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It might seem contradictory that an appliance that cooks your food slowly over the course of several hours can actually help save you time, but busy cooks know slow cookers are the secret to getting easy meals on the table without much, if any, hands on cooking time.
Slow cookers are safe enough to leave running while you sleep or even while you’re away from home for the workday. Fill a slow cooker in the morning and come home to a finished dinner of meatballs, roast chicken, or a batch of chili with minimal effort.
Most popular slow cookers are oval shaped and have a capacity in the 6- to 7-quart range, so they’re ideal for cooking a whole 4 or 5-pound chicken or a medium-sized roast, although there are also smaller and larger cookers on the market as well. Whether you want a slow cooker that can function as a multi-cooker or are looking for one that is programmable, portable, or budget-friendly, there's a slow cooker to meet your demands.
Here are the best slow cookers on the market.
Best Overall: Hamilton Beach Programmable Set & Forget 6-Quart Slow Cooker
Patented temperature probe setting
Control panel is difficult to read
This slow cooker checks all the boxes on your wish list. It’s programmable or you can operate it manually. There’s a temperature probe to check the temperature of your food as you cook it. And at 6 quarts, it’s the perfect size for most uses. When the cooking time or temperature is reached, the cooker switches to a warming setting.
For anyone needing to travel with their slow cooker, this model has sturdy handles, and the lid has a gasket to eliminate spills. The lid also clips on tight so you can take it to a potluck or family dinner. For serving, there’s a spoon that clips on to the unit to keep it from getting lost in transit.
There are three settings: program (which allows you to set a cooking time), probe (which uses the temperature probe to determine doneness), and manual (which lets you set high, low, or warm temperatures without setting a cooking time).
If you live in an area with frequent power glitches, you’ll appreciate that this model will stay on during brief outages and keep cooking, or keep your food warm until you get home.
Capacity: 6 quarts | Pot Material: Stoneware | Weight: 12.8 pounds | Dimensions: 10.2 x 16 x 16.1 inches
"The temperature probe mode allowed us to cook poultry and meat to an exact internal temperature before the appliance switched over to the warm setting." - Gayle L. Squires, Product Tester
Runner-Up, Best Overall: KitchenAid Slow Cooker
Large cooking vessel
Keep warm mode
Temperature doesn’t get as hot
Stainless steel shows fingerprints
This slow cooker is designed for perfect cooking and easy serving, with a glass lid that can be opened on hinges on either side of the handle—perfect for buffet serving while keeping foods warm and covered. The 6-quart cooking insert is oval-shaped to fit foods like whole chickens or roasts, and it’s removable for serving and for easy cleanup.
Unlike cookers that only have high and low temperatures, this has settings for high, medium, and low cooking as well as a keep-warm setting. It can be programmed for up to 24 hours of cooking—in 30-minute increments—for unattended cooking. If you’re not available when cooking time is up, it automatically switches to keep-warm for 4 hours.
The easy-to-read digital display shows how much cooking time is left, as well as the temperature setting. For storage, the cord stores on the bottom of the cooker. If you don’t need to use your slow cooker on a buffet, there is a similar model with a solid glass lid.
Capacity: 6 quarts | Pot Material: Ceramic | Weight: 16 pounds | Dimensions: 10.5 x 10.75 x 17.5 inches
"Once the timer finishes, the slow cooker automatically goes into “Keep Warm” mode, where it will stay for up to four hours before turning off." - Joline Buscemi, Product Tester
Best High-End: All-Clad Programmable Oval-Shaped Slow Cooker
Heats evenly and thoroughly
Simple, intuitive operation
Classic, elegant design
Easy to clean
Heavy build and large footprint
Exterior gets very hot
A high-end slow cooker that’s built to last, this oval model holds 6 1/2 quarts and has a black ceramic insert, a glass lid, a digital display, and sturdy stainless steel handles. The timer is programmable for up to 26 hours, and there are settings for warm, low, or high temperatures. It automatically switches to a keep-warm setting when cooking time is up.
