These are my three favorite models but it doesn’t mean that number one is the best option for you; it depends on your needs and budget.
For example, I’m currently using number two from my list, the Hamilton Beach Set ’n’ Forget, because I need the probe function to cook large roasts, but maybe you don’t need that function.
It’s more important that you understand the different features and find out which features you need.
Let me help you to find the best slow cooker model for your needs.
Here I will cover the main features, the differences between each model, and give you tips, notes, and quick answers.
After, I will ask you simple questions to help you find which model, size and features best suits your needs. Click here and scroll directly to this section.
My recommendations by size and type are at the conclusion click here to scroll directly for the conclusion
1. Crock-Pot 6 Quart Programmable Timer
I posted this one first because I believe this model is the best in terms price and features, having all the most important features a good slow cooker must have.
It is a programmable slow cooker, 6-quart size, dishwasher safe and portable.
The oval stoneware, where all the magic happens, is also beautiful and stylish so you can take it to your table, making a nice way to present that delicious meal.
This model is made by the original and highly reputable brand Crock-Pot and is available at Amazon.com in two colors, red and silver.
- 6 Quart Size
- Set and Leave
- Easy to Clean
- Rubber Seal
- Good Handles
- More than 50 Recipes Included
- 1 Year Warranty
Now let’s look at each feature and see how they relate to your needs.
Ideally, for cooking for seven people or more, this size is perfect for events like Thanksgiving, Christmas, family gatherings and birthdays.
You can fit a whole chicken inside.
Remember: Always fill the slow cooker 2/3 to 3/4 of the way up for perfect cooking.
A lot of the time, I prepare extra servings to freeze and use later in the week. I just defrost them and put them in the microwave at work so I can enjoy a quick but healthy meal for lunch on busy days.
Note: Never reheat your leftovers in your slow cooker; use the microwave, oven or sauté.
Question: Why 6 Quart Size?
Perfect for Thanksgiving and big gatherings of family and friends, and even if you are only cooking for two, you can freeze the extra servings and enjoy the meals later in the week. This way you can prepare meals ahead, saving time and money.
120V AC, This slow cooker is recommended for US and Canada.
The cord is about 24 inches (2 feet) long and not retractable, although this would make a great extra feature.
Note: If you plan on using it outside of US or Canada you’ll need a converter like this one XXX.
Set and Leave – Programable with a timer
Features a digital control allowing you to set the cooking time in 30-minute increments all the way up to 20 hours, with low or high-temperature settings.
This is handy because you can program the crock-pot at night, before going to bed, and have it ready for lunch time.
Or, you can program it before going to work, and when you arrive home, your beef stew will be ready for dinner.
When the cook time is complete, the Crock-Pot, shifts automatically to Warm, keeping your food warm until you’re ready to eat. Remember to not leave in the “warm” mode for more than 4 hours.
That’s why it’s called “Set and Leave” because you can program it, go out, and when you come back, you have your meal ready to eat.
Question: Can you set the cooking start time?
No, but you can set for how long it will be cooking on low or high temperature, from 30 minutes to 20 hours in 30-minute increments. And, once the time finishes, it automatically shifts to warm mode, keeping the food warm.
Easy to Clean – Dishwasher safe
Preparing large meals in a slow cooker takes no more than 15 minutes, and that’s one of the things I like the most about slow cooking.
Note: You want a slow cooker that’s easy to clean, to make the process quick and efficient. You preferable want your slow cooker to be dishwasher safe.
This crockpot model is made of stoneware (ceramic) and is dishwasher safe. The lid is glass, and it’s dishwasher safe too. The outside part is made of stainless steel.
Stoneware is completely lead-free, there’s no lead on ceramic.
Note: Before cleaning, allow it to cool, so it doesn’t break. Then, just place the lid and the stoneware in your dishwasher.
Contains a locking lid to seal your crockpot so you can transport without any liquids or mess.
Question: Can I lock the lid while cooking?
No, the locking feature is only for transport.
It doesn’t rattle. A rubber seal around the edge of the lid guarantees the crockpot does not collect water around the lid.
