With so many slow cooker models available, how do you go about finding the best slow cooker for you? There are high quality, high price models and ones better suited for people on a budget. It’s important that you choose the best cooker for you so you can enjoy using it and get the most from slow cooking.
To make sure you get the right model for you, in this article I’ll guide you through making the right choice!
Let’s start with the three best brands.
By far the most well-known slow cooker brand is Crock-Pot. It is an American brand offering several different models including manual, programable, portable and advanced models that are Wi-Fi enabled and have touch screens.
Hamilton Beach, a very well-known company, is also American and produces lots of different kitchen tools including highly recommendable slow cooker.
Cuisinart also an American company, known for their very varied product lines and they also produce very good and high quality slow cookers.
The slow cooker models available from these brands are good products, but still there are a lot of different models, sizes and prices to consider.
So, let’s continue!
3 Easy Steps to Find the Best Slow Cooker for You
The Size & Type
Understand what size you need:
2, 4 or 6 Quart size
Manual or Programable ?
You’re looking for a slow cooker that is
- Easy to Clean
- Good Handles
- Rubber Seal
- Good Price
- High quality
Need extra features ?
Some models have extra features, do you need them?
1st Step – Size and Slow Cooker Type
First, remember: Always fill the slow cooker 2/3 to 3/4 of the way up for perfect cooking.
Ask yourself; how many people do you usually cook for? And second, would you like to make extra servings to freeze and have another day?
These are the two most common slow cooker sizes
Two Quarts – For Two People
My first slow cooker was a Crock-Pot two quart size which I still have and use. I bought it because it was the cheapest crock-pot model. A few months later I bought a six quart size, so I could cook for more people or prepare meals for the week ahead.
I would only recommend a two-quart slow cooker if that is all your budget allows . Otherwise I recommend going for a four quart, or six quart size.
Four Quarts – For Four people
If you usually just cook for two people, you still can use a four quart slow cooker and use the two extra servings for the next day, or freeze and have it another day.
Is cheaper but bigger and can help you to save money
I’ve used a four quart size model but I soon realized I needed a bigger slow cooker. Why? Because I wanted to make extra servings to freeze and have more meals prepared in advanced for the rest of the week. So, I went for a six quart cooker and now spend some of my Sundays making a full slow cooker of beef stew and freezing all the servings so I can grab-n-go a healthy meal to take to work.
Is a good option when you cook for just yourself
If you cook for yourself only, a four quart size can be enough and you will save some space in your kitchen too. If you don’t want to buy the same model I have, there’s a cheaper, simpler and very high quality Crock-Pot Manual four quart size.
Six Quart – For 6 to 7 persons
My first slow cooker, and I still use it is a two quart size. It’s small, portable and works perfectly well, but I quickly found out it was too small, and that I needed something bigger so I bought a new one.
Perfect for Thanks Giving and other gatherings of family & friends
So, the second slow cooker I bought is a six quart size (this is the model I own and I explain why here). It’s a perfect size for Thanks Giving, 4th of July, birthdays, and other gatherings of friends and family.
Also, when I only cook for two, I use this model and keep one extra serving for the next day, and the rest of the servings I freeze for the next week.
Prepare ahead with extra servings you can freeze it
Preparing meals ahead of time and freezing them is one of the things I like most about my slow cooker as it allows me to plan and prepare my meals for the week ahead. ,With a little preparation time and, if you have a programable model like I have (I will talk about programable vs manual models just next) you can program it, leave the kitchen, and when you come back it’s done.
With only ten minutes of preparation time, you can leave your cooker to do its job and then, when you return, you have seven healthy meals ready to go. You don’t even have to stay in the kitchen!
Save Time and Money
I recommend you go for a six quart size as it allows you to save time and money by cooking more meals at a time and with only a few more ingredients.
In My Favorite slow cookers article, the 3 models listed are all 6 Quart Size.
Slow Cooker Type – Programable vs Manual
Manual cookers only have one adjustment – temperature. You set it to low, medium, or high heat and then leave it to do its thing. It’s up to you to turn it on or off. Or, with a programmable model, you can set it for a specific time and program what temperature setting you want and when. For example, you might start it on high, and then change it to low to keep your meal warm once it’s cooked.
With manual slow cookers you need to keep track of the time and change the settings yourself, while a programable model lets you set the time and the slow cooker will manage the temperature for you, keeping your food warm once it’s cooked.
Do you need a manual or programable slow cooker?
I prefer a programmable slow cooker because it just makes things easier – especially if I have to go out and want it to cook my meals while I am away. It’s also useful because some recipes take two hours while others take four or even six. It means I don’t have to try and keep track of time – even if I’m home. It means too that my meals are always ready when I come home and aren’t overcooked as the cooker will switch to “warm” once the food is ready.
Programable slow cookers ARE a little more expensive, but in my opinion and for my needs, they are worth the extra money.
Programable slow cookers allow you to do other things while it cooks
Some days I leave home in the morning and program my slow cooker for a slow cooker ribs recipe for 4 hours in high temp, safe in the knowledge that, when I arrive home at lunch time, those delicious ribs will be ready to eat.