The polished stainless steel exterior looks elegant enough to sit on your buffet (after you wipe off the smudges and fingerprints), or you can remove the ceramic insert and use that as a serving dish at your dinner table.
Capacity: 6.5 quarts | Pot Material: Ceramic | Weight: 18 pounds | Dimensions: 18 x 11.5 x 12 inches
"Each heat setting is pre-programmed with minimum and maximum run times—two to eight hours on high, four to 20 hours on low, and up to six hours on warm—which are adequate for most traditional recipes." - Gayle L. Squires, Product Tester
Best High-Tech: Instant Pot Max 9-in-1 Pressure Cooker (6-Quart)
Precise temperature control
Extra functions may be unnecessary for some
Slow cookers are a great kitchen tool, but speeding up the cooking process can also be a huge benefit. This Instant Pot can do both, and much, much more. The temperature is customizable, so it can cook at just the right heat for any recipe, it can keep food perfectly warm for serving, and it can maintain consistent heat within +/- 1.8 degrees, so it can be used for sous vide cooking, too.
When it comes to pressure cooking, it can hold a sustained 15psi, like stovetop pressure cookers, so it cooks faster than other electric pressure cookers and can also be used for home canning.
This has a large, intuitive touch screen for easy control of all of the functions, along with a simple dial to select the options. From sautéing and making rice or yogurt to slow cooking stews, this cooker can do it all. The inner cooking pot is stainless steel and dishwasher safe for easy cleaning when cooking is done.
Capacity: 6 quarts | Pot Material: Stainless steel | Weight: 13.25 pounds | Dimensions: 13.8 x 13.8 x 13 inches
Best Large Capacity: Hamilton Beach Extra-Large Stay or Go Portable 10-Quart Slow Cooker
Large 10-quart capacity
Lid clips in place for travel
Gives off electrical odor the first few uses
Less durable than other models
This is the perfect slow cooker for large families or for anyone who likes to cook freezer meals. The 10-quart capacity is even large enough to handle a 10-pound turkey or a 12-pound roast, saving oven space for pies and dinner rolls. This cooker can be set for low or high heat, and it has a warm setting to keep food at serving temperature when cooking is done.
The lid seals well and it has clips to hold it in place, so the cooker can travel to parties and potlucks without risking messy spills in the car. The large side handles offer a secure grip, so it’s easy to carry to the table or on the go. When cooking is done, the removable crock and the glass lid are dishwasher safe, so cleaning is a breeze.
Capacity: 10 quarts | Pot Material: Stoneware | Weight: 13.25 pounds | Dimensions: 13.8 x 13.8 x 13 inches
Best for Roasting: Cuisinart MSC-800 Cook Central 4-in-1 Multi-Cooker
Steaming/roasting rack included
Retractable power cord
Nonstick coating wears over time
Can't use metal utensils
Many slow cookers require plentiful liquid for proper cooking, so they can’t be used for true roasting. On the other hand, this multi-cooker is designed to make roasting easy, along with slow cooking, steaming, and browning. It includes a convenient steaming/roasting rack, so it’s ready to roast without buying extra accessories.
The slow cooking function can be set for high, low, simmer, or warm for perfect cooking control for up to 24 hours. Roasting can be set for 250 to 450 degrees for up to 6 hours, steaming can be set for up to 90 minutes, and sauté can be set for up to 500 degrees.
The inner cooking pot is removable and has a nonstick coating so food won’t stick and cleaning is easy. When cooking is done the pot and lid are dishwasher safe, and when it’s time to put the cooker away, the retractable cord gets out of the way for neat storage.
Capacity: 7 quarts | Pot Material: Aluminum | Weight: 17.6 pounds | Dimensions: 15.5 x 19 x 11 inches
Best Budget: Crockpot Cook & Carry Manual Slow Cooker
Manual version lacks timer
Lacks extra features
Slow cookers don’t need lots of fancy settings to turn out excellent meals, and this 6-quart oval unit proves it, with great style. We reviewed the manual version, but this Crock-Pot model is also available with digital controls.
