The low price was a bonus.
|★ ★ ★||★ ★ ★||$19.95|
Wüsthof Classic Boning Knife
Hefty in weight, this knife was a solid performer when removing poultry bones, and the handle was easy to grip, even when covered in chicken fat. Piercing silver skin was a challenge since the tip wasnt sharp enough and the long narrow blade produced slightly jagged cuts.
|★ ★||★ ★ ★||$99.95|
|Recommended with Reservations|
Mundial Boning Knife: Flexible
The sharp tip performed well when removing silver skin, but it was too flexible when maneuvering around poultry joints, leaving testers feeling a lack of control. The heavy handle was slightly unbalanced and became slippery once covered in poultry fat.
|★ ★||★ ★||$19.95|
Shun Gokujo Filet Knife
Designed to replicate a samurai blade, this expensive knife was a disappointment. It struggled to pierce the silver skin, although long cuts were smooth and even. Minimal flexibility and extreme curve got in the way when maneuvering around joints. The smooth handle was hard to grip and slippery.
MAC Boning KnifeChef Series
The large, cumbersome handle reminded testers of an outdoors knife for fishing and hunting. The blade was too wide to maneuver around joints and it struggled to pierce silver skin. Unlike other knives, this boning knife could only slice in one direction, making intricate cuts around joints difficult.
Messermeister San Moritz Elite Flexible Boning Knife
The blade was so flexible it led to erratic cuttings; testers said the knife was hard to control. The blade was not sturdy enough to maneuver around joints and the lightweight handle felt flimsy and unbalanced.