While the outer shell gets hot, and so too does the crockpot, good handles make it easier to move or lift your slow cooker.
More than 50 Recipes Included
This model comes with a small recipe book containing 65 recipes different crock-pot meals to make. I’ve found good recipes and, while there are no pictures and the directions are not always very clear, it’s a good free bonus and a good starting point for preparing your first slow cooker recipes.
Two weeks after I started using this crock-pot, I bought CROCK-POT® the Original Slow Cooker Recipe Collection, which contains more than 350 recipes and over 200 pictures. This is a high-value resource for improving your slow cooking skills and impressing your family and friends with professional, delicious and healthy meals. You can find it at Amazon.com.
Tip: When cooking pork or beef in a slow cooker, you get a better taste, flavor and texture if you brown the meat first.
You have one year warranty.
2. Hamilton Beach Set ‘n’ Forget Programmable
This is the model I currently use, I love it, and I highly recommend it. I got mine at Amazon.com.
It’s very similar to the previous model:
- It’s also 6-quart size,
- Programmable with timer
- The inside is made of stoneware and dishwasher safe
- The lid is tempered glass and dishwasher safe
- Warranty is also one year
- Portable – Locking lid feature for transport
- Good grip handles
And yes, it’s more expensive, most probably due to the extra features included that I will cover now.
This model has a thermometer probe which allows you to check the temperature of meat while it cooks to get the exact temperature you want. There is no need constantly check the meat by opening the lid which delays the cooking time by letting all the steam out.
The temperature is measured by the probe and is displayed on the slow cooker control panel
Probe Mode – You place the meat and the other ingredients inside, put the probe right into the middle of the meat and set probe mode. The slow cooker will automatically choose the right amount of the time for that meat and temperature and when finished automatically goes to warm mode.
Toll-free call center located in the U.S. to answer your questions
Power Outage Protection
Power interrupt protection keeps slow cooker on during a brief power outage
It’s more expensive than the previous model, most probably because of the extra thermometer probe feature and the probe mode cooking
Question: it’s worth the extra money?
Are you planning on cooking large chunks of meat or big roasts? If yes, the probe allows you to get succulent meat, exactly to your liking every time.
Question: Can I cook meat without the probe?
Of course you can! And you’ll get exactly same results. The thermometer probe just makes your life easier, so that you don’t need to be constantly checking the meat or be uncertain if the meat is ready or not. You set the probe, the temperature you want, and then you don’t have to worry anymore; the meat will be amazingly good just like the last time you cooked.
3. Crock-Pot 6-Quart Oval Manual
The main differences this model and my previous recommendations
- There is no timer, this is a manual model meaning you set the temperature, and you’ve to count the time.
- The price: this is probably the cheapest high-quality crock-pot model on the market The price is a very low $29,50
The features are very similar to the previous models, but I’ll go in detail to clear up any possible confusion.
3 Manual Settings: Low, High, Warm
Once you set the temperature on Low, High or Warm, the slow cooker starts immediately, and you’ll have to keep track of the time.
Tip: Use the stopwatch function of your phone to keep track of the time
Easy to clean – Dishwasher safe
This model also features an interior made of stoneware, and the lid is made of glass.
Both lid and stoneware can go in your dishwasher
Lid locking for transport
This model also has a locking lid feature for transporting your slow cooker.
The exterior is made of stainless steel, while the interior is made of stoneware.
It’s a 6-quart size, allowing to cook for 6 or 7 people.
Question: Why 6 Quart Size is the perfect size?
With a 6 quart size, you can cook for gatherings of family or friends, on special days such as birthdays and Thanksgiving, or you can prepare meals ahead for the week and freeze them. This way you can grab a meal in the morning and enjoy a nice, healthy lunch at your office. You’ll save money by avoiding processed and expensive food, and save time by cooking several meals with a short preparation time.
This model is available in 3 sizes
2 Quart Size: only cooks two servings.
4 Quart Size: if you plan on making 4 to 5 servings per meal, then I recommend you a 4-quart size
Which model is the Best for You?
To find out which model best suits your needs you need to know what size you need and if you need a manual or programmable slow cooker.
