Looking for the best slow cooker? Our culinary experts researched the top models on the market today, selecting 10 of the best to purchase for side-by-side testing. To bring you a comprehensive review of this classic kitchen appliance, we tested the competition in real kitchens with all kinds of meals. From stews and soups to BBQ brisket and chicken wings, we cooked extensively — albeit slowly — in each of these so that you can decide which is the best model for your kitchen. Our team also developed objective tests to deliver conclusive advice and help better inform your purchase decisions.
Pressure cook, slow cook, rice cooker, yogurt maker, steamer, sauté pan, and food warmer with 14 customizable Smart Programs and 10 safety features like a locking lid and overheat protection
Programmable time (30 min increments) and temp (high/low); manual mode; probe mode; ability to set desired temp (°F and °C); auto warm; auto shut off after 14 hours; beeps to indicate on/off/start
Slow cooker, sauté, and steam functions (includes steaming rack); programmable time and temp (50°F increments); manual setting, sleep mode; auto warm; auto shut off after 8 hours; beeps to indicate on/off/start
Programmable time (30min increments) and temp (high/low); auto warm setting
Programmable time (30min increments) and temp (high/med/low); manual mode; probe mode; auto warm; auto shut off after 6 hours; beeps to indicate on/off/start
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The Instant Pot Duo is a 6-quart 7-in-1 cooker that takes the top spot with good reason. This stainless steel beauty is completely programable and has a laundry list of great features. Those features include an insulated lid shape that is easier to remove than previous versions, as well as improved steam vents. From pressure cooking to a yogurt setting, this is a truly impressive kitchen appliance. Though it's expensive compared to units that only slow cook, we find high value in the Duo because it's so versatile.
Because of the shape, the 6-quart pot can feel a bit small compared to rectangular models. You have to pay a little bit more attention when stirring if you've put a lot inside. And while the Duo has many super great features, it could overwhelm someone new to cooking. Thankfully, the manual is well-laid out, and there are tons of recipe books and websites dedicated solely to the art of Instant Pot cooking. Truly this is the greatest bang for the buck if you want to expand your cooking beyond just pot roasts and chili.
Included meat probe with capacity to set desired cooking temperature
REASONS TO AVOID
Really loud alarm
While our top choice may have won marks thanks to its multi-functional value, we're sure that some folks are looking to buy a more classic crock. Enter the Hamilton Beach 6-Quart Set & Forget — a model that is a highly-performing slow cooker with nothing extra to contend with. 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. 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, this is also our choice for cooking meat to perfection.
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 with a gasket lid secured with clips, the bulk and weight of the unit alone doesn't scream "carry me" — especially once you throw a four-pound roast in the mix. We believe that this unit is best when living on the kitchen countertop, helping you slow-cook your favorite pulled meats to absolute perfection.
For a multi-function cooker, we love the Cuisinart 6-Quart 3-in-1 Cook Central. 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 Instant Pot Duo, the other two functions of this model — Brown/Sauté and Steam — directly support the process required by many slow-cooked recipes — without any extra fluff. We could sear meat directly in this pot and then easily transition to adding the rest of our ingredients for slow cooking instead of browning a roast in a cast iron skillet first.
Although we appreciate the simplicity of cooking start-to-finish in one pot, that convenience still makes the cost of the Cook Central Multi-Cooker hard to justify. Additionally, after only a few uses, we experienced an issue during testing where the unit refused to turn on — while the problem corrected itself by the next day, it made us question the durability of this pricey model. Despite this incident, this model still may have taken the top spot if it weren't for the fact it costs nearly twice as much as the next most expensive unit.
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 of up to 20 hours, making it an excellent option for slow-cooking stews overnight. It did a great job cooking down vegetables in a braising liquid during testing: onions and tomatoes perfectly stewed, carrots and celery still with a bit of crunch, and no mushy mess when it came to potatoes.
The Cook & Carry sports a super intuitive timer with an auto-warming function. However, it doesn't feature an auto-shutoff, making us less comfortable using this product while we're not at home. Also, although this is offered up as a "cook & carry" model, it's pretty heavy when filled, and the stainless steel sidewalls can get very hot. But should you decide to take it out to your next tailgate, it has oversized handles and a well-designed locking lid to keep your favorite dish safely secured in the pot.
