The best slow cooker
If you want the ultimate in low-maintenance meal preparation, consider a slow cooker. With a slow cooker, you can put your ingredients in, turn the appliance on, and come home hours later to a fully cooked meal. Most slow cookers are versatile enough to make a wide range of recipes, from meat dishes that need to be cooked with low, moist heat to scrumptious baked goods. Our top choice is from Shark and actually offers four different cooking methods, including roasting and steaming.
Considerations when choosing slow cookers
Slow cooker basics
Most slow cookers keep the contents at a consistent temperature for a long period of time. Frequently, the heat setting you will use is "low," but some recipes call for slow cooking at a medium or high heat setting.
The outer portion of a slow cooker is the "shell" of the appliance. This is where the control panel is housed. Inside this shell is an inner pot that ideally will be easy to remove and clean. Quality slow cookers have inner pots that are durable enough to last for years.
Some slow cookers have multiple functions. For example, in addition to regular cooking, you may choose a slow cooker that can also steam or saute foods. This cuts down on the number of appliances you need in the kitchen.
Some slow cookers have programmable settings, enabling you to schedule when the food will be ready or at what temperature it will be cooked. For people who want to "set it and forget it," this a definite convenience.
Although modern slow cookers are safe and more energy-efficient than ovens and stoves, they do get hotter than old-fashioned models. It is possible to overcook food in a slow cooker.
Slow cooker prices
Since features vary from product to product, expect a price range between $25 and $150 when you go shopping for a slow cooker. Depending on the capabilities you're looking for, a mid-range or high-range slow cooker may best fit your needs, and they often come with added functionality.
Q. What is the difference between a manual slow cooker and a programmable slow cooker?
A. Manual and programmable slow cookers have the same basic functionality: preparing food at low heat for an extended period of time. Programmable slow cookers are slightly more sophisticated because they have timers, which are great for people who work and want to leave the device unattended. Many manual slow cookers have low and high temperature settings, as well as a keep-warm function.
Q. What happens if the power goes out while the slow cooker is plugged in?
A. Unfortunately, if the power goes out and comes back on, the food may be unsafe. If you are unsure how long the power was out, it may be best to throw out the contents of the slow cooker.
Q. What are standard cooking times for most slow cooker meals?
A. Many slow cooker recipes recommend setting the device on low for a long period of time or on high for a slightly shorter time. If you are leaving the slow cooker running during the day, it normally takes seven to eight hours on low. On the high setting, it will more likely take three to four hours of cooking time. When in doubt, adhere to the recipe.
Slow cookers we recommend
Best of the best: Shark/Ninja 4-in-1 Cooking System
Our take: A wide range of functionality could make this your go-to cooking appliance. In addition to the ability to roast, bake, steam, and slow cook, it has many different temperature options.
What we like: This single appliance can accomplish a myriad of cooking tasks, and it's easy to clean.
What we don't like: It does have a higher price than other slow cookers on the market, but it's essentially four appliances in one.
Best bang for your buck: Crock-Pot Programmable Cook and Carry Oval Slow Cooker
Our take: A more traditional slow cooker, the Crock-Pot is easy to use, can be programmed for up to 20 hours, and automatically switches to warming mode after the cooking time is up.
What we like: It has a large capacity, a digital timer, and temperature controls. The securely locking lid to make transporting it easy. The crock is microwave-safe if you want to reheat a meal.
What we don't like: The "keep warm" setting is still hot enough to keep cooking food, which may interfere with certain recipes.
Our take: This multifunctional model easily switches cooking modes with the touch of a button. It comes in three size options: four quarts, six quarts, and eight quarts.
What we like: It has a clear backlit display and different modes for steaming, slow cooking, and sauteing. The cooking pot is dishwasher safe, which makes cleaning convenient.
What we don't like: The cooking pot surface has been known to bubble and flake over time, so it will need to be regularly inspected. It also does not have a delay timer.
Tracey Zielezinski is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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