The Best Slow Cookers of 2020
The Instant Pot Lux 6-in-1 exceeds the limits of your classic crock, by incorporating the function and capability of a programmable pressure cooker. Not only that, but it also has the capability to sauté and steam, all in one pot. Although the Lux additionally impressed us with its specialized pressure cooker functions — ranging from hard-boiled eggs to NY-style cheesecake — it is this unit's capacity as a slow cooker that, of course, caught our attention for this review. We were able to cook delicious, super-tender meat for dinner while away from home without fear, thanks to this product's many safety features.
While you could conceivably cook every part of your meal with this single appliance, it might take you all afternoon — and much of that time may be taken up by reading the owner's manual (it even includes a quick-reference guide, just in case.) The Lux easily outstrips all other products in this review in terms of cooking features, but it takes considerably more time to get up to speed with the ins-and-outs of its hyper functionality. It eventually becomes very easy to work with, but we wouldn't exactly define the Lux's interface as intuitive. Nevertheless, we absolutely love the power and efficiency of what we will call a slow cooker-plus. This device is highly recommended if you want tok expand your cooking horizons and be able to do it all.
While our Editors' Choice award-winner may have won top marks in-part thanks to its multi-functional value, we're sure that some folks out there are looking to buy a more classic crock. Enter the Hamilton Beach Portable 6-Quart with Probe — a model that at its core is a highly performing slow cooker, and nothing more. The low-and-slow crowd will appreciate that this unit has one of the lowest cooking temperatures of all of the models we reviewed, ideal for those braised and barbequed recipes that call for all-day cooking. This is also our choice for cooking meat to perfection, thanks to an incorporated meat thermometer, and a probe setting that allows you to set the ideal internal temperature to an accuracy of five degrees.
Initially, the interface is not quite as intuitive as other models, but a skim of the owner's manual makes quick sense of the few buttons available. Even though this is presented as a portable model — offering a gasketed lid, secured with clips — the bulk and weight of the unit alone don't scream "carry-me," especially once you throw a four-pound roast in the mix. We believe that this unit is best living on the kitchen countertop, where it can help you slow-cook your favorite pulled meats to absolute perfection.
We absolutely love the 6-quart Cuisinart 3-in-1 Cook Central Multi-Cooker. For a multi-function version, the interface is intuitive and user friendly, thanks to dual screens that allow you to set time and temperature simultaneously, without having to cycle options. Unlike the additional pressure cooker capability of the Lux 6-in-1, the additional two functions of this model — Brown/Sauté and Steam — directly support the process required by many slow cooker recipes, without any extra fluff. Instead of having to brown a roast in a cast iron skillet first, we were able to sear meat directly in this pot, and then easily transition to adding the rest of our ingredients to continue slow cooking.
Although we appreciate the simplicity of cooking start-to-finish in one pot, that convenience still makes the cost of the Central Multi-Cooker hard to justify. We also experienced an issue during testing where the unit refused to turn on, after only a few uses — while the problem corrected itself by the next day, it made us question the durability of this pricey model. Despite this incident, if it weren't for the fact that this unit costs nearly twice as much as the next most expensive unit, this may have taken the top-spot as our Editors' Choice.
The Crock-Pot 6-Quart Cook & Carry is designed with that quintessential purpose in mind: cook up a large batch of your favorite recipe at home, and bring it with you to heat up and serve at a community-style meal. This model has an impressively long cook time — up to 20 hours — making it a great option for slow cooking stews overnight. In our testing, it did a great job of cooking down vegetables in a braising liquid: onions and tomatoes perfectly stewed, carrots and celery still with a bit of crunch, and no mushy mess when it came to potatoes.
Th Cook & Carry sports a super intuitive timer with an auto-warming function, but it does not include an auto-shutoff, so we feel it's better suited to cooking while you're in the house. And, although this is offered up as a "cook & carry" model, this thing is heavy when filled, and the stainless steel sidewalls can get very hot. But if you do decide to take it out to your next tailgate, it has over-sized handles and a well-designed locking lid to keep your favorite dish safely secured in the pot.
