From Season 12: Slow-Cooker Revolution
Our favorite slow cooker costs nearly $200. We recently pitted it against six new, less expensive models to see if we could save money without sacrificing performance. We limited our lineup mainly to oval slow cookers, which can fit a large roast, with capacities of 6 quarts or more, so we’d be able to feed a crowd.
Six of the seven models we tested had programmable timers and warming modes, features we like. We also like clear glass lids, which we can see through to assess the food as it cooks. Inserts that have handles and that can be washed in the dishwasher earned extra points. It seems obvious that you’d need to know if the slow cooker was on; astoundingly, we found a few models that gave no such indication until the timer started its countdown. The best control panel was simple to set and clearly indicated that the cooker was programmed.
A slow cooker should produce perfect results on all settings. We simmered pot roast on low. Nine hours later, we variously uncovered dry, tough meat; meat that disintegrated; and juicy meat in rich, beefy sauce. On high, we prepared a meat sauce full of tomatoes, sausage, flank steak, and pork ribs—what Italian-Americans call Sunday gravy. As well as extra-thick sauces and watery ones, we encountered moist, tender ribs and beef, and shrunken, tough meat. We reasoned that heat variations probably were responsible for the differences.
To find out how much heat each cooker was generating, we heated 4 quarts of water in each model on the high setting for six hours, using a probe to record the temperature at 1-minute intervals. Dried-out sauces and blown-out meat correlated with slow cookers that reached 212 degrees. In contrast, machines that never topped 190 degrees yielded watery sauces and tough meat. The best results came from models that cooked between these temperatures.
We figured temperatures must be gentler on low settings. Actually, most slow cookers hit roughly the same maximums (within 5 degrees), and in two models the temperatures produced at low settings were the same as or higher than those produced at high. The difference was the time they took to get there. On high, most slow cookers heated up in two to three hours; on low, they took five to seven hours. Frankly, we think it would be much clearer if the buttons were labeled “fast” and “slow.” There was one exception: whether set to high or low, one model reached maximum temperature in about 1½ hours, but this temperature was 12 degrees cooler on the low setting (195 versus 207 degrees).
Finally, we tested the limits of slow cookers using a French onion soup recipe that needs to simmer on high for 10 hours. All but three models automatically switched to a warming cycle after a maximum of six hours.
Two slow cookers were neck and neck, producing excellent food in well-designed machines. But our old favorite model stops cooking after six hours on high and costs about $70 more than our new winner. The latter can run up to 20 hours, even on high; offers an easy, intuitive control panel; and cooked our dinner perfectly.
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.