The 3 Best Slow Cookers for 2023, Tested and Reviewed

The 7-Quart Cuisinart Cook Central 4-in-1 Multi-Cooker earned the top spot on our list.

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best slow cookers
Photo: Amazon

Slow cookers are certainly popular — over 80% of American households have one. They allow you to toss in your ingredients, set it, and forget it while your food cooks over a long period of time. The appliance has evolved over time, and now you can do much more with your slow cooker, like browning, sautéing, baking, and much more.

To help you find the best slow cooker for your kitchen, we decided to put the top options on the market to the test. We considered their size, browning/searing abilities, programmability, temperature and cooking efficiency, ease of use, and overall comfort. With these criteria in mind, we found the Cuisinart Cook Central 4-in-1 Multi-Cooker, 7 Qt. to be the top option. Read on to discover the best slow cookers, according to our testing.

Our Top Picks

  • Best Overall Slow Cooker: Cuisinart Cook Central 4-in-1 Multi-Cooker, 7 Qt., $200 at amazon.com
  • Best Pressure & Slow Cooker: Instant Pot Duo Nova Pressure Cooker, 6 Qt., $100 at surlatable.com
  • Runner-Up: Black + Decker Digital Slow Cooker, 7 Qt., $100 at amazon.com

Best Overall Slow Cooker: Cuisinart Cook Central 4-in-1 Multi-Cooker, 7 Qt.

Cuisinart Cook Central 4-in-1 Multi-Cooker, 7 Qt.
Amazon

This option from Cuisinart reached a steady, low, heat within an hour (hovering around 185°F) and maintained that temperature for 6 hours. When it kicked over to the warm setting, it dropped to 160°F within the first hour and then held that heat for the remaining test. The most important feature of a slow cooker is its ability to cook low and slow over a long period of time, and this model proved to be quite reliable. The Cuisinart cooker also distributed heat evenly throughout cooking and showed no visible hot spots. After 3.5 hours, the beans came out juicy, tender, and evenly cooked without any stirring needed. The strata was custardy and gently cooked with no dark spots on the edges or bottom. Plus, it was easy to remove from the insert — and the easiest to clean up after.

The control panel is very user-friendly, with each cook setting clearly laid out and + and – controls for time and temperature control. The base is an attractive brushed metal and has a glass lid so you can check on your food without releasing any heat. The larger 7-quart capacity provides extra surface area for browning, and the insert itself was lightweight, easy to lift in and out of the base, and had convenient pour spouts in each corner for mess-free transfer of any juices or gravy.

Price at time of publish: $200

  • Capacity: 7 quarts
  • Weight: 18.8 pounds
  • Dimensions: 13.5 x 19.5 x 9.88 inches

Best Pressure & Slow Cooker: Instant Pot Duo Nova Pressure Cooker, 6 Qt.

Instant Pot Duo Nova Pressure Cooker, 6 Qt.
Amazon

The extra seal on the pressure cooker lid gives you very consistent and reliable temperatures. This cooker reached 185° within 30 minutes and held that temperature without wavering for 6 hours. When it automatically switched to the warm setting, it dropped down to 160° within 30 minutes. I also found that the heat was distributed very evenly throughout cooking: The beans were creamy and intact and each one was cooked to the same degree. The strata were also evenly cooked throughout and had no brown spots.

I was worried that the extra features on this cooker would make it difficult to operate, but it was surprisingly simple The pressurized lid plays a convenient jingle when it's opened and locked back into place. The Duo Nova has a larger, light-up control panel that includes a status indicator letting users know a bit more about what's happening inside the pot. The slow cooker and sauté settings also have three heat levels to choose from. While the Instant Pot is more than you'll need if you are just looking for a slow cooker, it's a cost (and space) effective choice if you can also get use out of a pressure and rice cooker.

Price at time of publish: $100

  • Capacity: 6 quarts
  • Weight: 11.8 pounds
  • Dimensions: 12.2 x 13.39 x 12.38 inches

Runner-Up: Black + Decker Digital Slow Cooker, 7 Qt.

Black + Decker 7-Quart Slow Cooker

Amazon

This cooker took a little longer to cook the beans (closer to 5 hours), but they were all intact and evenly cooked throughout. The strata was also cooked evenly from the edges to its center with some even browning around the edges and bottom (which I personally enjoyed).

I also thought that this cooker was the best aesthetically among the basic models that I tested. The digital panel is very easy to use, with a light-up countdown clock and clear setting indicators. Bonus: It also comes with latches that snap into place over the lid for easy and spill-free transportation, which makes this model ideal for home entertaining, buffets, or tailgating.