If you already know the size and type of slow cooker you need, click here to scroll directly to my conclusion for my recommendations.
1st – Understanding What Size you Need
For how many people do you usually cook for? Will leftovers be handy for you?
Remember: Always fill the slow cooker 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full for perfect cooking.
2 Quart – 2 or 3 People
If you have a tight budget or a small kitchen or both.
I started with a 2-quart size, but when I started cooking meals for the week ahead, I found it was too small, and so I went for a 4-quart size.
4 Quart – 3 to 4 People
The second slow cooker I bought was 4-quart size (it was a gift, the story here) as I usually cooked for four people. I also realized that one, two or even three extra servings are handy for freezing or just keeping on the fridge for the next day. That way, you can enjoy a nice lunch/dinner, already prepared, for the next day.
I usually recommend a 4-quart model if you cook only for yourself or if you cook for two and you don’t want to have any leftovers. If you don’t want to make extra food to freeze or save, go for a 4-quart size.
Otherwise, I recommend you go for a 6-quart model.
6 Quart – 6 People
Nowadays, the best slow cooker size for my current needs is a 6-quart size. Most of the time I cook for four people, but the two extra servings are my lunch for next day. Sometimes a freeze the leftovers and other times just put them in the fridge.
There are even times that I cook only for myself and the other five servings go into my Rubbermaid containers for freezing. Then, over the following week, I just grab one of the containers in the morning, take it to work, and by the time I have lunch, it’s already thawed. I put it in the microwave for a couple of minutes and then lunch is ready to eat. It saves me time and money, and I can enjoy a healthy beef stew at work.
Also, with a 6-quart slow cooker, you can easily cook for large groups of people, such as birthdays, Thanksgiving, or any other gathering of family and friends as you can cook for up to seven people.
2nd – Programable or Manual ?
If you are planning on turning your slow cooker on in the morning arriving home for lunch to a cooked meal or you’d like to set and forget your cooker knowing it’ll keep your food warm, you need a slow cooker that is programmable.
Click here to scroll to the programable slow cookers I recommend.
If you don’t plan on leaving your slow cooking working while you are out of the kitchen, I recommend you go for a cheap yet high-quality manual slow cooker.
Click here to scroll to the manual slow cookers I recommend
Probe feature, is it handy ?
Do you plan on cooking roasts or large cuts of meats? Using the probe, you can set the exact temperature you want for your meat, and the slow cooker manages the temperature, so the meat is cooked exactly the way you like it.
This was what made me buy my last slow cooker, the Hamilton Beach Programable Set ‘n’ Forget.
Programmable Slow Cookers – My Recommendations by Size
The best slow cooker I recommend is is the slow cooker I use The Hamilton Beach Set ‘n Forget Programmable . The Probe Function allows you to prepare large roasts and measure the temperature right in the middle of the meat. It then adjusts the time depending on the temperature. This allows you to cook perfect roasts with the exact temperature you like.
If you are looking for a 6-quart size programmable but you don’t need the probe, I recommend Crock-Pot 6 Quart Programable Timer. It’s a very good and affordable option.
If you’re looking for a 4-quart size programmable slow cooker, I recommend – Cuisinart 3 in 1 (available at Amazon.com), which browns, steams and it’s a high quality programmable slow cooker. It’s a little bit more expensive, but if you can afford it’s totally worth it.
6 Quart with Probe
Cuisinart 3-In-1 Multi-Cooker
Hamilton Beach Set 'n Forget
Good but expensive
Manual Slow Cookers – My Recommendations by Size
These are cheaper but still high quality slow cookers
I own 2 manual slow cookers: a 2 and 4 quart size.
Questions & Answers
I get a lot of questions about slow cookers, and as I often get asked the same thing several times, I thought I’d create this list of frequently asked questions and my standard answers. If you have a question about slow cooking, make sure you scroll down and look to see if I’ve already answered that query. If not, please feel free to drop me a line, and I’ll do my best to answer any questions you might have.
