Slow Cooker Buying Guide

A slow cooker is the perfect kitchen assistant. Any night of the week, you can have that delicious home-cooked meal that you love, but don’t usually have the time to make. Slow cookers use a moist heat cooking method that cooks while you are working, sleeping or playing!

Choosing a slow cooker

When deciding on a slow cooker, consider whether you want to stick to more common slow cooker meals or if you are feeling adventurous and want to experiment with some new recipes. There are different levels of customization you can have in your slow cooker. You want quality, but you don’t want to pay for features you may not use. Slow cookers are available for prices from $20 to $200, depending on size and features. The brand that made slow cookers famous is Rival’s Crock Pot , which is so popular that the brand name is often confused with the item itself. Slow cookers are also available from other trustworthy makers like Cuisinart and KitchenAid.

Slow cooker design

The base of the slow cooker must be sturdy and should enable air to flow underneath and dissipate heat. Slow cookers have heating elements that either surround or rest underneath the pot. If you have the option, the “surround” version may be preferable because it cooks your food more evenly and quickly. Because crocks can be heavy with or without food, you should look for models that come with solid handles to ensure durability.

You’ll also want “cool touch” handles to avoid burns. When it comes to the edges of your pot, round edges are easier to clean, while square edges have corners that can be difficult to reach. Lids come in glass, plastic and metal. Glass lids let you watch your work in progress, and thick ones will withstand wear and tear better. You should also consider lids that have high domes so you can fit in foods that extend over the rim. And of course, slow cookers with dishwasher safe parts such as pots and lids are always the easiest to clean up.

Slow cooker inserts

Most slow cookers have an insert that can be removed from the outer shell. These inserts can be valuable features. Not only are they easier to clean, but you can prepare the ingredients the night before in the pot and then place the pot in your refrigerator. Oval-shaped inserts can accommodate oddly-shaped items like whole chickens and large roasts while circular inserts are optimal for soups and stews.

Stoneware inserts are heavier, but tend to heat more evenly throughout the slow cooker. Aluminum and stainless steel inserts are lightweight and can often be used on a stovetop or in the oven.

What size should a slow cooker be?

Slow cookers range from 2 to nearly 20 quarts. If you have two or fewer people in your home, a four quart container should be fine. For larger groups, frequent entertaining, or larger cuts of meat, slow cookers in the seven quart range get the job done. Slow cookers need to be at least half full and no more than three-quarters full for optimum cooking and avoiding spillage. Keep in mind that a lighter crock is easier to tote around if you’re planning to bring food elsewhere, but a heavier crock can withstand more bumps and bruises during washing and storage. If you do tend to like to bring dips and appetizers to parties, consider a 16-oz. mini crockpot for maximum portability.

Slow cooker temperature ranges

Most slow cookers and the recipes for them refer to two preset cycles: low and high. You choose a setting, and the unit’s digital temperature probe makes sure your dish is cooked to perfection. Some models have adjustable thermostats to give you more control and precision over your cooking. If you want to be able to fine-tune a recipe, look for adjustable temperature controls beyond the traditional high and low settings. For safety and convenience, consider models with auto-shutoff and auto-warm features. Most higher-end models offer a digital timer that lets you set specific cooking times, and a “simmer” or “keep warm” setting that automatically reduces the temperature after the cooking time has elapsed, preventing overcooking. Settings like these are handy if the slow cooker will be under minimal supervision—you don’t have to worry about being in the room to change the settings manually.

Specialty features for your slow cooker

Maximize use of your slow cooker by purchasing models that offer additional inserts for bread baking and desserts, thermometer inserts to gauge when a meal is done, insulated travel cases to deliver meals to friends and family.  And don’t forget to pick up a slow cooker cookbook or two to keep you inspired with new recipes.

Again, if you make your decision for a slow cooker based on research and a knowledge of what you need, you will definitely be able to find the right pot to fit your lifestyle and expectations.

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