What features matter most in a slow cooker? You’d be surprised.
Last Updated May 19, 2023.
We tested additional slow cookers and have new co-winners. Our favorite traditional slow cookers are the KitchenAid 6-Quart Slow Cooker with Solid Glass Lid and the Hamilton Beach Temp Tracker 6 Quart Slow Cooker. Our favorite slow cooker with searing capabilities is the Cuisinart 6-Quart 3-in-1 Cook Central.
The best slow cookers are easy to use, offering you reliable, set-and-forget home cooking at the touch of a few buttons. We chose three slow cookers, all highly recommended, as co-winners. Each produced delicious meals, with different features that made these models stand out. The KitchenAid 6-Quart Slow Cooker with Solid Glass Lid remains a favorite. It had an intuitive control panel that made it very easy to use and did an excellent job of cooking all meals. The Hamilton Beach 33866 Portable 6-Quart Set & Forget Digital Programmable Slow Cooker also had simple controls and cooked exceptionally well; it’s a little smaller than the KitchenAid but is typically slightly less expensive and has some useful extra features, including a temperature probe and lockable lid for transport. If you’d like a lighter-weight slow cooker that lets you sear directly in the crock, we like the Cuisinart 6-Quart 3-in-1 Cook Central. It cooks faster and hotter than traditional ceramic slow cookers such as the other two co-winners, so you must check your food’s doneness on the early side of recipe ranges.
What You Need to Know
A slow cooker promises to be a little fantasy grandmother who sits in the kitchen all day cooking for you, but use the wrong cooker and that dream could fizzle. A cooker might run hotter than expected, drying out the food or turning it mushy, or slower than you want, so dinner isn’t ready when you are. Then there can be issues with hot spots, which make food cook unevenly. And what if operating your machine is so confusing that you have to pore over the manual each time you use it?
A well-designed slow cooker excels in covered, moist-heat cooking, also known as braising. This technique is beneficial for meat—usually tough, cheap cuts that tenderize through long, gentle cooking. When connective tissue, which is made mostly of collagen, is cooked beyond 140 degrees, it begins to break down into gelatin, the protein that makes for tender meat. Collagen breaks down most efficiently in a moist environment at temperatures around 200 degrees. This lower-than-boiling temperature range is also good for developing deep, complex flavors in soups, stews, and sauces.
Most slow cookers come with two settings: low and high. The two settings give cooks flexibility: You can either cook for a shorter span on high or about twice as long on low. Generally the choice is about convenience, not flavor or texture, though delicate foods often require the low setting. Frequently we have found that slow cookers reach the ...
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Lisa is an executive editor for ATK Reviews, cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube, and gadget expert on TV's America's Test Kitchen.