The Best Slow Cooker

by Tasteofthekitchen
best slow cooker

We’ve been recommending the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 6 Quart Programmable Slow Cooker since we first published this review in 2013. We’ve found that it still offers the best performance and features of any available slow cooker. The Set & Forget consistently cooked foods at a gentle simmer, making the most tender roast in our tests. It’s one of the few cookers we tested with a locking lid that seals tightly for easy transport, as well as a probe thermometer so you can cook to a target temperature.

The Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 6 Quart Programmable Slow Cooker has been our top pick since 2013. A common complaint among owners of slow cookers is that they cook foods too hot, but in our tests the Set & Forget successfully simmered beans on a low setting without boiling them and turning them to mush. And even on a high setting, it was able to cook at moderate enough temperatures to produce a fall-apart tender roast. Its intuitive interface, probe thermometer, locking lid, and modest price make it the best cooker of the models we tested.

If you want a longer timer or a more precise probe thermometer, we recommend the Hamilton Beach Temp Tracker 6 Quart Slow Cooker. The Temp Tracker is similar to our top pick but has a 24-hour timer (instead of 14 hours), more built-in slots for a probe thermometer, and a medium setting as well as high, low, and warm. Unlike with the Set & Forget, the probe thermometer reads to the degree, and you can set it to a wider range of target cooking temperatures. But this model ran a little hotter in our tests, and we’re not convinced that everyone needs the extras, which go above and beyond the “set it and forget it” slow cooker mantra.

To learn about slow cookers, we consulted the best experts we could find. In 2018, we interviewed Hugh Acheson, chef and author of The Chef and the Slow Cooker; Marye Audet, author of Mexican Slow Cooker Cookbook; and Lisa Fain, author of QUESO!: Regional Recipes for the World’s Favorite Chile-Cheese Dip. For the 2013 version of this guide, we sought advice from other slow-cooker experts: Phyllis Pellman Good, author of the New York Times best-selling Fix-It and Forget-It cookbook series, and Stephanie O’Dea, author of the New York Times best-selling Make It Fast, Cook It Slow cookbook series and the blog A Year of Slow Cooking. Combined, these chefs and authors have logged countless hours making food in a wide range of cookers.

best slow cooker

To supplement our interviews, we read every review of slow cookers we could find, as well as owner reviews, to determine our criteria. We also chatted with Marianne Gravely, a senior technical information specialist at the USDA, to learn about slow cooker food safety. Since 2013, we’ve examined more than 70 top-rated models and tested a short list of finalists to find the best.

Anna Perling, writer of the most recent update, covered kitchen equipment for Wirecutter for several years and cooks for herself most nights of the week. This guide also builds on research and testing by Wirecutter senior staff writer Lesley Stockton and deputy editor Christine Cyr Clisset, as well as writer Camille Chatterjee.

A slow cooker is a convenient, simple-to-use kitchen appliance—particularly if you’d like to cook food while you’re out of the house. With a slow cooker, you can prep your food before work and head to the office without worrying about your meal overcooking or cooling into the food temperature danger zone. Marianne Gravely, a senior technical information specialist for the USDA, assured us that cookers heat up to above 140 degrees Fahrenheit quickly enough to be food-safe. The USDA also has its own slow cooker safety guide.

Before you invest in a slow cooker, know that for not much more money, you can get other small appliances that can do more. Electric pressure cookers all come with a slow cooker setting but can also make rice or steam delicate fish and vegetables. We’ve read some complaints that slow cook settings on pressure cookers like Instant Pots can get dicey, but we didn’t notice any red flags in our tests. A slow cooker is still more affordable and easier to use, but if you have room for only one appliance, an electric pressure cooker is the way to go.

The Best Slow Cooker

How we picked

  • Large capacity

    We focused on 6- to 7-quart slow cookers, which are big enough to make a meal for a family of four with leftovers to spare.

  • Programmable timer

    It’s easier to “set it and forget it” when your cooker has a timer that switches the machine to “keep warm” when it’s done cooking.

  • Locking lid

    We prefer models with lids that lock tightly in place, for when you want to bring your slow cooker to a tailgate or potluck.

  • Even temperature

    Some models struggle to maintain temperature, over- or undercooking dishes. Our picks reached and held just the right temperature.

The best slow cooker

The Set & Forget cooked foods low and slow to make the best roast in our tests, and it has a probe thermometer to cook foods to a set temperature.

The Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 6 Quart Programmable Slow Cooker has been our top pick since 2013. A common complaint among owners of slow cookers is that they cook foods too hot, but in our tests the Set & Forget successfully simmered beans on a low setting without boiling them and turning them to mush. And even on a high setting, it was able to cook at moderate enough temperatures to produce a fall-apart tender roast. Its intuitive interface, probe thermometer, locking lid, and modest price make it the best cooker of the models we tested.

best slow cooker

For longer cook times

For longer cook times or more precise temperature control, we like the Hamilton Beach Temp Tracker.

If you want a longer timer or a more precise probe thermometer, we recommend the Hamilton Beach Temp Tracker 6 Quart Slow Cooker. The Temp Tracker is similar to our top pick but has a 24-hour timer (instead of 14 hours), more built-in slots for a probe thermometer, and a medium setting as well as high, low, and warm. Unlike with the Set & Forget, the probe thermometer reads to the degree, and you can set it to a wider range of target cooking temperatures. But this model ran a little hotter in our tests, and we’re not convinced that everyone needs the extras, which go above and beyond the “set it and forget it” slow cooker mantra.

