Deciding what slow cooker to buy can be tricky since there are a number of options available. In addition to different features and styles, slow cookers come in a range of different sizes. Before deciding what size to buy, consider two factors: the number of people you plan to feed and what you plan to cook.
Slow cookers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and if you use them regularly, you might find you want 2 or 3 different models. Sizes range from 1.5 quarts to 8 quarts with everything in between. An extra small 1.5 to 2-quart model is ideal for simply warming small dishes like party dips.
Manufacturers recommend filling a slow cooker at least half full and no more than two-thirds full. Keep this in mind when choosing a slow cooker, since over-filling can cause a recipe to take longer to cook and under-filling can over-cook a dish.
How Many People Are You Cooking For?
If you're cooking for yourself or for only two people, a 2 1/2 to 3 1/2-quart slow cooker might be large enough. It's great for smaller amounts of soups and stews. Many slow cooker recipes are written for 6-quart models and can simply be halved for this size. If you'd like a little more room for leftovers or the ability to cook for a few guests now and then, a 3 1/2 to 4 1/2-quart pot is big enough for most medium-sized dishes.
For a family of three to five or a leftover-obsessed couple, a 5 to 6-quart slow cooker is the perfect size. It will fit almost all recipes, including typical roasts. If you've got a big family and plenty of storage room, go for the big 7 or 8-quart models.
What Are You Cooking?
Smaller slow cookers tend to be round in size and can't accommodate some dishes like beef ribs or big roasts. If you plan to make big dishes, even occasionally, and don't want to buy more than one slow cooker, you may want to size up.
It's also worth noting that the larger round and oval sizes have the advantage of being able to accommodate a smaller casserole or souffle dish, springform pan, small round baking pan, or a small rack to place a roast on. While most recipes call for the ingredients to simply be added to the pot, some recipes use a pot-in-pot method that only works in larger models.
Accessories and Features
If you like to cook for potluck dinners and parties, some large slow cookers are made with clips for the lids, insulated bags, and carrying handles.
There are also models with metal cooking inserts that can be used on the stovetop or in the oven. They're convenient if you like to sauté or brown meats and vegetables before adding them to the slow cooker. It can also give the meal a head start by bringing the contents up to a simmer before starting the slow cooking process.
If you like the all-in-one type of cooking, there are several slow cookers on the market that can also cook rice, sauté, and steam. The popular Instant Pot is an example of a multi-pot that acts as a slow cooker and a pressure cooker in addition to other functions.