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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.
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 that will keep the food at a safe temperature.
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 and safe until you get home.
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.
Lacks extra features
Slow cookers don’t need to be digital or fancy, and this 6-quart oval unit proves it, with great style. It has high, low, and warm settings, a dishwasher-safe stoneware cooking insert, and a dishwasher-safe lid.
While the operation is as simple as the first slow cookers, this has extra features, like the locking lid and handles that make this slow cooker easy to transport across the room or across town for a potluck. If you prefer, the stoneware crock can be removed from the cooker for serving at the table. The polished stainless steel exterior and black accents look attractive and are easy to clean when you’re done cooking.
Each pot has its own temperature controls
Built-in lid rests save counter & table space
Power cord is on the short end
Some find the crocks too small for cooking
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 aren’t needed. 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.
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.
Large 10-quart capacity
Lid clips in place for travel
Some users note electrical odor that burns off after first few uses
Less durable construction 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.
Precise temperature control
Extra functions may overwhelm some home cooks
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.
Steaming/roasting rack included
Digital time and temperature controls
Retractable power cord
Nonstick coating wears over time
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 7-quart 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.
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. The clip-on lid and spill-proof gasket are ideal for travel. For a more high-end option, spring for the All-Clad Programmable Oval-Shaped Slow Cooker (view at Bloomingdale's), which boasts versatile cooking options, intuitive controls, and a sleek design.
What to Look for in 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.
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.