Price at time of publish: $100

  • Capacity: 7 quarts
  • Weight: 14.87 pounds
  • Dimensions: 14.09 x 17.32 x 9.65 inches

The Slow Cookers

Basic Models:

  • Crockpot MyTime Slow Cooker, 6-Quart, $46 (originally $60) at amazon.com
  • Black + Decker Digital Slow Cooker, 7-Quart, $60 at amazon.com
  • Hamilton Beach Temp Tracker Programmable Slow Cooker, 6-Quart, $60 at amazon.com

Models with the Ability to Brown:

  • All-Clad Gourmet Plus Multi-cooker with All-in-One Browning, 5-Quart, $250 at williams-sonoma.com
  • Instant Pot Duo Nova Pressure Cooker, 6-Quart, From $52 at amazon.com
  • Cuisinart Cook Central 4-in-1 Multi-Cooker, 7-Quart, $200 at amazon.com
  • Breville Fast Slow Pressure Cooker, 6-Quart, $250 at williams-sonoma.com
  • Wolf Gourmet Multifunction Cooker, 7-Quart, $650 at williams-sonoma.com
  • Zojirushi Multicooker, 6-Quart, $250 at amazon.com

The Criteria

Out of the hundreds of slow cookers on the market, we tested some of the most popular and well-rated models to find out which one performs the best. We started with these guiding principles:

  • Size/Shape: The most useful size for a slow cooker is a five- to seven-quart oval. 
  • Programmability: The ability to program a slow cooker to perform different timed cooking functions is a must-have feature. 
  • Browning: It is nice, but not necessary, to have the ability to sear or brown in the slow cooker insert. 
  • Features and Functions: We also looked for models with extra features including a probe thermometer, locking lid, apps, and delayed start.

In our extensive tests, Julia measured each slow cooker based on the below criteria:

  • Temperature stability: Can the slow cooker hold a low temperature (well below a boil, which is 212˚) for at least six hours?
  • Warming: When switched to warm, does the heat drop precipitously to a very low (but still food-safe) temperature?
  • Even cooking: Does it cook evenly on both high and low, or does it have hot spots that will scorch delicate dishes, like stratas, that are cooked directly in the insert?
  • Controls: Is the control panel intuitive and easy to program and read?
  • Alarms: Does it have an alarm when the cook time has elapsed?
  • Comfort: How hot do the insert handles and lid get when cooking?
  • Searing: For those with searing ability, do they brown chicken skin just as well as a skillet does?

The Tests

To answer these questions, Julia performed four tests on all of the slow cookers. Below are her methods and results.

Temperature tracking: I filled each cooker with 12 cups of cold water (around 65˚). I then set them to cook on low for six hours and tracked the temperature of each one with an identical probe thermometer to see how low the low setting really was—ideally, it should not rise much above 200˚. (In reality, the cookers ranged from 165˚ to 200˚ after four hours on low. For braising, I prefer a bare simmer, with a bubble breaking the surface of the liquid every now and then, which happens around 190˚). I then let them switch to warm for four hours to see how quickly and dramatically the temperature would drop—the lower the better, as long as it stays above 140˚.

Beans: To check the evenness of the high heat setting, I cooked one pound of soaked black beans with 6 cups of water in each slow cooker on high heat until they were tender, which took between three and six hours. I was looking for beans that were all nicely tender at the same time, rather than beans that overcooked around the edges before the ones in the middle were done.

Strata: Making a braise is too easy; any slow cooker can do that. A strata—essentially a savory bread pudding—is a more revealing test. Slow cookers can make lovely, delicate-textured stratas, but some models have hot spots along the wall of the insert, where it's closest to the heating element. Those spots will cause uneven browning and scorching on the edges of the strata. I lined each slow cooker with parchment and then assembled this strata in each one, adapting the recipe slightly by upping the egg quantity to six for extra structure. I then cooked it on low for 4 hours.

Browning: The slow cookers with built-in searing capabilities should perform as well as a skillet, so I tested their ability to brown. I browned skin-on chicken thighs over high heat in one tablespoon of canola oil, leaving them undisturbed for 8 minutes before flipping. I was looking for deep, even browning on the chicken skin and some fond (browned bits) left behind in the insert.

What Didn't Make The List

all-clad slow cooker
Williams Sonoma

All-Clad Gourmet Plus Multi-cooker with All-in-One Browning, 5 Qt., $250 at williams-sonoma.com

While the light-up panel is clear and easy to read, the controls took a minute to figure out. The + and – buttons control both the temperature setting (this model has three slow cooker settings: 'Low', 'Lo/Hi', 'High') and the time, which led to a little confusion. Also, the warm didn't fall quite as low as I'd hoped—it dropped to around 170° and did not drop below that point over a few hours.

