We put several popular options to the test.

By Julia Heffelfinger and Sarah DiGregorio
Updated November 05, 2020
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Slow cookers are certainly popular—over 80 percent of American households have one. The appliance has evolved over time, especially with the rise of the Instant Pot in recent years, so we re-tested and updated our own ranking of popular brands available today.

After testing, these are our favorite slow cookers:

Credit: Amazon

Credit: Amazon

Credit: Amazon

For testing details and methodology, keep reading.

The Process

Sarah DiGregorio's apartment looked like Hoarders: Slow Cooker Edition. She spent a year doing almost nothing but slow cook, writing a book called Adventures in Slow Cooking, published in October 2017. She learned that there are variables among slow cooker models that make a big difference in both your experience using the appliance and in the quality of the finished dish, and laid the groundwork with the original version of this roundup. Julia Heffelfinger, our most recent slow cooker tester, used similar methods to test the latest version of several different slow cooker tools.

The slow cooker was invented by Irving Naxon in 1940. He called his gadget a Naxon Beanery, as it was inspired by the slow-simmered Jewish bean stew called cholent. In the ‘70s, he sold the rights to the Rival company, which rebranded it Crock-Pot. Some modern versions offer useful programmability and other bells and whistles, but the basic cooking mechanism hasn’t changed much since Naxon first came up with it. The pot (or “crock”) sits inside a casing that contains a wrap-around electrical heating element. The control panel on the outside of the casing offers warm, low and high heat settings.

The super-simple, closed design of the slow cooker is at the heart of its strengths and its weaknesses: It excels at any dish that requires low, moist heat. Obviously, that includes anything braised or steamed, but it can also gently poach delicate fish, or be deployed as a water bath for making foolproof custards and cheesecakes. It uses less energy than the stove or oven (most require about the same wattage as a lightbulb or two), and you can leave it on all day without worrying you’re going to burn your house down.

However, a slow cooker can over-cook your food. Modern models run considerably hotter than the originals from the ‘70s, because of concerns about food safety. (The rule of thumb is that cooked food should not be held between 40˚ and 140˚ for more than four hours.) And there’s no standard temperature for the low, hot and warm settings. They can vary by as much as 30 degrees from model to model. That’s why it’s so important to choose the right machine: If you are using the slow cooker for all-day cooking, you want one that runs as low and slow as possible.

So, out of the hundreds of slow cookers on the market, we tested some of the most popular to find out which one performs the best. We started with these three guiding principles:

1. The most useful size for a slow cooker is a five- to seven-quart oval. A six-quart oval slow cooker can make a recipe that serves four, but it will also accommodate large roasts or whole chickens. A two-quart souffle dish or a loaf pan can fit inside, for making bread pudding or cheesecake. There’s nothing you can do with a four-quart slow cooker that you can’t do with a six-quart, but the reverse is not true. There’s no question that if you’re going to buy one slow cooker, it should be this size and shape.

2. Programmability is a must-have feature. A programmable slow cooker allows you to set the cook time and heat level (say, 4 hours on low) and after the time has elapsed, the cooker will automatically switch to warm, decreasing the temperature. The warm setting shouldn’t be abused—you can’t just leave chicken on warm for four hours and expect it to still be juicy. But it’s a lifesaver for a gap of a few hours between when a recipe is done and when you get home. Dishes like marinara sauce and polenta can sit warm for hours without suffering. The older and simpler models just run on whatever heat level you’ve set it to until you get home and switch it off, making overcooking much more likely.

3. It is nice, but not necessary, to have the ability to sear or brown in the slow cooker insert. Many recipes call for sautéing aromatics and/or browning meat before slow cooking. If you can do this in the slow cooker insert, you don’t have to use a separate skillet on the stovetop.

Starting with those parameters, we tested seven popular slow cookers from nine different brands, six with browning ability, to see which offered the best user experience and low, even cooking.

The Slow Cookers

Basic models

  • Crockpot MyTime Slow Cooker, 6-Quart ($60 at amazon.com)
  • Black + Decker Digital Slow Cooker, 7-Quart ($60 at amazon.com)
  • Hamilton Beach Temp Tracker Programmable Slow Cooker, 6-Quart ($70 at amazon.com)

Models with the ability to brown:

The 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 those questions, Julia performed three tests on all of the 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.

I added one more test for the cookers with the ability to sear/sauté in unit:

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.

Our Favorite Slow Cookers

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

Credit: Amazon

What worked: This Cuisinart model had a strong showing in every test I ran. It reached a steady, low, heat within an hour (hovering around 185°) and maintained that temperature for 6 hours. When it kicked over to the warm setting, it dropped to a 160° 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.

In terms of the design and usability of this cooker, it was one of the easiest models to get up and running. 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. I also liked the larger 7-quart capacity and extra surface area for browning. Plus, 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, gravy or sauces into a serving dish.   

What didn’t: While the insert has lightweight, nonstick capabilities that I really liked, I can see how it could deteriorate with extensive use. I would not use any metal utensils in this cooker to avoid scratching, just like you would with a nonstick skillet. Luckily, Cuisinart makes it easy to replace the insert should any damage happen to it. Also, the handle on the lid gets a bit warm but is still cool enough to handle.

To buy: $200 at amazon.com or williams-sonoma.com

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

Credit: Amazon

What worked: I had high expectations for the Instant Pot, specifically their newest Duo Nova model, and it delivered. Many household pressure cookers now have a slow cooker setting, but I was looking for one that is easy to use, has even heat control, and won't blow your budget.