To learn about slow cookers, we consulted the best experts we could find. In 2018, we interviewed Hugh Acheson, chef and author of The Chef and the Slow Cooker; Marye Audet, author of Mexican Slow Cooker Cookbook; and Lisa Fain, author of QUESO!: Regional Recipes for the World’s Favorite Chile-Cheese Dip. For the 2013 version of this guide, we sought advice from other slow-cooker experts: Phyllis Pellman Good, author of the New York Times best-selling Fix-It and Forget-It cookbook series, and Stephanie O’Dea, author of the New York Times best-selling Make It Fast, Cook It Slow cookbook series and the blog A Year of Slow Cooking. Combined, these chefs and authors have logged countless hours making food in a wide range of cookers.

To supplement our interviews, we read every review of slow cookers we could find, as well as owner reviews, to determine our criteria. We also chatted with Marianne Gravely, a senior technical information specialist at the USDA, to learn about slow cooker food safety. Since 2013, we’ve examined more than 70 top-rated models and tested a short list of finalists to find the best.

Anna Perling, writer of the most recent update, covered kitchen equipment for Wirecutter for several years and cooks for herself most nights of the week. This guide also builds on research and testing by Wirecutter senior staff writer Lesley Stockton and deputy editor Christine Cyr Clisset, as well as writer Camille Chatterjee.

best slow cooker

A slow cooker is a convenient, simple-to-use kitchen appliance—particularly if you’d like to cook food while you’re out of the house. With a slow cooker, you can prep your food before work and head to the office without worrying about your meal overcooking or cooling into the food temperature danger zone. Marianne Gravely, a senior technical information specialist for the USDA, assured us that cookers heat up to above 140 degrees Fahrenheit quickly enough to be food-safe. The USDA also has its own slow cooker safety guide.

Before you invest in a slow cooker, know that for not much more money, you can get other small appliances that can do more. Electric pressure cookers all come with a slow cooker setting but can also make rice or steam delicate fish and vegetables. We’ve read some complaints that slow cook settings on pressure cookers like Instant Pots can get dicey, but we didn’t notice any red flags in our tests. A slow cooker is still more affordable and easier to use, but if you have room for only one appliance, an electric pressure cooker is the way to go.

For a longer timer and a wider range of temperature options, we recommend the Hamilton Beach Temp Tracker 6 Quart Slow Cooker. Although it didn’t perform as well as our top pick, we think some people might prefer the Temp Tracker for its extra features: It has a 24-hour cook timer, four preset heat settings, three slots in the lid for a probe thermometer, and the ability to set an exact target cooking temperature anywhere between 100 °F and 200 °F. But if you’re just looking for a basic slow cooker or an additional serving vessel, these extras might be unnecessary.

Aside from our top pick, all the slow cookers performed poorly in our bean-making test, and the Temp Tracker overcooked our beans. But of the other models, we think the Temp Tracker offers the most additional features to help you make better food—including more cooking modes and a probe thermometer—and it’s also more affordable than cookers, such as those from All-Clad, Calphalon, and Cuisinart, that performed even worse in our tests.

The Temp Tracker cooked beans too hot on the low setting, finishing them within five hours during an eight-hour cooking program; of the nine cookers we tested, three didn’t get hot enough to cook beans, and five finished cooking before their cycle completed. Pot roast from the Temp Tracker, however, was tasty: It was better than the one from the Crock-Pot ThermoShield but not quite as fall-apart tender as the meat from the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget.

The Temp Tracker has a 6-quart capacity, just like our top pick. In contrast to the 12-hour timer on the Set & Forget, the Temp Tracker offers a 24-hour timer, which you can set in 10-minute increments. It also has more preset cooking options: You can choose to cook on a low, medium, high, or warm setting. Additionally, you can use the probe thermometer on any setting except warm to cook meat to a target temperature between 100 °F and 200 °F in 1-degree increments. We’re not convinced everyone will use this expanded temperature range, but Hamilton Beach told usthat some people may want the extra flexibility for holding temperatures for sous vide cooking or foods like fondue (we did not sous vide foods in the cooker in our tests, and in general we’ve found that immersion circulators are much more precise for that task). With the Temp Tracker, you can also choose whether the cooker switches to the warm mode or whether it should hold a temperature at the end of cooking.

The Temp Tracker has a lid with the same style of lock and gasket for spill-proof transportation as our pick. But the Temp Tracker has three holes, instead of one, for its included probe thermometer, which will let you check for doneness throughout a large piece of meat without lifting the lid and letting heat escape. Although you can achieve the same with a regular probe thermometer slipped under the lid, we appreciate that the probe can work in conjunction with the machine to fine-tune cooking times.

In our tests, the Temp Tracker’s probe came within 1 degree of our favorite probe thermometer in our bean tests, and readings fluctuated between 1 and 9 degrees in our roast test. Because the temperature isn’t exactly consistent throughout a large piece of meat, some variation is expected. During cooking, the probe reading clearly displays on the Temp Tracker’s interface so you can check on your meal.

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