The manual version has a simple dial to choose between high, low, and warm settings. The digital version has the same heat settings, as well as preseti cooking times for 4-, 6-, 8-, or 10-hours. Both come with a dishwasher-safe stoneware cooking insert and a glass lid.
While the operation of the manual controls remains as simple as using the first slow cookers, this has some updated features, like the locking lid and handles that make this slow cooker easy to transport from the kitchen to dining room or across town for a potluck.
The polished stainless steel exterior and black accents look attractive and are easy to wipe clean when you’re done cooking.
Capacity: 6 quarts | Pot Material: Stoneware | Weight: 13.5 pounds | Dimensions: 15.4 x 15.3 x 9.8 inches
"The locking lid felt secure without being complicated to use and we felt confident traveling with it." - Joline Buscemi, Product Tester
Best for Buffets: MegaChef MC-1203 Triple 2.5 Quart Slow Cooker and Buffet Server
Separate temperature controls for each crock
Built-in lid rests
Short power cord
Great for buffets or for family taco night to keep the queso, taco meat, and refried beans warm, this is a trio of slow cookers with removable crocks in a single base. Each can be controlled separately, with low, high, and warm temperatures for cooking or keeping food warm for serving, as well as an “off” option in case all three crocks aren’t needed.
Each crock holds 2 1/2 quarts, so they’re a good size for cooking side dishes or keeping food warm when the family’s schedule has everyone eating at a different time. The three separate crocks are also handy for cooking variations of the same meal when no one can agree whether the chili should be mild, medium, or hot.
The glass lids have cool-touch handles so people can remove and replace them without needing mitts, and the handy removable lid rests give a convenient place to put the lids so they won’t take up space on the table
Capacity: 7.5 quarts total, 2.5 quarts each | Pot Material: Ceramic | Weight: 19.95 pounds | Dimensions: 31 x 13 x 10.5 inches
Our number one pick is the Hamilton Beach Portable 6-Quart Set & Forget Slow Cooker. It's programmable, features a built-in temperature probe to monitor the temperature of food as it cooks, and automatically switches to a warming mode when cooking time or temperature has been reached. We also love the KitchenAid Slow Cooker. The glass lid is great for buffet serving since it can be opened on either side.
What to Look for When Buying a Slow Cooker
How much chili are you going to cook? Slow cookers tend to perform best when they’re at least half full, so there’s no sense in buying a giant cooker if you prefer cooking in small quantities. On the other hand, if you often make batches of food to freeze, a large cooker is your best bet.
Many slow cookers are oval-shaped, which makes them better for cooking whole chickens or roasts. However, keep in mind that if you’re only going to use your cooker for making soups and stews, shape is less important.
Today’s slow cookers offer a variety of useful features. From programmable timing to special lids that contain heat, you’ll find all sorts of extras that make cooking easier. Of course, if your needs are simple, those features might make your device more complicated (and expensive) than it needs to be.
What temperature is low on a slow cooker?
The low temperature setting on a slow cooker is typically around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. For reference, the high setting is approximately 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Can you put frozen meat in a slow cooker?
No, using frozen meat in a slow cooker is not recommended. Frozen meat and poultry should be thawed before using in a slow cooker recipe. While some frozen vegetables can be added to a soup or stew in a slow cooker without issue, frozen meat and poultry will increase the cook time needed.
Can you leave food in a slow cooker overnight?
You can cook food in a slower cooker overnight and switch it to the warm setting when you get up in the morning. This is a great option for prepping breakfast or brunch dishes ahead of time, like a large pot of oatmeal or a breakfast casserole.
Food should not be kept on the warm setting overnight. Likewise, food should not be placed in a slow cooker overnight that is not turned on to cook.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Donna Currie is a cookbook author who writes roundups and reviews products for The Spruce Eats. She has tested more than 90 kitchen products for the brand.
This roundup was updated by Sharon Lehman, a home cook who happens to be a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She happily makes space for any gadget that make cooking faster and easier and specializes in small kitchen appliance testing and reviews for The Spruce Eats.