Really, a slow cooker is the Easy Bake Oven improved—or, at least, the grown-up version. And while it might appeal to those whose culinary talents begin and end with cooking cake batter by light, I would not leave it out of your appliance arsenal. Why? Because the slow cooker is the ultimate casual kitchen appliance: no special attachments, it sits on the countertop (or in a stealth hiding spot), has minimal plastic parts, and the best part is the cooking itself. Toss it all in and go pour yourself a glass of wine.
According to Consumer Reports, the features to consider when evaluating a slow cooker are: electronic controls (manual versus programmable, warming buttons), locking lid for transportation, and if the cooker is oven safe (for reheating) and stovetop safe (for prep work). Here are our 10 favorite slow cookers, priced from high to low.
N.B.: Have experience with one yourself or one to add to the list? Let us know in the comments section below.
Above: All-Clad's 7-Qt. Deluxe Slow Cooker has a naturally nonstick cast-aluminum insert that can be used on the stovetop to cook ingredients (think: garlic, onions, and herbs) before slow cooking, but note that the insert is not induction compatible, meaning it is for stovetops only. Additionally the cooker has stainless-steel handles, lid, and an overall finish, along with push-button controls and auto-warming; $249.95 from Williams-Sonoma.
Above: Cuisinart's Multicooker goes beyond the basics with its ability to sear, sauté, roast, steam, and slow cook. Temperature can be set up to 500 degrees for searing, and the Cuisinart slow cooks on high, low, simmer, or warm for 24 hours. It has a removable cast-aluminum interior pot and a reversible roasting/steaming rack; $199.95 from Williams-Sonoma.
Above: For those who enjoy the ease of a slow cooker but not the "slow" aspect, Breville's Fast-Slow Cooker has both pressure and slow-cook settings as well as preprogrammed settings like sauté/sear; slow cook high; slow cook low; pressure cook high, medium, and low; steam; and warm. Inside is a nonstick cooking bowl and stainless steel steaming basket. Note that the cooker is meant for US and Canadian electrical standards; $179.95 at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
Above: All-Clad's 4-Qt. Slow Cooker with Ceramic Insert is smaller than most of the others. It has a ceramic insert for serving, as well as a programmable control panel and an auto-warm feature; $149.95 from Williams-Sonoma.
Above: The Breville Slow Cooker has an "EasySear" removable die-cast aluminum insert pan (with Quantanium nonstick) for stovetop use before slow cooking and is also safe for oven roasting (the cooker includes a steel roasting rack). The slow cooker has three settings—low, high, and dual (shifting from low to high after two hours of cook time)—and a removable cord; $129.95 from Williams-Sonoma.
Above: The Cuisinart 6.5 Qt. Digital Slow Cooker comes with brushed stainless-steel housing and chrome handles along with a retractable cord. Inside, the black ceramic pot and glass lid are both dishwasher safe and can be used at the table. The cooker has a touchpad panel with warm, simmer, low, and high settings and a 24-hour programmable timer; $99.95 from Crate & Barrel.
Above: The Frigidaire Professional 7-Qt. Programmable Slow Cooker has 6 presets (buffet, soup, low, medium, high, and warm) with customizable features like time and auto warming (up to three hours before serving); $79.99 from Home Depot.
Above: Good Housekeeping likes the Hamilton Beach Set-and-Forget 6-Quart Slow Cooker for offering a lot of functionality at a low price. A temperature probe allows for cooking at precise temperatures, and a lid that latches onto the insert makes for easy transport. The insert is safe in the microwave, oven, and dishwasher; $54.99 from Best Buy.
Above: The Waring Professional 6-1/2 Qt. Slow Cooker has an auto high or low setting that can be set from 2-12 hours in 2-hour increments; a warming mode turns on automatically after. The cooker is $47.19 from Amazon.
Above: The Proctor Silex 4-Quart Round Slow Cooker prides itself on being an "unfussy kitchen appliance" with wraparound heat and a four-setting dial from low to high. Inside is a dishwasher-safe ceramic crock for serving or refrigerator storage. This cooker has the low-commitment price of $25 from Amazon.
Above: The pioneer in the world of American slow cookers, the Crock-Pot (a trademark name that is used interchangeably with the term "slow cookers") Manual Slow Cooker is as basic and straightforward as they come: low for cooking all day, high for quicker dinners and snacks. The 3-quart removable round stoneware is meant for transport or refrigerator storage (dishwasher safe); $19.99 from Amazon.
Looking to stock up on essential kitchen appliances? Starting a wedding registry? Sift through our other posts like 10 Easy Pieces: Juicers, 10 Easy Pieces: Stovetop Espresso Makers, and for Americans interested in keeping it local: 13 American-Made Appliances, from Countertop Mixers to Ranges to Refrigerators.