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Slow Cooker Recommendations

Are you looking to buy a new slow cooker?  Maybe you're replacing an existing one.  Or is this your first one?  We'd be happy to help you make the right choice.

It's impossible for us to test each individual slow cooker.  There are literally hundreds of them.  So, what we've done, is put hours of research time into reading articles and reviews to determine which slow cookers are liked by the most people and what features are the most important. 

There are a lot of things to consider before you decide which crock to buy.  Let's cover those things first.

Should I get a crock pot or a slow cooker?

Most people are not sure what the difference is between a crock pot and a slow cooker.  The fact is that a crock pot is a slow cooker.  Crock Pot is simply the brand name of a specific slow cooker.  They've branded themselves so well that people just refer to the electrical appliance generically by their name.  It's like calling facial tissue, Kleenex.  

What size should I get?

It depends what you want to cook in it.

The size of slow cookers is measured by quarts. You need to determine how many quarts will accommodate the recipes you want to make.

The two most popular sizes is a 4-quart and a 6-quart. We have one of each. We like to use the 4-quart for soups, stews, chilis, casseroles and potatoes. We use the 6-quart for beef roasts, pork roasts and chicken recipes. You may want to choose a 4-quart if you're cooking for just two people and the 6-quart if you're cooking for a larger family.

You can also get specialty pots like a casserole crock pot, a dipping crock, a buffet crock or a lunch warming crock. They're all fun, but these are not for your basic recipes.

What features are important?

You will need to determine that on your own. We'll share the features that are available and you decide which ones are important.

  • Manual or Programmable
    A manual crock has only a dial on the front of it that lets you set it to "low" or "high" and maybe "warm".

    A programmable crock will have a digital display that allows you to set "low" or "high" and how long you want it to cook for. Many of the digital pots will automatically set themselves to a "keep warm" mode when the cooking time runs out. This is a useful feature if you'll be away from home when the cooking time is up. You don't want your food just sitting there without a heat source.

  • Locking Lid
    Some choices of crocks will have a lid that can snap into place with gaskets. This is a nice feature if you plan on transporting your food to a potluck, office party or other gathering. If this feature is important to you, be sure to read the reviews of the specific pot you're considering. Sometimes the latches are poor in quality and don't seal tightly.
  • Removable Crock
    In our opinion, you shouldn't even bother buying a slow cooker that doesn't have a removable crock. When it comes time to clean it, it's so much easier to be able to remove it and properly wash it in the sink with soap and water. If the crock and cooking mechanism are attached, you cannot submerse it in water, which makes cleaning it quite challenging.
  • Ceramic or Non-stick surface
    Some people swear by the ceramic crocks because of how they absorb the heat and cook evenly. We really have not heard of anyone complaining about a metal crock with a non-stick surface. The only thing you need to be aware of is that a ceramic crock can last for years and years, while a non-stick surfaced pot will eventually peel and crack.
  • Round, Oval, Square or Rectangle
    The shape of your slow cooker does not effect the quality of cooking. The only reason you need to take the shape into consideration is how easily it will store. If you have ample cabinet space, then don't worry about the shape. If you're short on storage, then consider a small round or square slow cooker that won't take up so much space.
  • Browning/Searing Capability
    Personally, we don't like making a recipe that requires us to brown the meat on the stove top. We don't appreciate the extra dirty pan that needs to be cleaned up. It's usually the recipes that call for ground beef that require that extra pan.

    There are two kinds of cookers which allow you to brown and sear the meat. One kind allows you to put the crock on a burner of your stove and cook the meat in the crock. This way you don't have to dirty that extra pan. The other type, like the Ninja 3-in-1 Cooking System, allows you to brown or sear the meat right in the cooking unit. To get this feature, you're going to have to be willing to pay more.

    We don't yet have a crock pot where we can brown the meat right in the crock. That is the very next purchase on our wish list!

  • Stirring Capability
    When we first saw a slow cooker that had the ability to stir the food during the cooking process, we thought it was the coolest thing we had ever seen! But...as we thought about it over time, we thought, "What would we stir?" Most recipes would be destroyed by stirring them. You could stir your soups and stews, but it's not necessary, so why pay the money for a feature you don't need.

How much does a slow cooker cost?

You can spend from $20 to $200.  It all depends on what features you want your crockpot to include.  

If you are buying on a budget, a good, old-fashioned manual crock can be purchased in the $20 range.  Manual just means that it's just a dial with the "low", "high" and "warm" settings.  No bells and whistles.  But bells and whistles are not necessary to cook a good meal.

The medium range in cost, $50 - $60, can get you a programmable slow cooker.  Programmable is nice because you can set the timer for the amount of time needed and then it changes itself to the warm mode when the food is done.  If you're at work or you just forget to check on the food at home, your food won't be overcooked.

If you're going to go high-end and spend over $100, then you will be able to include the browning/searing feature.  Some slow cookers have a removable crock that is stove top safe so that you can cook the meat without having to dirty another pan.  At the $150 to $200 range, you can get one that has a setting right on the appliance that allows you to brown the meat right in the crock.

Our Recommendations

Best All-Around Choice
The Cuisinart 3-in-1 Cook Central always rates highly when reviewed by its users. It comes in 4-quart, 6-quart and 7-quart options. The removable insert is aluminum with a teflon non-stick coating. This is the cadillac of slow cookers. But like the car, you will pay the pretty price to have it.

Best Browning/Searing Unit
The Ninja 3-in-1 Cooking System is like having three appliances in one. Use it like the stove, like the oven or like a slow cooker. Some of your cookers that allow browning enable you to put your crock on the stove top to brown or sear the meat. This one allows you to do it right in the cooker. This particular pot is the next on my list to purchase! Best 6-quart Programmable Slow Cooker
The Hamilton Beach Set 'n Forget Slow Cooker is the perfect middle-of-the-line slow cooker. It has a 6-quart capacity so that it can handle chicken dishes and roasts. It can also handle your soups and casseroles. It's programmable, but it does have a manual mode. It has a clear lid, so you can keep on eye on your food. It also has a temperature probe so you don't overcook anything. For the average person wanting to crock, I think this is the perfect buy! Best Casserole Crock
The Crockpot Programmable Casserole Crock is fun if you're an avid crocker who cooks a lot of different dishes. I use the casserole crock for lasagna, meatloaf and other type dishes. It's not the crock you want to purchase if it's your first, basic cooker. It should be an addition to your collection. Best Budget Slow Cooker
The Crockpot 4-Quart Manual Slow Cooker is a budget friendly option. I would recommend this pot if that is the only thing within your finance reach or if you just want to try something that is inexpensive to see if you like crocking. It's inexpensive, but it can still cook up a great meal!

Buyer Beware!

When you're shopping for a crockpot, read the reviews from other buyers.  There is no better way to learn the truth about a product than hearing from someone who has already purchased the product.

Another thing to be aware of is that I've learned from experience that many of the newer cookers heat higher than they should according to the directions from a recipe.  You can either shorten your cooking timer or build the device that helps lower the temperature of your device.  

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