The classic cooker has been a staple at potlucks and picnics since its invention, and the Crock-Pot 2.5-Quart Mini Casserole proudly carries that flag into the future. This simple, 3-setting version sports the retro aesthetic that you might see on your grandmother's slow cooker, but with a few modern upgrades. The rim of the locking lid has a gasket to ensure that all of the food stays where it is supposed to, even in transit. We particularly like the design of the locking mechanism, which thoughtfully includes garages to keep the hooks out of the way when cooking or serving.
The Mini Casserole, as its name suggests, is much smaller than most competitors in this review. It may have a similarly sized footprint, but the dish is significantly more shallow than all other models. While it is not big enough to cook a roast, we were able to easily nest four, sizable spare ribs comfortably in a braising stock. The reduction in cooking capacity is made up for with portability — this cute, lightweight crock is perfect to cook and carry along for your next 'Friendsgiving.'
When it comes to high performance in a simple package, the Hamilton Beach 4-Quart Programmable is an incredible value compared to other models with similar capacity and capabilities. The interface is as uncomplicated and intuitive as they come, so you will be cooking up new dishes within minutes of unpackaging. When it comes to cooking performance, this basic unit held its own against much more expensive competitors. We were able to cook a hearty minestrone soup with ease — a dish that can be notoriously difficult due to the different temperature requirements of the many ingredients.
We have to be up-front about just how "programmable" this unit really is: while you are able to set a timer, and one that will automatically transition the unit to a warming pot after your set cook-time ends, that is also where the programming-potential of this appliance ends. Additionally, this model only offers timer settings in 2-hour increments up to 10 hours, so it is not nearly as fine-tuned as other computerized options. But even though its timer capability is limited, you will be hard-pressed to find another option with this ability at the same price-point.
Don't be thrown off by the diminutive size of the Elite Gourmet 1.5-Quart — its value far exceeds some of the other models included in this review. In fact, the pint-sized package of this crock is exactly what made us fall in love with it. Perfect for side dishes and other small portions, this is one of the few units that is capable of cooking perfectly fluffy rice in quantities other than pounds. For those who enjoy savory congee or porridge in the morning, this is the ideal-sized crock to set up and slow cook those meals overnight.
This is a super basic model, so don't expect any bells and whistles on this classically designed appliance. To its benefit, however, it does include an on/off light — surprisingly, this is a huge advantage over some of the other popular, manual options included in this review. While it is possible to cook slightly more than a single serving, don't expect to even dish out a dinner-for-two from this crock — you'll both probably leave hungry. The Elite is small enough to incorporate into a kitchen of any size, and we see particular value for those dorm-dwelling, oatmeal-eating college students who are searching for an alternative to rousing themselves from bed in time for dining hall breakfast.
The Tru Triple Crock Buffet is something of a novelty: three, individually operated, 2.5-quart crocks allow you to cook an entire meal in a convenient unit. We loved it for this purpose — we were able to glaze chicken wings, steam rice, and simmer broccoli simultaneously. The low cooking temperature of this unit makes it particularly suited for cooking sides of vegetables — we were able to cook down root vegetables in just butter, no liquid, on a low-setting without any burning. For this reason, we specifically enjoyed the ability to cook multiple side dishes, freeing up the stove to focus on the main course.
However, the large footprint of the Triple Crock doesn't exactly make it practical for day-to-day use — we believe it is best to save this one to impress your guests at your next potluck. Despite its overall bulk — which makes it quite the pain to store — the 2.5 quart pots are hardly big enough to fit even a small roast. That said, while this manually-operated crock is basic in function, it is perfect for keeping appetizers warm and delicious at a party that goes late into the evening.
The Crock-Pot 8-Quart Manual is an over-sized version of your very basic crockpot, complete with an additional 16 ounce warmer. Without the added benefit of a timer, it is best to make sure that you are going to be at home to check-in on this manually operated appliance from time-to-time. From our testing, it's fairly obvious that the enormous capacity of this crock is intended for serving large groups of people. This 1.2 cubic-foot, 16-pound crock is certainly big enough to slow cook a small turkey — and the warmer is the perfect place to keep gravy while it's roasting!
