Who should get this
Getting a slow cooker is worth it if you want more convenience in the kitchen—particularly if you’d like to cook food while you’re out of the house. With a modern, programmable slow cooker you choose the heat—low or high—and the cooking time. When the time is up, the machine kicks over to the warming setting. That way, you can prep your food before work and head to the office without worrying about your meal overcooking.
If you bring food to dinner parties and other get-togethers regularly, having a slow cooker on hand with a locking lid and silicone gasket to prevent spills can be seriously time-saving (and up your game from the usual lukewarm casseroles and salads).
If you want something more versatile than a slow cooker—and you can spend between $120 and $250—consider an electric pressure cooker, which comes with multiple cooking settings.
How we picked and tested
Slow cookers come in a range of sizes, from 1- to 7-quart capacity. The diminutive 1-, 2-, and 3-quart cookers work best for making appetizers, such as dips. Most of these small pots have only manual controls. The next sizes are 4- to 5-quart cookers, which work well for singles and couples who want to make one meal, and maybe a round of leftovers. Most of these are manual machines, although some are programmable (see our full guide to compare the competition).
We focused our research on programmable 6- to 7-quart models, because they’re big enough to make a meal for a family of four, with leftovers to spare. Our experts recommended programmable models with timers, locking lids, a silicone gasket to prevent spills, and a heat probe to test meat temperatures without removing the lid. We also considered cook time capacities. See our full guide for more on how we picked what to test.
Armed with this criteria, we scoured every review we could find and read up on more than 40 top-rated models. From our research we found that programmable models in the $50 to $80 range fared just as well as, if not better than, pricier machines. The more expensive models tended to have a sleeker design, but not much beyond that. We found two notable models to test against our previous pick.
To determine how hot each of the machines cooked, we filled each crock with 4 quarts of water and measured the temperature of the water every half hour on both the low and high settings. We then tested for hot spots by cooking a batch of beans in each machine, noting whether the beans cooked evenly and how much liquid evaporated over a span of six to eight hours. We also cooked 3-pound chuck roasts in each cooker.
Additionally, we judged whether the programmable timers were easy to use, whether the hardware felt sturdy, and if there were any quirks in the design that made the cookers difficult or impractical to use.
Although the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker isn’t the most luxurious or sleekest-looking machine out there, it does everything it should at a very modest price. It has the largest digital display of the models we tested, making it the easiest to read from across the kitchen, and its interface was the simplest to use. It cooks at true slow-cooking temperatures, unlike others we tried that ran too hot. Its locking lid also makes it more portable. We like that the Set & Forget has an alarm that rings at the start and the end of the cooking cycle—a helpful feature many newer, fancier cookers, like the others we tested, omit. Finally, the Set & Forget was the only slow cooker we found that included a temperature probe.
We wish the heat probe was longer, and we also wish the 24-inch plug was a few inches longer, which would make it easier to use on a crowded counter. The Set & Forget’s digital interface wasn’t as modern-looking as the ones on the Smart Slow Cooker or the Cook & Carry. It was, however, easy to program and the easiest to read from a distance, with large letters and numbers telling you what temperature the machine is set to and how much cooking time is left.
We think the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker offers the best overall value of any slow cooker out there. If you can’t find it for $50 or under, or at all, though, or if you find you need a timer that goes longer than 14 hours (which is the upper limit on the Set & Forget), we recommend the highly reviewed and easy-to-use Crock-Pot 6-Quart Programmable Cook & Carry Slow Cooker.
Overall, we found the Cook & Carry to be sleeker and more compact than the Set & Forget. Its push-button display is more modern and attractive than the one on the Set & Forget, its handles are larger and easier to grip, and its locking mechanism snaps into place more securely. However, we didn’t find that it cooked any better than our top pick, and it ran 2 degrees hotter on average. It also lacks a heat probe and an on-off alarm, despite being about $10 pricier at some outlets.
If you don’t need the capacity of a 6- or 7- quart cooker, we recommend the Crock-Pot 4-Quart Manual Slow Cooker. You’ll have to manually turn it off because, as with other cookers this size, it doesn’t have a timer, but it has great Amazon reviews and the price is hard to argue with.
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