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 distributed very evenly throughout cooking: The beans were creamy and intact and each one was cooked to the same degree. The strata was 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 to operate. 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 now 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 (‘less’, ‘normal’, and ‘more’). 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.

What didn’t: In my opinion, the biggest downside to this model is the smaller surface area inside the pot. The 6-quart insert is easy to remove and clean, but the bottom of the pan only measures 8-inches in diameter and restricts how much you can brown at one time. During this test, I learned that I preferred the cookers with rectangular or oval-shaped inserts.

To buy: $60 at amazon.com or surlatable.com

Best Affordable Slow Cooker: Black + Decker Digital Slow Cooker with Chalkboard Surface, 7 Qt.

Credit: Amazon

What worked: If you are looking for a standard slow cooker and buffet warmer, this Black + Decker model is the best bang for your buck. It takes a little longer to heat up than some of the pricier models (it peaked at 185° on the low setting), but the temperature dropped quickly when it switched over to warm.

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 amongst the basic models that I tested. While the matte chalkboard surface requires a little care when you take it out of the box, it cleans nicely and hides spills and stains. 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.

What didn’t: While this cooker did meet much of the testing criteria, it does not have the ability to brown in-unit. Also, this model did successfully drop to 160° within 30 minutes of switching to warm, but after three hours the temperature was falling close to our food-safe threshold of 140°. Lastly, while very easy to use, the control panel is a little flimsy and I worry about how it will perform after extensive use. However, at this price point ($59.99), long-term durability isn’t a deal-breaker.

To buy: $60 at amazon.com

Also Tested

Credit: Williams Sonoma

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

What worked: This All-Clad model was also one of my favorites. It warmed up quickly and hovered around 190° (our ideal temperature for braising) for 6 hours. This model cooked beans evenly and the strata was perfect, showing no visible hot spots in the insert. This was also one of my favorite cookers for browning: The control panel allows you to pick your searing temperature, the sturdy cast-aluminum insert gives you an excellent sear and even coloring, and the nonstick ceramic coating makes it a cinch to clean. The wide handles on the insert also make it easy to lift in and out of the base. Also, the sleek stainless-steel exterior made this one of the most countertop-worthy picks in the group.

What didn’t: While the light-up panel is clear and easy to read, I did think that 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. Lastly, while it is clear that this slow cooker is made of quality, durable materials, it was one of the pricier options in this group at $360.

Credit: Amazon

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

What worked: This pressure/slow cooker from Breville also performed quite well. It got hot fast, hitting 195° within the first 30 minutes, then consistently held that temperature for 6 hours. When the setting kicked over to warm, the heat decreased rapidly, but did not fall below 160°. It cooked the beans quickly and evenly and was one of the best performers in the strata test, with a fluffy, custardy interior that had an even thickness throughout and no color on the edges or bottom. I also really liked the control panel, which clearly laid out the different settings. If I were in the market for an easy-to-use pressure cooker, this would be an excellent pick.

What didn’t: 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.

Credit: Amazon

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

What worked: I was looking forward to testing this multi-cooker because my Zojirushi rice cooker is one of my favorites, and most used, pieces of equipment in my kitchen. The controls on this model are a little different than a traditional slow cooker with four temperature settings ranging from 140° to 200°, but it is easy to use once you figure it out. This model also had the best temperature control of the group, reaching 180° within 30 minutes and holding that temperature for 6 hours. While I was not surprised that the wide stainless-steel insert was great for browning, I was surprised to see how evenly and gently it also cooked the strata. I also liked how the handle on the lid doubles as a stand, so you don’t get condensation all over your countertop.

What didn’t: 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. Lastly, this multicooker was on the higher end of the price scale at $270, but if you also consider the quality and price of the brand’s rice cookers, then I see this as an excellent 2-for-1 deal.

Credit: Williams Sonoma

Wolf Gourmet Multifunction Cooker, 7 Qt. ($600 at williams-sonoma.com)

What worked: This model from Wolf is a top of the line slow cooker. It’s incredibly well-constructed (as you can expect from any Wolf appliance) and will look nice sitting on your countertop. It also has a heavy-duty stainless-steel insert that could easily double as a roasting pan in your oven. The built-in temperature probe helps you track the internal temperature of whatever you’re cooking and the added settings give you ultimate control over cook time and temperature (for example, you can select two different heat and time settings within one cooking session).

What didn’t: 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. While you do have to take the additional features and quality of this slow cooker into account, it was also the most expensive model in this group at $799.

Credit: Amazon

Crockpot MyTime Slow Cooker, 6 Qt. ($50 at amazon.com)

What worked: This new model from Crockpot lets you operate the slow cooker manually (set your time, your temperature, and go) or use MyTime, which allows you to pick your food type, amount, and your exact meal time and then the slow cooker will automatically adjust the cooking cycle so your food is ready when you are. Another plus: This cooker has the most accessible price of the models I tested at $49.99.

What didn’t: 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.

Credit: Amazon

Hamilton Beach Temp Tracker Programmable Slow Cooker, 6 Qt. ($69 at amazon.com)

What worked: This model has an integrated probe that tracks the internal temperature of your food. I also liked that it had three temperature settings (‘low’, ‘medium’, and ‘high’). Plus, it has a setting that allows you to hold a specific temperature, which is great if you want to use your slow cooker for sous vide.

What didn’t: 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.