With the cold weather, holiday crush, and a pile of party invitations, now’s a great time to get out your slow cooker. It’s the perfect appliance for making comfort food while you do other chores or for preparing a dish for a potluck supper. In Consumer Reports’ past tests of slow cookers, the models didn’t differ significantly in how well they cooked. Where one rose above the other was in its convenience features, such as a locking lid, electronic controls, and easy cleaning.
About 85 percent of households already own a slow cooker. But if you’re thinking of replacing your own or buying one as a gift for someone in the 15 percent who doesn’t already have one, here are some features to consider.
- Shape. Slow cookers are typically round or oval. An oval pot can more easily accommodate a whole chicken or other cuts of meat. But round is fine for soups and stews.
- Glass lid. A transparent lid will help you resist the temptation to open the pot. Each time you do can add 15 to 20 minutes of cooking time.
- Locking lid. For folks who routinely hit the potluck circuit, a locking lid with a tight gasket is key.
- Stovetop safe. This metal insert allows you to brown meat or veggies on the stove before transferring it to the slow cooker.
- Oven safe. Ceramic oven-safe inserts allow you to reheat your dish in the oven. You shouldn’t reheat leftovers in the slow cooker. Instead heat them to an internal temperature of 165° F in your oven or microwave.
- Electronic controls. Unlike manual controls, electronic ones let you program a dish, usually in 30-minute intervals, and then automatically switch the cooker to the warm setting when cooking is done.
Slow cooker recipes
Recipes for slow cookers have gotten a lot more sophisticated than those in the past that called for canned soups and other packaged ingredients. Instead of chunks of beef and cream of mushroom soup you’ll find Slow-Cooked Ratatouille Over Goat Cheese Polenta on epicurious.com or Moroccan Brisket with Red Onions and Apricot Couscous on foodnetwork.com. If you're giving a slow cooker as a gift, throw in a cookbook, too. America’s Test Kitchen’s Slow Cooker Revolution is a good choice or just buy it for yourself.
The slow cookers in our tests range in price from $40 to $250 and come from such brands as All-Clad, Hamilton Beach, West Bend, and Cuisinart. At retailers, you’ll find new entries from Ninja, Kalorik, and Breville in addition to the original Crock Pot.