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Healthy Slow Cooker

Chapter 3

Best Slow Cookers: Top-Rated Brands & What to Buy

The Test Kitchen's Guide to Buying a Slow Cooker

Today’s slow cookers come in a wide array of sizes with lots of different features. Which ones are worth the investment?

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?

For the ideal machine that would deliver a properly cooked meal and be absolutely simple and intuitive to use, we went shopping. Previous experience taught us that glass lids were a must, as they allow you to see progress without losing heat. So were oval-shaped crocks, as these can accommodate large roasts and offer more versatility than round crocks. We also wanted a generous 6- to 7-quart capacity. With these criteria in mind, we rounded up eight models priced from $39.99 to $148.71.

We tested these eight slow cookers, preparing a variety of recipes using both low and high temperature settings and varied cooking times. We used temperature probes to map heating patterns, and a panel of testers evaluated how easy the cookers were to use and clean. We also dismantled a set of the cookers to understand the placement and type of heating elements they contained. What were our favorites of the bunch?

The KitchenAid 6-Quart Slow Cooker With Solid Glass Lid ($99.99), our former winner, handled every recipe with perfect results, albeit a bit slowly. Its thick stoneware crock, insulated housing, built-in thermal sensor, and crystal-clear controls put a well-thought-out design at your service—and at a moderate price. The Cuisinart 6-Quart 3-in-1 Cook Central ($148.71) is also a solid choice. It offers the advantages of a light, unbreakable metal crock with stay-cool plastic handles, as well as a brown-and-sear function that lets you skip using a separate skillet before slow-cooking in recipes that call for it.

➜ View Slow Cooker Equipment Review

Best Slow Cookers

Highly Recommended KitchenAid 6-Quart Slow Cooker with Solid Glass Lid

Our former champion won again for its well-designed, straightforward control panel with a countdown timer that was simple and unambiguous to set and allowed us to monitor progress at a glance. The roomy, heavy stoneware crock cooked gently and evenly and never boiled, so food emerged tender and juicy. We loved that its broad, protruding handles with grippy textured undersides usually stayed cool enough that we could pick up the crock without potholders. Thick insulation kept heat directed toward the crock, and a built-in internal temperature sensor gave this slow cooker extra “brains” to keep the temperature below boiling, which helped guarantee better results.

Model: KSC6223SS

Controls: Digital programmable

 

Highly Recommended Cuisinart 6-Quart 3-in-1 Cook Central

We loved the lightweight, nonstick metal crock and stay-cool plastic handles that made this model so easy to maneuver and clean. The pot cooks directly over a built-in hot plate, and the long, rectangular crock provides abundant surface area that’s in contact with that heat source, so this model tends to run a little hotter and finish faster than our winner but cooks evenly (built-in temperature control was evident when we monitored using a thermocouple). We suggest checking recipes early for doneness. Its brown/sauté function eliminates the need for a separate skillet, but it’s slower than a skillet and food steamed a little due to the crock’s high sides. Our testers disagreed on whether setting the cooker was easy or a little confusing. A solid performer, it’s a great choice if you hate to lift heavy crocks or worry about breakage.

Model: MSC-600

Controls: Digital programmable

 

In addition to testing large slow cookers, we also tested smaller 4-quart slow cookers; they are handy for recipes scaled for two, though we found in our recipe testing that this size of slow cooker is quite versatile and can actually be used for many other recipes. 

➜ View Small Slow Cooker Equipment Review

Best Small Slow Cookers

Recommended Cuisinart 4-Quart Cook Central 3-in-1 Multicooker

This new “multicooker”—a slow cooker that can also brown, sauté, and steam—produced perfect chicken, steaks, and ribs. Its programmable timer can be set to cook for up to 24 hours, then automatically switches to “keep warm.” We liked its lightweight, easy-clean, sturdy metal insert with extra-large handles and its oval shape, clear lid, and intuitive controls. The browning function is a nice plus for searing food or reducing sauces.

Model: MSC-400

Controls: Digital programmable

 

Best Buy Hamilton Beach Stay or Go 4-Quart Slow Cooker

This cooker performed well, producing perfect ribs, steak, and chicken. A gasket and clips on the lid let you take your cooker to a potluck without risking spills. It’s comparatively low-tech: The “off,” “low,” “high,” and “warm” settings are on a manual dial—which is its drawback. You can’t set it to turn off or switch to “keep warm” on its own.

Model: 33245 (black), 33249 (silver), 33246T (curlicue), 33346 (trellis)

Controls: Manual

 

Testing Team Editor

More About Our Testing Team

It’s not uncommon, as you walk through the offices of America's Test Kitchen, to pass a table of 25 or so staffers silently concentrating on tasting a dozen varieties of olive oilpeanut butter, or soy sauce. If you continue to the main test kitchen, you might find, say, eight slow cookers, each hooked up to a separate thermometer, each of which is connected to a computer so we can gauge how evenly they maintain a temperature over time (pictured below). Walk out the back door and you might see someone dropping one portable grill after another onto the pavement from a specified height to see how well they will stand up to abuse.

Testing Slow Cookers

It’s all in a day’s work for our Tastings and Testings team. And if you think the test cooks here at America’s Test Kitchen are obsessive in their quest for the best—and you’re quite right, they are—you should spend some time with this team. The lengths they go to in order to be sure that their tests are accurate, comprehensive, and conducted on a level playing field are enough to make the rest of us look relaxed.

There are strict written protocols for selecting the items to be tested, for running the tests themselves, and for evaluating them. There are detailed instructions for tasters. And if there is ever a question, our team will go back and run the tests again, just to be sure.

But even when that rigorous (and sometimes seemingly endless) process is over, their work is really just beginning. Because it’s not enough to say which product or piece of equipment came out on top—we need to know why. Sometimes it seems random to the rest of us, but these folks don’t believe in that word, so they keep digging and analyzing, consulting experts all over the world and sending samples to labs for analysis, until they find the keys to the particular puzzle. It might be the number of bevels on a serrated knife (spoiler: fewer is actually better) or the processing method used in making a particular soy sauce, but there will be a reason. Once they find it, we can appreciate even more clearly how solid a foundation our tastings and testings rest on.

This all holds true even for the smallest kitchen tools—the testing process has been just as disciplined, extensive, and intensive, because this group has never heard of cutting corners.

The result of all this obsessiveness? You can truly trust our recommendations.

Bookstore

Fresh Meals From A Slow Cooker Healthy Slow Cooker Revolution

200 flavorful, fuss-free recipes featuring leaner cuts of meat, fresh vegetables, and hearty grains. Discover the test kitchen’s easy tricks for building flavor with less fat.

“It’s packed with recipes for familiar favorites, but with a more healthful twist. And couldn’t we all stand a little more of that?”

Santa Cruz Sentinel

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