But beware when it comes to cooking smaller dishes, as the high output of the heating element tends to overcook smaller portions. Due to its size, this stoneware crock also takes a noticeably longer amount of time to come up to temperature; this is not ideal for quickly steaming a side of vegetables before dinner. We found this model to be most useful for braising large, cross-cuts — like an Osso Buco — where the bone-in shank requires the extra depth afforded by this overly-sized version.
When you picture a crockpot, more than likely the first image that comes to your mind is something resembling the Crock-Pot 3-Quart Round Manual. The classic design gets an upgrade with this stainless steel version. It is the size and shape we expect — plenty of capacity to cook up a big pot of chili for the whole family. While it easily accommodates a one-pound roast nestled in braising liquid, a two-pound cut may push the limits of this relatively small pot.
This manually operated unit is everything you expect and nothing more, with no additional features to improve either safety or cooking performance. Specifically beware when moving this cooker around the kitchen — the non-insulated sidewalls are too hot to touch when the unit is cooking. But it's hard not to admit that there is a simple elegance to this ever-popular crockpot. It's a clean, modern-looking appliance that is a great addition to any kitchen and is available at a very reasonable price.
Why You Should Trust Us
Have you ever been asked the question, "if you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?" For our home-cooking expert, Aaron Rice, his answer is BBQ — and that answer alone should qualify him as an authority on slow cookers. Beyond his love for braised meats, Aaron has devoted much of his life to sharing good food with anyone and everyone. After working in and around professional kitchens for the better portion of a decade, he now co-manages an on-site culinary garden with his wife for a fine-dining restaurant in Santa Fe, NM. Beyond cooking and growing food, he spends most of his time in the mountains — working as both a gear tester for OutdoorGearLab and as a full-time ski patroller in the winter.
In order to bring you the best possible reviews, we employ our knowledgeable experts to carry out an extensive testing process. First, we perform our due diligence, spending hours researching online to narrow down our selection to some of the best products available. We then purchase all of these models at retail value, so that we are able to provide you with objective and unbiased reviews. Our conclusions are drawn from side-by-side testing — we use these products daily, and then back up our experiences with assessments that are specifically designed to scrutinize them compared to one another. By analyzing only the highest quality products on the market, we are able to offer this definitive guide to helping you find the best slow cooker for your own home kitchen.
Analysis and Test Results
A slow cooker is a specialized appliance, and as such, we hope to help you narrow your search for the perfect one to suit your needs. Being able to prepare ingredients in the morning, and then return in the evening to the fragrance of a warm, home-cooked meal wafting through the house is not only convenient, it is a thing of beauty. To help make this dream a reality for you, we first identified four key characteristics that help define a great slow cooker: user friendliness; cooking performance; cooking features; ease of cleaning. We then devoted more than a week to testing all of these models side-by-side — cooking up large batches of food, analyzing each important quality, and then ranking each one according to these metrics. It is important to note that all of these are ranked relative to one another — we believe that even the lowest scoring units are still a worthy investment for any kitchen.
What is a slow cooker, if not convenient? If it is not easy to get one of these appliances up and running, then you may as well spend that time cooking that same meal over the stove top. Many of these models offer relatively similar exhibitions of cooking performance — therefore, it is user-friendliness that provides the first-impression, and the quality that initially sets them apart.
There are a few important aspects that contribute to the overarching quality of user-friendliness, and that varies across the broad spectrum tested in this review. For programmable models, how intuitive is the interface? Can you pull the appliance from the shelf, and easily set the temperature and time, or do you have to go back and refer to the owner's manual to get going? These questions aren't really applicable to manually-operated models. For those, you want to know how well the appliance will incorporate itself into your kitchen. Does it have a huge footprint — and must be stored in the basement — or can it live on the countertop for easy access? Does this version offer a locking lid, so you can bring your favorite dish with you to a potluck without making a mess of your car?
Regardless of its computing power, the Hamilton Beach Portable with Probe offers an easy answer to all of these questions. Not only is this multi-functional model easy and intuitive to operate — albeit after a quick read of the owner's manual — its locking lid makes it easy to bring your crowd-pleasing pulled pork to the next backyard barbeque. For many of the same reasons, we sincerely appreciated the simple button layout and locking lid of the Crock-Pot Cook & Carry. While the Crock-Pot 8-Quart and Tru Triple Crock have their time and place — particularly when it comes to serving party-sized portions — their size and footprint don't make them very practical for daily use in most kitchens.
