You'll find a slow cooker (aka slow cooker) or Crock-Pot in most kitchens since this counter appliance has become an essential with today's busy cooks. And you'll also save on foods with a slow cooker because you can cook cheaper cuts of meat and have them come out tender and flavorful every time. Learn how to buy a Crock-pot™ or slow cooker to ensure you're happy with your purchase.
Note that a Crock-pot® is a slow cooker and a registered brand of Jarden Corporation.
Therefore, for the purpose of the article, Crock-Pots and slow cookers will be called slow cookers.
What's a Slow cooker?
Find tips, use, care in Slow cooker 101
Slow cooker Style & Design
There are basically two common types of slow cookers - those that are traditional in look and those that are designed to make transport easier with locking lids to minimize spills, such as Hamilton Beach's Stay or Go line of slow cookers. If you plan on taking your slow cooker to pot luck dinners or socials, you may want to opt for that type rather than a standard model.
You'll find different styles, sizes, and finishes of slow cookers in every brand. Some models have more stylish appearances for an elegant look on a buffet table. For those who love custom items, Crock-Pot offers a 'Create a Crock where you can add pictures to various colorful backgrounds. These make an ideal gift or family treasure.
Buy a slow cooker from Amazon
Read Slow cooker Reviews
Hamilton Beach Set and Forget Slow Cooker Review
Slow cooker 101 From Buying to Care - for more helpful tips
Size is Most Important
Choosing an appropriate slow cooker size is essential if you want this counter appliance to be practical and meet your needs. There's a good range of sizes (capacities) available in various brands, from 1 qt up to 6 or 7 qts.
The smallest slow cooker is ideal for singles or couples who want to cook enough for one meal, to use in an RV or for keeping gravy warm on a buffet table.
A young family of four would find the 4 to 5 qt size handy, while a 6-7 qt cooker would be more appropriate for a large family.
Slow cooker size is also an important consideration if you entertain a lot, like to make meals ahead or large batches of pasta sauce and so on. Many homes have more than one size. I have a 1.5 Qt, a 2.5 Qt and a 5 Qt - I find the variety very handy. However, storage may be a problem for some and the most versatile size if you can only have one, is a 5 qt.
Most slow cookers are round, but there are many oval models available. The oval shape is quite popular and more versatile for a variety of foods such as a whole chicken or ribs.
Best Slow Cooker Features
The most advanced feature is the programmable setting, which is offered on many slow cookers and Crock-Pots. Being able to set the cooker to start at a certain time is great for those who must leave their slow cooker unattended, to return later to a meal that's ready to serve. Also, a notable feature is an automatic Keep Warm setting, which often accompanies a programmable feature. Programmable models usually have a Low and High setting and can also be used as a manual set slow cooker.
Most manual (non-programmable) slow cookers have Warm, Low, High-temperature settings, but it's always good to confirm before buying.
The Warm function can be very handy when the meal is delayed.
Removable ceramic inserts are pretty standard and they clean up well. Where off-white inserts were standard years ago, many slow cookers today have black inserts. Exterior finishes range from various colorful patterns to modern stainless.
A few slow cooker models have temperature probes that help you to monitor if the meat is cooked - that's a handy feature. And lock-down devices as mentioned in Section 1, can be very handy for those who like to take the slow cooker outside the home.
Accessories & Prices
While you really don't need much else when using a slow cooker, it's a good idea to have some plastic serving utensils such as a large spoon, slotted spoon and soup spoon on hand to prevent scratching your ceramic insert. Since some models can become quite hot on the bottom while on High for long periods, keeping a wooden cutting board underneath a slow cooker is a good idea to protect your counter.
To make clean-up quicker, consider using Reynolds Slow Cooker Bags - Read Review. They fit round or oval cookers from 3 to 6 qt size.
Specialty Slow cookers & Crock-Pots®
While most slow cookers are stand alone single appliances, you can find some very interesting and functional slow cooker units. Crock-Pot® makes a Crock-Pot Duo (two slow cookers) and a Trio (three units) on combined basis. These units have 2.5 qt slow cooker and are fun to use to cook and serve from. These buffet servers are very reasonably priced and can be used for entertaining as well as family meals. Each slow cooker has individual controls. These types of buffet servers are very functional and also make nice gifts.
One thing to note is that not all specialty appliances have cooking functions; some are mainly servers with warm settings, such as the Crock-Pot Triple Dipper, so confirm before buying.
Read Crock-Pot Trio Cook & Serve Buffet Server Review
Read Crock-Pot Duo Cook & Serve Review
Read Crock-Pot Triple Dipper Review
Slow Cook Function in a Multi Appliance
If you need to cut down on appliances due to limited counter space or storage room, you might want to consider a multifunction appliance with a slow cooker setting. Some newer models of rice cookers have a slow cook function, as do some pressure cookers.
Slow Cooking Recipes, Cookbooks
There are many slow cooker cookbooks on the market making this appliance a very versatile cooker when it comes to meal variety. You can slow cook a number of meats, casseroles, desserts, and vegetables.
Prices, Reviews and Related
Because of the various features and sizes of slow cookers, prices vary considerably from $10 to $100 or more for high-end models. Of all small appliances, slow cookers tend to be very reasonably priced, given the amount of use over a number of years the average cooker gets. Simply put, there's a lot of value in a slow cooker. Most often, when a slow cooker breaks down after the warranty period, it's simpler to replace the appliance rather than paying for a replacement part or shipping for repairs.
This is one appliance you'll want to use often, so chose carefully when it comes to size and features. Read consumer reviews and understand issues often associated with slow cookers. There are many very good brands including Crock-Pot, Hamilton Beach, Cuisinart, Rival and KitchenAid.