Nothing beats coming home to a fully-cooked meal — especially if it was almost entirely hands-off! Such is the benefit of owning a slow cooker or Crock-Pot. These handy small appliances can cook up everything from juicy, fall-off-the-bone ribs to hearty, healthy stews to flavorful, warm ciders. Most recipes for your slow cooker just take a few minutes of prep, giving you more time to enjoy the things you love.
Shopping for your first or a new Crock-Pot? There are more options than ever on the market. Here’s a quick guide to picking out the best slow cooker for your household.
What’s your budget?
This is the first question for most household purchases and for good reason! A higher budget means a more robust set of features, but recognize that even a bargain slow cooker will still make hands-free cooking a snap.
If you’re looking for something to simply get the job done, you can get a slow cooker from a trustworthy brand like Crock-Pot (the original slow cooker manufacturer!) for as little as $20. This stylish damask-printed option couldn’t be easier to use — twist the manual dial to choose a low or high temperature, and switch it to warm if you have time between when your food is cooked and when you’re serving it up.
From breakfast to dinner, find out how honey and your slow cooker can create some seriously sweet treats!
What size do you need?
Slow cookers are infamous for their ability to whip up large portions of food — but to get those big portions you’re also looking at taking up precious pantry or cupboard space with a larger slow cooker. If you’re mostly serving up meals for a smaller group, you can probably get away with a four-quart or smaller slow cooker, which is designed to serve up to five people per meal.
On the flip side, you might need more space for bigger, heartier meals. Six-quart slow cookers are the most common size because they’re big enough to hold a large roast or other cuts of meat. Try this stainless steel option from Cuisinart — it comes with a cooking rack to make roasting meat even easier!
A bigger slow cooker is perfect for creating these family-friendly, make-ahead slow cooker freezer recipes.
Do you need to pre-program your meal?
If you’re not at home and standing by to change your temperature setting, your food can quickly become scorched. One of the best justifications for going with a slightly pricier slow cooker is the ability to pre-program your cooking time. Once your meal has finished cooking for the right amount of time, programmable models should switch right into “keep warm” mode to ensure dinner’s still nice and hot when you’re ready to eat.
If you really want to go all out, Crock-Pot has a Wi-Fi-enabled slow cooker that connects to the WeMo app, letting you remotely turn the unit on or off (ideal if you’re the forgetful type in the mornings), change the temperature, monitor cooking time, and even notify the family when dinner is ready!
They’ll all come running once they hear one of these 10 delicious slow cooker baked treats is ready to be devoured!
Do you need to transport your food?
Slow cookers are ace for big meals like family dinners or potluck events, but not every slow cooker will travel well. If you’re primarily getting a slow cooker because you want to be able to take it places, be sure to find a model that will keep food from leaking out with a secure lid.
Note that many slow cooker brands will offer models specifically for traveling, like this affordable model from Hamilton Beach, which features a single clip to keep the lid and the base stuck together.
These 9 tasty slow cooker appetizers are perfect for taking on the go!
What other special features are you looking for?
1. Breville Stainless Steel 7-Quart Slow Cooker with EasySear Insert, $129; 2. Crock-Pot iStir Automatic Stirring Slow Cooker, $76.99; 3. Ninja 3-in-1 Cooking System, $113.42
In general, most slow cookers will get the most basic jobs done. But some Crock-Pots come equipped with extra little features that may help you choose one over the other. Some examples?
This ingenious slow cooker from Breville comes with a non-stick insert so you can start off your recipes directly on the stove — no need for an extra pot to brown those onions or veggies!
If you like making recipes that could use a bit of stirring, check out Crock-Pot’s line of automatic stirring slow cookers. They’ll stir things up throughout the day, boosting flavor and minimizing the chances of caked-on food.
Some slow cookers also promise multiple functions. The Ninja 3-in-1 Cooking System can brown, bake, or roast your food, providing increased flexibility for a wider range of recipes (and justifying the space it takes up in your kitchen cupboards!).
If your slow cooker recipes are getting a bit tired, try these 15 easy chicken slow cooker recipes for tonight’s dinner!
With a great range of prices and pretty universally guaranteed results, there’s never been a better time to add a slow cooker to your household.