Best Slow Cooker of 2021
The Instant Pot Lux 6-in-1 exceeds your classic crock's limits by incorporating the programmable pressure cooker's function and capability as well as the ability 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. Thanks to this product's many safety features, we were able to cook delicious, super-tender meat for dinner while away from home without fear.
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.) In terms of cooking features, the Lux easily outstrips all other products in this review but takes considerably more time to get up to speed with the ins and outs of its hyper functionality. It eventually becomes straightforward to work with, but we wouldn't exactly define the Lux's interface as intuitive. Nevertheless, we love the power and efficiency of what we will call a slow cooker-plus. If you want to expand your cooking horizons and be able to do it all, this device is highly recommended.
The Hamilton Beach 4-Quart Programmable offers high performance in a simple package and is an incredible value compared to other models with similar capacity and capabilities. The interface is as uncomplicated and intuitive as possible and makes it easy to start cooking up new dishes within minutes of unpackaging. This basic unit held its own against much more expensive competitors when it comes to cooking performance. We were able to cook a hearty minestrone 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 is: while you can 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 with its limited timer capability, you will be hard-pressed to find another option with the same price-point and abilities.
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 of 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, which makes us less comfortable using this product while we're not at home. And, although this is offered up as a "cook & carry" model, it's quite 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.
While our top choice may have won marks in part thanks to its multi-functional value, we're sure that some folks 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. 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 gasketed 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.
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 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'.
For a multi-function version, we absolutely love the 6-quart Cuisinart 3-in-1 Cook Central Multi-Cooker. 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 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 were able to sear meat directly in this pot and then easily transition to adding the rest of our ingredients for slow cooking, as opposed to 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 that it costs nearly twice as much as the next most expensive unit.
We've tested very few programmable slow cookers that allow you to push the limits of a 24-hour clock, but the KitchenAid 6-Quart is one of them. For those low-and-slow recipes — like BBQ beef ribs, which really benefit from extra-long cook times — this simple, programmable model allows you to cook on one of three heat settings for up to a full 24-hours. We were able to set up a pot roast to cook all day, allowing the flavors to fully develop before this pot switched over to an automatic warming cycle after the designated cook time. The surface area of this 6-quart cooker is a little too large for us to keep it out on our countertops all the time, so we greatly appreciate that KitchenAid includes a cord wrap on the bottom to improve storage.
While the KitchenAid pot may define an easy-to-use interface, it is much more expensive than other, relatively similar models. It does a great job cooking everything from rice and beans to meats and veggies, but not in a way that justifies a price tag that is nearly double its most direct competitors. For this extra expense, you do get a bit more versatility — this is one of the few options we tested that includes high, medium, low, and warm settings — but it simply does not prove itself to be any more worthy than other, less expensive options included in this review.
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. The pint-sized package of this crock is precisely what made us fall in love with it. Perfect for side dishes and other small portions, this is one of the few units capable of cooking perfectly fluffy rice in quantities other than pounds. For those who enjoy waking up to a savory congee or porridge, this is the ideal-sized crock to set up and slow cook meals overnight.
Don't expect any bells and whistles on this classically designed appliance, as this is a super basic model. However, it does include an on/off light — surprisingly, this is a considerable 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 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 a 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 simultaneously glaze chicken wings, steam rice, and simmer broccoli. 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 especially 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.
An oversized version of your very basic crockpot, the Crock-Pot 7-Quart Oval Manual is a no-frills, stainless steel slow cooker. Without the added benefit of a timer, it is best to make sure that you will be at home to check in on this manually operated appliance from time to time. From our testing, it's fairly evident that this crock's enormous capacity is intended for serving large groups of people. It offers over a cubic foot of cooking space, which is certainly big enough to slow cook a small turkey.
But beware when it comes to cooking smaller dishes, as the heating element's higher output 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. This model is 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 model. While this is not our ideal slow-cooker based on just how much counter space it takes up, when it comes to real-estate price, the Crock-Pot 7-Quart Manual is certainly tough to beat if you're looking to feed a household.
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.
To bring you the best possible reviews, we employed 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 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 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 returning home to the fragrance of a warm, home-cooked meal wafting through the house is both convenient and a thing of beauty. To help make this dream a reality for you, we first identified four key characteristics that help define a great one: 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, you may as well spend that time cooking that same meal over the stovetop. 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.
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 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 don't apply to manually operated models. For those, you want to know how well the appliance will incorporate itself into your kitchen. Does it have a considerable 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 their size and footprint don't make them very practical for daily use in most kitchens, the Crock-Pot 7-Quart and Tru Triple Crock have their time and place — particularly when it comes to serving party-sized portions.
When it comes to 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. 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 be a surprise that the models that came closest to hitting this mark were also the ones that scored highest in 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 KitchenAid 6-Quart 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 model is particularly suited to cooking certain types of meals. Directly comparing models of the same quart-capacity for comparison: 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 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 maybe the best defining differential quality outside of user-friendliness. We took into account specific features — notably the design quality of the lid, safety features, and cooking indicators, to appropriately judge this metric. 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 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. We particularly appreciate the Cuisinart Cook Central, Hamilton Beach Portable with Probe, and the Lux 6-in-1 designed with alarms.
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 that this model also offers the ability to pressure cook, sauté, and steam! Second-in-line for distinctive cooking features is the Cuisinart Cook Central, also offering sauté and steaming capabilities. However, when it comes to slow cooking red meat, the Hamilton Beach Portable has a considerable advantage over many other models with its included meat thermometer and program that allows you to set internal temperature.
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 Cook Central, 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 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. In contrast, the oversized pot of the Crock-Pot 7-Quart requires pretty much the entire lower rack. While many will appreciate the nonstick coating of the Cook Central, our lead tester is skeptical of the long-term durability of this material for a pot and opts for the stainless steel or stoneware models for his kitchen.
It doesn't have to be a slow process to find the best slow cooker to fit your home kitchen's needs. 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