Sundays, after lunch, I usually go for run or a walk on the park. Before leaving home, I program my six quart size model (I use this model) for 4 hours on high temp, and make a nice Iris Stew (recipe here) so that, when I return, I have six servings of a delicious and healthy Iris Stew, ready to go. I put on my Rubbermaid lids, wait a while for it to cool down, and then freeze it so I have seven grab-n-go meals in my freezer.
In My favorite slow cookers article I have two programable and one manual option. You can check it here.
Or you can click here to go directly to my recommendations of manual and programable slow cookers by size.
2nd Step – Most Important Features
Easy to Clean
One of the best things about slow cookers is that they are super easy to use and cooking requires very short preparation times. They make awesome meals for your family and friends.
But, if your cooker is hard to clean after use, you will gradually lose motivation to use it.
To avoid this problem, we need our slow cookers to be easy to clean and dishwasher safe. The lid and the interior (made of stoneware) must be dishwasher safe so you can easily clean your slow cooker for your next meal.
The three models I recommend in ”My Favorite Slow Cookers” article are all dishwasher safe.
A high quality slow cooker is made of stoneware and stainless steel. Important to have good handles so you can easily transport your slow cooker specially when it’s still hot.
Rubber seal, around the lid, keeps the steam in the slow cooker for a better cooking experience.
A very good model (4 or 6 quart size) manual slow cooker, and probably the cheapest, range from $25 to $30 a four quart size manual slow cooker.
If you pay a little bit more, you can get a programable slow cooker and I really recommend that you do, starting from $34.
So it’s only $4 more expensive than the same manual model.
From my list My Favorite Slow Cookers, the fist 2 moldes are programable and you can check it here.
Some slow cookers have the option to lock the lid so you can easily transport your food.
Sometimes, for social gatherings, I offer to cook at home and then take it with me to share with my family or friends. If it’s for lunch, I can cook my recipe during the night or early in morning and I know exactly what time it will be ready.
Then, once it’s done and I’m ready to go, I lock the lid down so I can easily transport the food in my car. That way, when I arrive at my friend’s or family’s house, the meal is ready to serve. If I do have to wait before serving, I can just plug in the slow cooker, select the warm feature, making sure it doesn’t go cold and that it’s ready to be served at any time.
The three models I recommend in my article” My Favorite Slow Cookers” all have a locking lid function.
3rd Step – Extra Features
Then you have slow cookers that have extra features, depending on your kitchen and cooking needs.
I call this section “extra features” because most slow cookers don’t have these features but they may be useful for some recipes.
If you plan on cooking a large cut of meat a Probe is handy or, if you want to brown the meat directly in your slow cooker, you’ll need a browning feature.
When cooking a large cut of meat, a probe function allows you to set exactly the desired temperature you want, and the slow cooker will set the time and adjust the temperature to cook the meat exactly the way you like it.
There’s a very good slow cooker model six quart size with probe function, it’s called the Hamilton Beach Set ‘n’ Forget Programmable and that’s my 2nd recommendation for the best slow cooker. You can find more about this model in my review a My favorite slow cookers.
Beef and pork should be browned before going to the slow cooker. Doing so gives more flavor and puts a nice caramel layer on top of the meat.
You can do this in a pan, but some slow cooker models can also perform this task. There’s one model I have used and really love, the four-quart size by Cuisinart, that not only has a browning function but also steams! Yes, I know it’s a more expensive model, but you can brown the meat and even steam fish and vegetables so it’s very useful. I have used it and love it, and in my opinion it’s worth the extra money. You can check it out on the conclusion section of My Favorite Slow Cookers click here.
If you would like to go all-out with technology and use your smart phone to set your slow cooker directly from your work, or your couch, you might want to think about the Crock-Pot model with Wi-Fi and, believe it or not, it’s a huge success and very stylish. You can it check out at Amazon.com.
Recap & Conclusion
First Step (click to scroll back to details of 1st step) and the most importantly thing to decide upon, is whether you need a two, four, or six-quart size slow cooker.
After, do you need a programable feature so you can set the temperature and cooking time in advance so you are free to do other things around the house or even leave your slow cooker while you go to work? Or do you prefer a manual model with which you have to keep track of the time?
Second step, be sure your slow cooker have the following features
- Easy to Clean
- Good Handles
- Rubber Seal
- Good Price and high quality
3rd Step – Extra-features not commonly found in all slow cooker but that can be very useful for some recipes and situations include:
The slow cookers I own and use were selected using this 3 steps approach. You can find My Favorite Slow Cookers and my reviews here.
My 2nd suggestion is a model with a probe function.
In my article My Favorite Slow Cookers and in the last section you’ll learn “how you can find the best slow cooker for you” to help you find the model that best suits your needs.
Or you can click here and go directly to the conclusion section for my recommendations of manual and programable slow cookers by size.
Note: If, right now, you can’t afford a slow cooker, don’t lose your motivation for slow cooking. You can use your oven and still follow my slow cooker recipes. You only need to convert the cooking times and the temperature. In my article “Converting slow cooker recipes to the oven” you have all the information you need.
My 3 Favorite Slow Cookers
Right now, I own two different slow cookers, and I have used several different crock-pots too. Based on my experience, I have shared my three favorite slow cookers and explained the reasons why I consider them the best slow cookers on the market. Continue reading here.