Breville Slow Cooker
Amazon

Breville Fast Slow Pressure Cooker, 6 Qt., $250 at amazon.com

Similar to the Instant Pot, I was missing the extra surface area of some of the other slow cookers. While you can brown in the unit, this model only has two heat settings ('sear' and 'sauté') and does not give you as much temperature control. I also found the lid a little clunky at first but got easier to use over time. Lastly, what really made me pick the Instant Pot over this Breville cooker was the cost: The Breville is well-made and more visually appealing, but it is almost twice the price at $250.

zojirushi slow cooker
Amazon

Zojirushi Multicooker, 6 Qt., $250 at amazon.com

The lid on this cooker is not as insulated as some of the other models in this group, so there appeared to be a lot of moisture and steam lost. Because this model doesn't have a traditional high setting, I cooked the beans at 200°, and the water was nearly evaporated within the first 2 hours (full disclosure—this could have been a user error). Also, when the time expired while cooking, the cooker beeped and turned off instead of automatically kicking over to warm. There is a warm setting, but it has to be manually activated.

Wolf slow cooker
Williams Sonoma

Wolf Gourmet Multifunction Cooker, 7 Qt., $650 at williams-sonoma.com

This model ran the hottest by far out of the slow cookers I tested. On low, it hovered around 200° and did not drop much below that even after being on warm for 2 hours. And, while there is a warning on the outside of the cooker, the lid and handles were dangerously hot while cooking. It was also a little too hot for the delicate strata, which got quite brown around the edges and bottom.

crockpot slow cooker
Amazon

Crockpot MyTime Slow Cooker, 6 Qt., $46 (originally $60) at amazon.com

This model took several hours to reach 185° on low and when it switched over to warm, it took an hour and a half to get down to 170°. The cooker ran very hot on high: While cooking the strata, the edges were puffed up and quite burnt by the time the center of the casserole was cooked through.

hamilton beach slow cooker
Amazon

Hamilton Beach Temp Tracker Programmable Slow Cooker, 6 Qt., $60 at amazon.com

Similar to the Crockpot, this model took longer to heat up (ending at 200° on low, a little high for that setting). Once it switched over to warm, it then took almost two hours to drop to 170°. The strata test also revealed that this cooker has a noticeable hot spot on the backside where the heating element is located.

Factors to Consider

Size

Slow cookers come in many sizes, from tiny half-quart models that are perfect for hot dips or sauces to large eight-quart models that can serve chili to your whole Super Bowl Party. Most basic large slow cookers come in six- to seven-quart sizes, smaller ones tend to be four quarts. Depending on how you will use your slow cooker, you may even want a couple of sizes.

Features and Functions 

Many slow cookers operate with no more than an off/on button and three settings: low, warm, and hot. These functions are all you need for basic chili, stews, soups, and braises, though any searing or browning has to happen on your stovetop and be transferred to the slow cooker. 

Some slow cookers now come with the ability to sear in the pot, set specific temperatures, create auto on/off schedules, and even control settings via an app. Extra features also come with extra cost, so determine how you really will use the cooker and buy the one that best fits your cooking style. A locking lid, part of most models now, is a great upgrade for transporting dishes.

FAQ

What temperature is low on a slow cooker? What temperature is high? 

“Slow cooker temperature settings can vary between models,” says chef and food stylist Anthony Contrino. “The low setting is usually around 200 degrees Fahrenheit, while the high setting is upwards of 300 degrees Fahrenheit.” Be sure to follow the recipe recommendations that come with your slow cooker while learning how it works. When in doubt, start on the high side to quickly bring food to a safe temperature, and then lower the temperature for the rest of the cooking. 

Can you put frozen meat in a slow cooker?

Food safety is key with slow cookers, according to Contrino. “It is not recommended to put frozen meat, or frozen anything, really, in a slow cooker. Because food is cooked at a low temperature, as the meat thaws, it will sit at a temperature that is referred to as ‘the danger zone’ (40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit) longer, where bacteria thrive. While it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll wind up with a food-born born illness, it’s not worth the risk,” he says.

Will sauce thicken in a slow cooker? 

“Since slow cookers work by using moist heat to cook low and slow, you will wind up with a thinner sauce than if you were to use a stovetop,” says Contrino. “That said, there are a few options to help thicken a sauce – towards the end of the cooking process you can remove the lid and allow the sauce to reduce, or you can add a slurry at least 30 minutes before the cooking time is set to expire.” 

 

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