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Slow Cookers and Crock-Pots - How to Find the Best Slow Cooker

Slow Cooker 101 - From Buying to Caring for a Slow Cooker

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Slow cookers have become essential appliances in today's kitchens because they maximize convenience for busy cooks with their set-and-leave function and they also offer great cooking performance when it comes to cheaper cuts of meat or one-pot meals. Though slow cookers are not too complicated by design, some have neat features that are worth looking for when shopping for one. Also see Slowcooker & Crock-Pot Buying Tips for more helpful tips.

1. Types of Slow Cookers

Though we sometimes use the terms slow cooker and Crock-pot interchangeably, a Crock-pot® is in fact a slow cooker - it's Rival's popular brand of slow cooker.  The term slow cooker encompasses all brands and models of electric cookers that offer slow cooking functions. There are generally four types of slow cookers, some of which are enhanced with special features.

Basic Slow Cookers 

  • Pros:  Limited settings (High, Low, Warm),cheapest to buy, usually manual operation
  • Cons: Limited features and styles, manual set to Warm, not programmable

Programmable Slow Cookers

  • Pros: Set ahead features, best choice for those who like delay start; more variety of features, most shift from cook to warm when meal is done, most have digital controls, good variety of models
  • Cons: More expensive, usually larger models

Slow Cookers With Buffet Serving

  • Pros: Most convenient, good choice for those who entertain often, versatile functions for cooking plus serving
  • Cons: More expensive, bulky to store, sometimes heavy to lift

Slow Cook Multifunction Cookers

  • Pros: Convenient function on some cookers, reduces counter clutter (fewer appliances)
  • Cons: Increases cost of cooker, limited slow cooking function

2. Important Slow Cooker Features

Your first consideration is choosing a slow cooker capacity that meets your needs and that will include deciding on a round or oval shape cooker.  Many homes have more than one slow cooker, because this appliance is very convenient convenient for a number of tasks from keeping vegetables warm and gravy hot on a buffet, making a large batch of pasta sauce or soup for two. Buy a slow cooker based on what you will cook with it - large batch or small. Slow cooker features include:

  • Best capacity for your needs:  Family sized: 4 - 6 qts; for two: 2-1/2 - 3 qts; small batch: 1-1/2 qts.
  • Oval vs Round:  Oval accommodates poultry better and is more versatile for two roasts; round is good for soups, stews, sauces
  • Should have Low, High, Warm
  • Removable cooking insert
  • Sturdy handles
  • Durable lid knob/handle

3. Bells and Whistles

While many like setting a slow cooker manually and monitoring to adjust temperature, others love a programmable slow cooker that they can set for a certain time and temperature, and not have to worry about monitoring cooking.

  • Programmable timer - set for cook time and temperature
  • Auto shift to a keep warm setting when cooking time is reached
  • Digital display
  • Enhanced lid seal or gasket
  • Meat probe function
  • Lid clamps to secure and prevent leaks during transport
  • Stay cool handles
  • Audible beep when cooking time reached

4. Energy Efficiency

While a slow cooker tends to be an energy efficient cooking appliance when compared to an oven range, a model with a programmable function might save a little energy over a basic model. That's because you can set it for the desired cooking time and it will then switch to a warm function when done (using less energy), compared to a basic model, which may remain on high or low all day. Differences in energy consumption may or may not be noticeable; it really depends how well you would monitor the cooking process of the basic model.

5. What Not to Buy

Avoid buying a large heavy slow cooker if you have problem hands or handling heavy appliances is a problem. Large slow cooker ceramic inserts tend to be heavy to wash and handle. Choose instead, a medium capacity which would likely meet your needs, or buy two - small and medium size cookers which would be easier to lift and clean. 

Buy a slow cooker capacity based on your average needs and not occasional entertaining, unless you already have an everyday model and you're looking for a second unit.  Using a large slow cooker that's only half filled, doesn't offer the best performance and recipes that denote cooking time, usually assume that the pot will be filled to its maximum level for a certain cooking time and temperature.  You can also save money by buying a basic model if you have no intention of using a programmable function.

6. Price Ranges and Compare Prices

Slow cookers tend to be one of the most affordable when it comes to kitchen appliances yet the value is tremendous, considering how long they generally last. You can buy a 1-1/2 quart basic model for under $10 and a full-featured programmable cooker for $70 or a lot less. Features and enhanced cooking or monitoring functions will influence slow cooker prices.
Compare Prices

7. Slow Cooker Reviews

With so many styles, capacities and features, it can be daunting to choose a slow cooker.  To find the best, read slow cooker reviews:

To help others make good slow cooker buying decisions, take a minute and review your current or previous slow cooker:

9. General Appliance Tips

What to do if your appliance has been recalled or you've upgrade to a new model.  And there are reasons why it's a good idea to inform manufacturers of problems or areas where appliances could be improved.  Remember to review your product manual and keep it handy - it has lots of use information, as well as key tips on how to properly care for your new appliance.

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