We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
The slow cooker might be the king of all set-and-forget kitchen technology. Just throw some ingredients in the pot, set the temperature, and go about your day. Your roast/chicken/chili/stew will be waiting for you later. As simple as they may seem, however, today’s slow cookers boast a range of prices and features. Not only that, but some do a much better job preparing food than others. Life is too short to eat bad food, so we put our testers to work in the BestReviews kitchen. Our mission: to evaluate a selection of the most popular slow cookers and judge their worth using our uncompromising test rig and one very delicious pot roast recipe.
At BestReviews, we do not accept products directly from manufacturers; we use our own funds to purchase the same “off-the-shelf” products that you do. And when we've finished our testing and consumer reviews, we donate all the products to charities and other non-profit organizations. Our ultimate goal: to be your go-to source for trustworthy product recommendations whenever you’re faced with a buying decision.
At the top of this page, you'll find our five favorite slow cookers on the market.
But if you need more info before you load up your cart, just keep reading for our full shopping guide.
In the BestReviews test kitchen, we put our slow cookers through a 12-hour test regimen.
Each model was loaded with the ingredients for a savory pot roast with orange.
As the meat cooked, we assessed four performance categories: temperature, finished dish, “keep warm” function, and mobility. We then chose the top five cookers that you can find in our product matrix at the top of the page.
Currently Executive Chef at Bon Appétit Management Company, Steve began his tenure with Bon Apetit as Chef de Partie. He has over ten years of experience, including tenures at two- and three-Michelin star restaurants. Steve is passionate about all things cooking – products, supply chain, management, menu design, and budgeting.
A slow cooker must be able to keep finished food warm without overcooking it.
The ideal temperature range for keeping foods warm is between 135°F and 155°F.
We tested each unit's temperature at the one- and two-hour mark after the machine switched (automatically or manually) to “Keep Warm" to see if it adhered to our ideal.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Shark/Ninja Ninja 4-in-1 Cooking System
The Shark/Ninja 4-in-1 Cooking System is more than a slow cooker. It allows you to sear, sauté, steam, roast, and bake all in one countertop pot. Its Triple Fusion Heat cooks from the bottom, sides, and through steam heat, so finished meals are flavorful and juicy — and prepared in a hurry. Its pot is dishwasher-safe, too, so you can clean up just as easily, though its lid and rack should be washed by hand.
Slow cookers prepare foods by braising them. Braising is the slow, low-temp method of applying heat in order to break down tough meat fibers and weaken vegetable cell structures.
The ideal result: moist meat and soft vegetables.
A slow cooker’s temperature shouldn’t rise above approximately 180°F. Otherwise, the outside layer of meat will overcook to the point of stringy, tasteless dryness, and the inner portion will not have cooked long enough to attain its ideal creamy softness.
In the BestReviews lab, we obtained temperature readings at the following intervals: one hour, two hours, four hours, six hours, and nine hours from the start.
We noted the pace at which each product heated up and what temperature it stayed at during the cooking portion of the test.
If you fill your slow cooker to the brim with ingredients, the food will likely bubble over and run down the sides. For best results, fill the pot no more than two-thirds full.
At the conclusion of the test period, we checked the meat and other ingredients for the desired fork tenderness.
Each cut of beef was considered done at an internal temperature between 155°F and 170°F.
Where different parts of the cut registered at different temps, we tested for doneness by pulling apart meat fibers with a fork.
We assessed the appearance of each pot roast by looking at the color of the beef, outside and in, and the condition of the accompanying ingredients.
Perfectly braised beef is dark on the outside and pink on the inside.
The taste of each finished dish was rated based on mouthfeel, texture, and whether the dish presented a pleasing combination of flavors.
To fully utilize their flavor, add fresh herbs to your slow cooker at the end of the cooking process. Dried herbs can go in at the beginning.
Once a dish is prepared in a slow cooker, the unit is often moved to another location for serving, such as a table or buffet.
We tested each unit for handle sturdiness, housing temperature, lid integrity, and whether liquids were prone to leak from the insert when moved.
We also considered other features and functions.
For example, some models include the ability to brown or sauté food before slow cooking.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Crock-Pot Programmable Cook and Carry Oval Slow Cooker
The Crock-Pot Programmable Cook and Carry Slow Cooker is perfect for anyone who wants to take slow cooked meals on the go. It features an easy-locking gasket lid to keep the contents warm and prevent spills, so you’ll arrive at your destination with a meal that’s ready to eat. The Cook and Carry also has programmable digital controls that allow you to program the cooker from 30 minutes to 20 hours for total control over your finished product.
Slow cookers range in size from 1 ½ to 8 ½ quarts. Choose the right size to fit your household.
In general, if you’re cooking for one to three people, a four-quart model works well.
For a family of four, opt for a four- or five-quart slow cooker.
If you routinely cook for larger groups, look for a slow cooker with at least a six-quart capacity.
Even if you leave your slow cooker on all day, it will use less energy to prepare a meal than an oven would.
Most slow cookers are either round or oval in shape. Both shapes work well, but the best option for your kitchen depends on what meals you like to prepare most often.