When it comes to choosing one of these appliances, the qualities of cooking performance are certainly relative to the style of cooking you prefer, and the types of recipes that this style tends to favor. The time frame required for this type of cooking calls for efficiency through consistency — namely, the ability to maintain a set temperature for a long period of time — and low-and-slow is the name of the game. This topic may be debated, but many professional sources agree that the ideal slow cooking temperature falls somewhere between 190 - 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
It should not come as a surprise that the models that came closest to hitting this mark are also the ones that scored highest in terms of overall cooking performance. The low setting of the Lux 6-in-1 came closest to this ideal temperature — indeed, this unit is capable of cooking meats that are fall-off-the-bone tender. But anecdotal evidence also illuminated exceptions to this rule: while the Crock-Pot 8-Quart was the next closest competitor, the roasts cooked with this model were much drier in comparison.
We noted that there are important differences between sizes, and that size often determines if a model is particularly suited to cooking certain types of meals. For instance, the Crock-Pot 3-Quart Round is the perfect size for a family-sized pot of chili, while the similarly shaped, but more petite Elite Gourmet 1.5-Quart is much better suited to cooking rice or beans. Directly comparing models of the same quart-capacity: we were able to appropriately space out spare ribs in the wide body of the Crock-Pot Mini Casserole, whereas the same dish would have been totally cramped in one of the 2.5-quart crocks of the Tru Triple.
Not all slow cookers are created equal, and the cooking features that they have may be the best defining differential quality outside of user-friendliness. In order to appropriately judge this metric, we took into account certain features — notably the design quality of the lid, safety features, and cooking indicators. But the best way to differentiate between your options is to divide them into two distinct categories: programmable and non-programmable.
A non-programmable model is the basic version — this is likely what you remember from your grandmother's kitchen. It has three heat settings: Low, High, and Warm. Beyond that, most of these simple crocks offer no additional cooking features. The difference then is in design features that influence cooking. For instance, the Elite Gourmet 1.5-Quart is the only turn-dial model we tested that includes an on/off light. We also particularly appreciate the models that are designed with alarms — including the Cuisinart Central Multicooker, Hamilton Beach Portable with Probe, and the Lux 6-in-1.
Of course, the multi-function options blew the competition out of the water. For the price, it is nearly impossible to top the programmable functions, lid design, safety mechanisms, and display of the Lux 6-in-1 — not to mention the fact that this model also offers the ability to pressure cook, sauté, and steam! Second-in-line for distinctive cooking features is the Cuisinart Central Multicooker, also offering sauté and steaming capabilities. The fact that the Hamilton Beach Portable includes a meat thermometer and includes a program that allows you to set an internal temperature is a huge advantage over many other models when it comes to slow cooking red meat in particular.
Ease of Cleaning
Not only are these appliances easy to cook with, but they also tend to be incredibly easy to clean! Most of the models we tested are designed with the classic, stoneware crock — with the exception of the Lux 6-in-1, which is stainless steel, and the Central Multi-Cooker, which is a nonstick aluminum. These enamel pots are very easy to scrub clean, and all models — including the metal ones — are dishwasher safe.
Otherwise, ease of cleaning is really determined by the size and shape of the pot itself. A 4-quart model, like the Hamilton Beach Programmable, easily fits into a standard dishwasher, without taking up too much space whereas the oversized pot of the Crock-Pot 8-Quart requires pretty much the entire lower rack. While many will appreciate the nonstick coating of the Central Multi-Cooker, our lead tester is skeptical of the long-term durability of this material for a slow cooker pot and opts for the stainless steel or stoneware models for his own kitchen.
It doesn't have to be a slow process in order to find the best slow cooker to fit the needs of your home kitchen. We did our research to narrow the selection down to the most popular, highly-regarded appliances on the market so that you only have to choose from the best options available. This appliance can become a heritage cooking tool, so we hope that our comprehensive review helps you find the one that will last for generations.
— Aaron Rice