Multi-cookers, such as the Instant Pot, promise speedier meal prep, slow cooking, and more. And while they may be the hottest product in kitchen appliances, slow cookers just keep on braising, with roughly 8.7 million sold in a recent 12-month period, according to The NPD Group, a market research company.
Consumer Reports bought and tested 14 of the most widely sold programmable and manual slow cookers, including three models from the venerable Crock-Pot brand.
You'll also see slow cookers from All-Clad, Black+Decker, Calphalon, Crux, Elite, Hamilton Beach, KitchenAid, and Pioneer Woman in CR's slow cooker ratings.
All but one of the models are oval, a shape that accommodates roasts or other large cuts of meat better than a round slow cooker can. The tested models range in price from $30 to $170.
Past tests found that any slow cooker could turn out tender, delicious garlic honey chicken.
The real challenge? Beef stew with potatoes and carrots, which is why, in CR's latest tests, researchers cooked pots and pots of beef stew on high heat for five hours, then cooked the same dish on low heat for eight hours. Staffers sampled the results, weighing in on taste and tenderness.
"There's a big difference in performance among the 11 programmable slow cookers we tested," says Ginny Lui, the head tester for these countertop appliances. "The best cooker served up tender meat and vegetables in 5 hours, but in the lowest scoring cookers, the vegetables were firm and the meat was tough even after 8 hours."
Performance didn't vary widely among the three manual models. These cookers don't have a timer, and don't switch to keep-warm when cooking is done. So you’ll have to plan your schedule around your pot roast. But at $30 to $40, they're far less expensive than their programmable cousins.
Read on for ratings and reviews of six of the best slow cookers CR tested, listed here in alphabetical order. They vary in weight, from 7 to 17 pounds. For all the details and even more options, check CR's slow cooker ratings and buying guide.
All-Clad SD700450 6.5 qt. programmable oval-shaped
CR’s take: The most expensive of the models we tested, the 6.5 quart All-Clad programmable slow cooker earns a Very Good rating in our high-setting tests (only the top cooker in our ratings earns an Excellent, meaning after 5 hours our beef stew was tender). You can program this model for up to 8 hours on high—or 20 hours on low—and when it's done cooking, the appliance switches to auto-warm for 6 hours. The pot is ceramic, like most we tested. The downside? The All-Clad is among the least convenient to use. The buttons on the control panel are small, as are the labels above each button. The lid does not lock, and this cooker weighs 17 pounds, the heaviest we tested, making it harder to transport. Warranty: two years.
Calphalon Digital Saute SCCLD1
CR’s take: With a capacity of 5.3 quarts, the Calphalon Digital programmable slow cooker earns a Very Good score in our low-setting test. It turns out beef stew with fairly tender meat and veggies in 8 hours, and about the same when cooked on the high setting for 5 hours. It weighs just 7 pounds, and the aluminum pot is round and has a ceramic nonstick coating—the only one in our ratings with that feature. Another feature that sets this model apart: You can use the pot on any type of range to sear, sauté, or brown food before slow cooking. Program this cooker for up to 20 hours, and the auto-warm setting lasts 4 hours. Warranty: three years.
Crock-Pot Cook & Carry SCCPVS600ECP-S
CR’s take: The 6-quart Crock-Pot Cook & Carry has a ceramic pot, a hinged lid that locks, and a handle on the lid to help make carrying this 12-pound slow cooker easier. It’s one of three programmable models tested that garners an Excellent in our low-setting tests, telling you that it can serve up deliciously tender beef and veggies in 8 hours. It’s impressive on the high setting, too. You can also program the Crock-Pot for up to 20 hours. Once cooking time ends, this cooker moves into keep-warm mode for up to 4 hours. Wrap the cord around the notches on the back of the cooker for neater storage. Warranty: one year.
Crock-Pot Thermoshield SCCPCT600-B
CR’s take: The Crock-Pot Thermoshield’s capacity is also 6 quarts, but it eats up more counter space than the Crock-Pot Cook & Carry. Here, insulation keeps the exterior from getting hot to the touch as most cookers do. Earning a Very Good score in our high-setting test, this slow cooker has the same features of the Crock-Pot Cook & Carry, including the lid lock and cord wrap-around for storage. There’s a small handle on the lid, but use the side handles for carrying. Warranty: one year.
Hamilton Beach Temp Tracker 33866 6 qt.
CR's take: This 6-quart Hamilton Beach is one of the least expensive of the programmable models we tested—and it beat out Crock-Pot, long synonymous with slow cookers, in our tests. The Hamilton Beach is the only model to earn an Excellent rating in our high-setting tests, telling you it’s the fastest in its category. Program this cooker for up to 24 hours, and the auto-warm option lasts for 24 hours, too. The owner’s manual includes tips on using the temperature probe and hold-temp mode to cook meat and fish using the sous vide method (placing food in a sealed bag and slowly cooking in a warm bath of water). Warranty: 1 year.
Black+Decker Teal Wave 7 qt, dial control SC2007D
CR's take: The 7-quart Black+Decker is a manual model, which is why it costs less than any of the programmable slow cookers above. This cooker earns a Very Good rating in our high-setting tests, but like any manual cooker, you have to keep tabs on it. There isn't a timer, and it doesn’t automatically switch to keep-warm mode. Warranty: two years.