Send me your questions by commenting this post or using the contact page. Thanks
1. Programable vs. Manual – What’s the difference?
Programmable slow cookers
Allow you to set the cooking time, the slow cooker starts and, when it finishes, automatically switches to warm.
This is a handy feature. Imagine you have a recipe that takes four hours to cook. You set the timer, and then you can go out and leave your slow cooker to do its thing which you make the most of your day. Even if the cooker finishes before you get home. It will automatically switch to warm to make sure your meal is properly cooked and kept warm until you get home to eat.
This slow cooker and the second slow cooker of this list are both programmable as I love this feature.
Manual Slow Cookers
You set the temperature, usually low, high, warm, the slow cooker starts and then you have to take track of the time and switch it off (or to warm temp) when the food is ready.
Tip: When using a manual slow cooker, use your phone stopwatch function to keep track of the time.
My third recommendation is a manual slow cooker, for those looking for a cheaper solution.
2.How to get perfectly brown meat?
Use a pan, add some olive oil.
Set medium-high temperature so that you won’t burn the oil.
When the olive oil appearance changes to water like consistency, add the meat.
If doing more than one piece, don’t allow the pieces to touch each other.
If the meat sticks, it’s not ready to turn, However, if the meat is easy to flip, it’s cooked enough and ready for turning.
Repeat on the other side.
3.Can you brown or sauté ingredients in a slow cooker?
In this model, no you can’t. There are models like the Cuisinart 3-in-1 (available at amazon.com), that you can brown, sauté, and even steam food. It’s a 4-quart size and more expensive than the average slow cooker, but it’s a very high-quality model with very good Amazon reviews.
4. How does a slow cooker work?
Answer: Slowly! Just kidding. Slow cookers have a heating element which gently heats a ceramic crockpot that rests above it. This low level of heat cooks your food gently (and slowly) as the heat is retained within the pot and held in by the lid. Slow cooking takes much longer than oven cooking because slow cookers work at around 25-50% of usual oven temperatures.
5. Can you put raw meat in a crock pot?
Answer: You certainly can! In fact, raw meat is best as the slow cooker is going to be working for a long time and you don’t want tough, overcooked meat. But, most meats cook best if they are slightly browned first. This gives the meat a better flavor and helps it keep its shape. Did you know that some slow cookers even have a browning function? This is a very useful feature.
6. When can I open the lid?
Answer: Do your best to leave the lid on the pot for the entire duration of the cooking. Only remove the lid when you want to serve your food. The heat in a slow cooker builds up gradually, and removing the lid lets that precious heat escape. If you DO have to remove the lid early, for stirring or adding extra ingredients, add an extra 15 minutes to the total cooking time to allow the slow cooker to heat back up.
7. Do you have to brown the meat for a slow cooker?
Answer: You don’t HAVE to brown the meat and, if you are in a hurry, you can just toss the raw meat into your slow cooker with all the other ingredients. It’ll taste fine, and your meal will be nice enough. But, if you have a couple of extra minutes, I highly recommend you brown beef, lamb, and pork but you don’t need to brown chicken unless you really want to. Browning the meat seals in the juices, makes the meat look attractive and boosts the flavor.
8. How long does it take to cook a roast in a slow cooker?
Answer: It really depends on the size and how “done” you like your meat but, on average, it takes 6-8 hours on low or 3-4 hours on high. You can take the guesswork out of cooking a roast by using a slow cooker with a built-in meat probe that will adjust the time or temperature to ensure your roast comes out perfectly done.
9. How long do you cook beef in the slow cooker?
Answer: The answer to this question depends on the recipe you are cooking. Some recipes are done using the high setting while others use the low setting. Cooking times range between 4 to 8 hours. If you are unsure if your beef is ready, remove a piece, cut it in half, and see if the inside is cooked. Also, note that smaller cuts of beef and ground beef will cook faster than large pieces and joints.
10. Do you have to put water in a crock pot?
Most recipes use some sort of fluid as slow cooker meals are usually cooked by simmering and heating your slow cooker when it contains nothing but dry ingredients could cause the ceramic crock pot to crack. If your recipe does call for water, add it at the beginning and before the cooker heats up to avoid pouring cold water into a hot cooker. Some recipes may include milk or stock so make sure you read the recipe carefully to see what liquid you need.