If you usually cook stews, soups, or beans, both round and oval slow cookers would suit your recipes. However, if you mainly use your slow cooker to prepare whole chickens, ribs, brisket, or other large cuts of meat, an oval shape would likely be the better option.
Save time and effort on labor-heavy sauces, like marinara and barbecue, by preparing them in your slow cooker.
It’s important to keep the lid on a slow cooker when you’re preparing a meal, so a clear glass lid is best.
A glass lid will allow you to check on the progress of your food without actually removing it.
Plastic and other opaque lids don’t allow you to look inside during cooking, so they’re best avoided.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Proctor-Silex 4-Quart Slow Cooker
The Proctor Silex 33043 heated slowly and gently during the course of our nine-hour pot roast prep, as is recommended for successful slow cooking. At the one-hour mark, the temperature registered 144°F. The heat rose slowly and steadily from there, reaching a maximum of 187°F over the test period. At the end of nine hours, our roast displayed a medium dark brown exterior with cooked pink fibers in the middle. The meat was fork tender, meltingly soft, and pleasantly flavored by the vegetables and herb seasonings.
A slow cooker’s insert is the removable pot that you mix your ingredients in.
Most inserts are made of ceramic or porcelain, but some slow cookers have a metal cooking pot.
These materials all conduct heat well, though ceramic and porcelain are usually easier to clean.
Look for an insert with a nonstick coating for the easiest cleaning.
The exterior of a slow cooker often gets hot while in use, but you want to make sure that the handles never do.
Look for a model with large handles that stay cool and are sturdy so you can easily move the slow cooker to serve dinner.
You shouldn’t use frozen ingredients in your slow cooker. They can bring the cooking temperature down low enough for bacteria to grow.
Some slow cookers feature only a manual dial or knob control that allows you to set the appliance to low, medium, or high. They aren’t equipped with timers, so you must keep an eye on your meal and turn the cooker off when necessary.
Other slow cookers are equipped with programmable controls. Not only can you set the appliance to low, medium, or high, you can also set a timer so the slow cooker turns off at a specific time. These slow cookers usually have a “keep warm” setting as well, so your food won’t be cold if you get home after it has stopped cooking.
Slow cookers with manual controls are usually less expensive.
Depending on how you plan to use your slow cooker, you may want to choose a model equipped with other cooking settings, such as those for browning, sautéing, roasting, or steaming.
Slow cookers with these extra settings are usually more costly, but if you’re making a more involved dish, they can save you from having to clean multiple pots and pans at the end of the night.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
West Bend 5-Quart Oblong-Shaped Slow Cooker
Like some pricier brands, the West Bend 5-Quart Oblong Slow Cooker has the capacity to brown cuts of meat before being set to slow cook. In our test kitchen, the browning function worked moderately well. The unit heated up quickly, but it needed to be steadied while searing in order for the pot to stay on the base. The West Bend’s small handles, made of the same material as its insert, complicated this task.
Slow cookers are available at a variety of price points.
In general, you can expect to pay anywhere between $15 and $150, depending on the size of the cooker and its features.
For a basic, mechanical slow cooker, expect to pay $15 to $40.
For a higher-end, programmable slow cooker, you’ll likely pay between $50 and $150.
Slow cookers aren’t just for making meals. You can actually cook cakes, cupcakes, and brownies in your slow cooker.
Preheat your slow cooker before adding your ingredients. Giving it 20 minutes or so to warm up before you toss in your ingredients can make a big difference in the end product.
It’s best to use fatty, tougher meats, such as short ribs, pork shoulders, chuck roasts, and lamb shanks in your slow cooker. Lean meats such as pork tenderloin can dry out.
Don’t overcrowd a slow cooker. Only fill it half or two-thirds full.
Dairy products usually break down in a slow cooker, so if you’re adding milk, yogurt, sour cream, or other dairy products, do it in the last 15 minutes.
Don’t lift the lid off your slow cooker to check on your meal. Heat will escape and slow down the cooking time. Only check on your meal in the last half-hour or so of cooking.
Q. Is it safe to leave a slow cooker on while I’m out of the house?
A. Most slow cookers are designed to be safe if they’re left on unattended on your counter. To be cautious, though, check that nothing is touching your slow cooker before you leave.
Q. What features make a slow cooker easier to clean?
A. Most slow cooker inserts are removable to make cleaning easy. However, for the easiest cleaning, opt for a model with a dishwasher-safe insert.
Q. Can I take a slow cooker on the go?
A. You can prepare a meal in a slow cooker and then bring it with you to a potluck dinner so it stays warm. Look for a model with a locking lid so you can be sure it’s sealed completely. A retractable cord can also make a slow cooker more portable.
Serves 6 - 8
Large cuts of meat become meltingly tender when the collagen fibers turn to gelatin after cooking for many hours at low temperature. The addition of vegetables and fresh herbs contribute depth of flavor to the pan juices released during cooking. For best flavor, allow the tender meat to reabsorb juices by cooling all in the cooking liquid. (Caveat: busy families can eat very well without this step.)
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.