Since its invention, the classic cooker has been a staple at potlucks and picnics, 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 you might see on your grandmother's countertop, 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.
As its name suggests, the Mini Casserole is much smaller than most competitors in this review. Though it may have a similarly sized footprint, the dish is significantly shallower than the other contenders. While it is not big enough to cook a roast, we could easily nest four sizable spare ribs comfortably in a braising stock. The flip side to the smaller cooking capacity is that this model is much more portable — this cute, lightweight crock is perfect for cooking and carrying along for your next 'Friendsgiving.'
Why You Should Trust Us
Before starting each review at GearLab, we perform our due diligence, spending hours researching the market before purchasing the best products available. For this review, our culinary experts have tested 10 slow cookers, devoting more than a week to side-by-side cooking sessions of various meals. To evaluate all aspects of a slow cooker's performance, we developed a set of testing metrics, ultimately subjecting each slow cooker to over 18 tests. A cooker's score in each testing metric makes up a portion of their overall performance score.
Our testing of slow cookers is divided across four different metrics:
User-Friendliness (35% of overall score weighting)
Cooking Performance (30% weighting)
Cooking Features (25% weighting)
Ease of Cleaning (10% weighting)
Among the testing metrics, user-friendliness holds the most weight of a product's overall score. We believe a slow cooker is the epitome of easy, low-maintenance cooking, and a model's design and interface should support this. To flush out the details of this test metric, we took note of multiple factors, such as the various temperature settings, timer (i.e., will the model automatically turn to warm after cook time?), ease of programming, and cook and carry capability. Following close behind user-friendliness is cooking performance, holding 30% of a product's overall score. For this test metric, we cooked meat, grains, beans, and veggies, plus took notes regarding the slow cooker's size and cooking temperature.
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. Aaron has devoted much of his life to sharing delicious food with anyone and everyone. After working in and around professional kitchens for the better part of a decade, he currently co-manages an on-site culinary garden with his wife for a fine-dining restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Beyond cooking and growing food in the garden, he spends most of his time in the mountains — working as a gear tester for GearLab and full-time ski patroller in the winter.
Genaveve Bradshaw has spent hundreds of hours testing food categories at GearLab. She's a foodie at heart and has been called a "spice girl" after her fondness for carrying around various spices and hot sauces in her purse, car, and camping kit became public knowledge. Exploring new recipes, improving beloved favorites, and expanding her understanding of flavor pushes Genaveve both in her personal and professional life, and she continues to expand her knowledge with each food category she dives into.
Ruth Bruckbauer is not really a foodie and has never even set foot in a professional kitchen, but that doesn't mean that she hasn't made a lot of great food. Ruth figures she has cooked well over 46,500 — and counting — made-from-scratch meals. Although her youngest son told her that he "wouldn't classify you as an adventurous cook, mom," her five children are now five strong, healthy adults who also enjoy cooking. In fact, a few of them would classify themselves as adventurous cooks and foodies.
Analysis and Test Results
Preparing ingredients in the morning and then returning home to the fragrance of a warm, home-cooked meal wafting through the house is convenient and a thing of beauty. To help make this dream a reality for you, we identified four testing metrics that define a great slow cooker. It is important to note that all of the slow cookers in this review are ranked relative to one another — we believe that even the lowest-scoring units are still a worthy investment for any kitchen.
Value can be entirely subjective. But here at GearLab, we pit price versus performance in our stringent testing to give you unbiased opinions of the products. We take value very seriously because it translates to how you spend your hard-earned money and, more importantly, if you will be happy with your purchase. That's why we bought every single slow cooker we tested at full price, just as you would. We then made meal after meal and fed them to our co-workers and families, gathering opinions and data points along the way.
The Hamilton Beach 6-Quart Set & Forget and Crock-Pot 6-Quart Cook & Carry are both solid options. They retain what's best about a classic slow cooker with some helpful modern upgrades. However, if you want more and can afford to spend a bit more, the Instant Pot Duo provides the most impressive bang for the buck. It slow cooks, sure, but it also does a lot more, from pressure cooking to yogurt making. If these options are still outside your budget, go with something smaller and simpler, like the Crock-Pot 2.5-Quart Mini Casserole. At the end of the day, the important thing is to choose something you'll use — a slow cooker will easily pay for itself time and again (in regards to both money and time invested) as long as you like it enough to put it to good use.