11. What’s the difference between a slow cooker and an instant pot?
Answer: An instant pot, also called a pressure cooker, is the opposite of a slow cooker. Where a slow cooker uses a low temperature, instant pots use much higher temperatures and high pressure to speed up the cooking process. Instant cookers are often able to take on a wide variety of cooking processes including steaming, roasting, and cooking rice. However, in my experience, the taste of food cooked in a slow cooker is better than food cooked in an instant pot.
12. Can you put rice in a slow cooker?
Answer: Yes, you can, but I recommend that you use par-boiled rice as it is less likely to clump together. The other thing to consider is quantities; unless you have a very small slow cooker, you will need to make a lot of rice if you are going to fill your pot up to the recommended halfway point.
13. What is the difference between a slow cooker and a crock pot?
Answer: Where a slow cooker is an electrically heated, self-contained cooking appliance, a crock pot is just a pot with a lid you can place on the stovetop or in the oven. However, you can use a crock pot for a host of cooking duties including browning, braising, stewing, and roasting. Crock pots can be made of ceramic and stoneware, but some are made from cast-iron. Many slow cooker recipes can be made in a crock pot but the cooking time is usually much less.
14. Can you put frozen chicken in a slow cooker?
Answer: It’s a very bad idea to put frozen chicken in a slow cooker. Slow cookers heat food gradually and don’t get that hot which means any bacteria, and chicken often contains lots of bacteria, can grow and reproduce which could lead to food poisoning. It’s perfectly safe to cook fresh or defrosted chicken in a slow cooker but never use frozen chicken.
15. Can you cook a roast that is frozen?
Answer: According to the FDA, you should not cook meat from frozen in a slow cooker – and that includes pork, lamb, or beef. Frozen meat may contain bacteria that is not destroyed during the slow cooking process. The meat stays warm for quite a long time, and warm meat can harbor potentially harmful bacteria such as e-coli. For best food safety, always cook your meat from thawed or fresh.
16. Can you add frozen ingredients?
Answer: In theory, there is nothing to stop you adding frozen vegetables, frozen herbs, frozen beans, or any other frozen ingredient other than meat, chicken or fish but, personally, I wouldn’t do it. Frozen food will slow the cooking time right down, and there is still a small risk of harmful bacteria. Instead, thaw your ingredients the night before or in a microwave. Otherwise, run them under warm water until they are defrosted.
17. Why can’t you reheat leftovers?
Answer: When you cook a meal and then allow it to cool down, any bacteria that was present can grow and reproduce. Then, when you put your meal into a slow cooker, the gentle heat provides the perfect breeding ground for even more bacteria to grow. In short, you could end up with a very dangerous meal that could make you seriously sick. If you have leftovers, reheat them in a microwave or on the stovetop so that the higher level of heat can kill all those harmful bacteria.
18. Are slow cookers economical?
Answer: Slow cookers are VERY economical. The heating element is small, and the heat it produces is held within the insulated pot. Also, slow cookers have thermostats, so the cooker turns off when the pot is warm enough and only works intermittently to keep the cooker at the right temperature. Slow cookers are definitely more economical than putting a crock pot in an oven. For a start, think about how much bigger an oven is compared to the size of a crock pot. You’ll need to use a lot more energy to heat the whole oven AND the crock pot compared to a smaller and more compact slow cooker.
19. Does it matter if I leave my slow cooker working for longer than the recipe calls for?
Answer: Contrary to popular opinion, even though slow cookers cook slowly, it’s still possible to overcook your food. However, you do have more leeway than with oven cooking or stovetop cooking. You can probably overcook your meal by 30-60 minutes with no real problem but, after that, you may find your meal dries out and begins to stick. Your best option would be to buy a programmable slow cooker that will switch to “warm” at the end of the cooking time and make sure your meal turns out just right.
Got a burning question about slow cookers? Please let me know, and I’ll do my best to answer it for you. Remember, it’s only by asking questions that we learn!
Send me your questions by commenting this post or using the contact page. Thanks