What is a slow cooker if not convenient? If it is not easy to get one of these appliances up and running, you may as well spend that time cooking that same meal over the stovetop. Many of these models offer similar cooking performance exhibitions, so user-friendliness looks at the first impression and the qualities that ultimately set each cooker apart.
The aspects contributing to how user-friendly a slow cooker is will vary depending on the type of product it is. For example, with programmable models, how intuitive is the interface? Can you pull the appliance from the shelf and effortlessly set the temperature and time, or do you have to go back and refer to the owner's manual to get going? Whether digital or analog, another consideration is the footprint. How much storage space does it require? Can it live on the countertop for easy access? Does it offer a locking lid, so you can bring your favorite dish to a potluck without making a mess of your car? These are important factors to consider when deciding which product to purchase.
Regardless of its computing power, the Instant Pot Duo offers an easy answer to all of these questions. This multi-functional model is easy to operate after a quick scan of the owner's manual, and its locking lid makes it easy to transport your famous pulled pork to the next backyard barbecue. The All-Clad 6.5-Quart is another high-scorer here, with easy-to-navigate controls and helpful timer/keep warm settings.
When choosing one of these appliances, the qualities of cooking performance are undoubtedly relative to the style of cooking you prefer and the types of recipes that this style favors. The time frame required for this type of cooking calls for efficiency through consistency — namely, the ability to maintain a set temperature for an extended period — and low-and-slow is the name of the game. Although somewhat debatable, many professional sources agree that the ideal slow cooking temperature falls between 190 - 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Not surprisingly, the models closest to hitting this mark also score the highest in overall cooking performance. The low setting of the Instant Pot Duo came the nearest to this ideal temperature — indeed, this unit can cook meats that are fall-off-the-bone tender. But anecdotal evidence also illuminated exceptions to this rule: while the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget is a close 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 slow cooker is particularly suited to cooking certain types of meals. In a small quart-capacity, we could appropriately space out spare ribs in the wide body of the Crock-Pot Mini Casserole, whereas the same dish would be cramped in one of the other models.
Not all slow cookers are created equal, and the cooking features may be the best defining differential quality outside of user-friendliness. Therefore, when judging this metric, we considered specific features like lid design, 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 a basic version and what you likely 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.
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 Instant Pot Duo — not to mention that this model also offers the ability to pressure cook, sauté, and steam. Also notable for distinctive cooking features is the Cuisinart 6-Quart 3-in-1 Cook Central, which features sauté and steaming capabilities. However, the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget has a considerable advantage over many other models when it comes to slow-cooking red meat. The included meat thermometer and program allow you to set an internal temperature and walk away, confident your dinner will come out perfectly. All three of these cookers also have helpful alarms.
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; exceptions are the Instant Pot Duo, a stainless steel option, and the Cuisinart Cook Central, a non-stick aluminum contender. The enamel pots are very easy to scrub clean with a sponge, and all models — including the metal ones — are dishwasher safe.
Outside of the crock material, ease of cleaning is determined by the size and shape of the pot itself. A smaller model, like the Elite Gourmet 1.5 Quart, easily fits into a standard dishwasher without taking up too much space. In contrast, the oversized pot on the Crock-Pot 7-Quart requires pretty much the entire lower rack. While many will appreciate the non-stick coating of the Cuisinart Cook Central, our test team is skeptical of the long-term durability of this material for a pot and prefer the stainless steel or stoneware models.
It doesn't have to be a slow process to find the best slow cooker to add to your home kitchen. Fortunately, you can reap the benefits from our hard work. We devoted a ton of time to using these slow cookers so we could narrow down the selection and find the right one for your needs. There's no doubt that this countertop kitchen appliance is worth the investment and free smells — just prep your ingredients and let the slow cooker do the rest. As Julia Child often said, Bon appetit!
Genaveve Bradshaw, Ruth Bruckbauer, and Aaron Rice
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.