While the concept of slow cooking has been around for ages, the modern slow cooker didn’t arrive on the market until the 1950s. It has maintained steady popularity in home kitchens due to its convenience and wide-range appeal.
Sunday pot roast is a staple in my home, and I always use my slow cooker to make this family-favorite meal.
The Calphalon 5.3-Quart Slow Cooker is one of the best slow cookers because it has excellent cooking performance and some additional features, while still being simple to use.
It also has a unique dark stainless exterior that looks great in practically any kitchen.
But there are other considerations. Do you prefer a multi-cooker with several cooking functions? Would you like to have “extras” like a delayed start timer or a cord that retracts? Several factors might influence which slow cooker is best.
I’ve broken down all the specs of each slow cooker, as well as the pros and cons. You’ll have all the information you need to choose the right crock pot.
Which slow cooker is right for you? Read on to learn more.
At a Glance
All About Slow Cookers
Why Should I Get a Slow Cooker?
Slow cookers offer convenience for busy cooks without sacrificing flavor or taste. Instead of standing over a hot stove, you can “set it and forget it.”
Even better? The slow cooker can do its thing while you’re at work or out running errands. Multi-tasking for the win!
Slow cookers are energy-efficient. You don’t have to heat your entire kitchen on a hot summer day. Just plug in the slow cooker and let it cook your meals while keeping your home cool.
Slow cookers make cleanup a snap. Many times, the inner cooking pot is the only dish you have to clean. Some inserts are dishwasher-safe, too, making it painless.
Don’t want to clean the insert? Use a crock pot liner, like this one.
How Do Slow Cookers Work?
A slow cooker has a base that includes the heating element, cooking internal vessel, and glass lid. The vessel is where the food goes to slow cook. It might be constructed of ceramic stoneware, nonstick aluminum, or even stainless steel.
The food cooks similarly to a stovetop or a Dutch oven. But in a slow cooker, the heat begins at the base (via the heating element) and works its way up the sides.
The steam generated from the heat is sealed in by the lid, creating recirculated moisture. The low and consistent temperature prevents liquid from evaporating or becoming concentrated.
The result? A tasty, delicious meal cooked efficiently and conveniently.
What to Look for In a Slow Cooker
There are several factors to consider when choosing a new slow cooker.
Size/Shape: This is one of the most important considerations. Slow cookers come in many sizes, but for most people, 5 to 7 quarts (4.73 to 6.62 liters) are best. If you’re cooking for 1-2 people, you might consider a smaller 4-quart (3.89 liters) size.
Most slow cookers are either round or oval. Oval-shaped slow cookers are useful for a wider range of foods, like pot roast and chicken. Round slow cookers are best for soups and dips.
Material: A slow cooker inner pot can be made of aluminum, stainless steel, or ceramic. Both aluminum and stainless steel resist rust and corrosion. Stainless steel is more durable than aluminum and won’t react with acidic foods, but it’s heavier. Both metals can get quite hot, however, so use caution when handling them.
Ceramic pots naturally release food and can handle high heat. But ceramic is more fragile and will crack or break if you accidentally drop it.
Some slow cookers have a nonstick coating on the inner pot material. The coating might or might not contain Teflon (i.e., PTFE). If you want to avoid Teflon coatings, find a slow cooker that’s labeled as PTFE-free.
Programmability: A basic slow cooker can operate with no more than an off/on button and three settings: low, warm, and hot. However, for a more convenient and precise cooking experience, look for a programmable slow cooker that allows you to program a cooker to perform different timed cooking functions.
Cooking Performance: Does the slow cooker cook food evenly on both high and low heat settings? Hot spots can be a disaster when trying to slow cook meat or veggies.
Can you sear or brown meat? Can the unit hold a low temperature (below boiling) for at least 6 hours? These are important questions to answer before choosing a slow cooker.
Features/Functions: You may be fine with a simple slow cooker with no additional features. But you might enjoy some extra functions. Some slow cookers now allow you to sear in the pot, pressure cook, set specific temperatures, delay start, or even control the settings via an app.
You might also like extra conveniences like a locking lid for easy transport, a built-in temperature probe for precise cooking, or a retractable cord for storage. These slow cookers tend to be more expensive, so you’ll have to balance extra features with your budget.
What Size Slow Cooker Do I Need?
This is perhaps the most common question for people searching for a new slow cooker. As a general rule of thumb, approximate one quart per person. So, if you want to slow cook food for four people, you’ll need at least a 4-quart slow cooker (3.79 liters).
At What Temperatures Do Slow Cookers Cook?
Slow cookers vary in their heat settings. However, the low setting is typically around 200°F (93°C), while the high setting is somewhere above 300°F (150°C). It’s best to follow the recipe recommendations that come with the slow cooker.
If you’re unsure of the correct temperature, start out on the highest setting, then lower the temperature for the rest of the cooking process.
Check out my slow cooker temperature guide for more.
Can You Slow Cook Frozen Meat?
It’s not a good idea to slow cook frozen meat or any frozen food in a slow cooker. The temperature range between 40°-140°F (5°-60°C) is referred to as the “danger zone” because that’s where bacteria thrive.
As meat thaws in the slow cooker, it will sit for a longer time in the danger zone. You may not automatically experience food-borne illness, but better safe than sorry.
Slow Cooker Reviews
Calphalon Slow Cooker: Best Slow Cooker Overall
Cooking Capacity: 5.3 quarts (5 liters)
This Calphalon Slow Cooker provides a nice balance between ease of use and extra features. It has a capacity of 5.3 quarts (5 liters), the perfect size for feeding a family of five. This slow cooker was my top choice for non-toxic slow cookers.
The sleek dark stainless steel looks great in the kitchen, while the nonstick coating is easy to clean. The inner cooking vessel is ceramic with a nonstick coating for healthy, non-toxic slow cooking.
The digital programmable slow cooker has an LCD display with intuitive controls that allow you to adjust timer settings. The manual dial allows you to adjust the heat level quickly.
This Calphalon slow cooker has two heat settings: low and high. It has a keep-warm setting, as well. Set the cooking time to anywhere from 15 minutes to 20 hours, in 15-minute increments.
If your Calphalon finishes slow cooking before you’re ready to eat, no problem. The slow cooker switches automatically to the warm setting, so your food won’t get cold.
One unique feature is that this slow cooker is compatible with electric, gas, and induction stovetops. Other slow cookers aren’t designed for stovetop use, so this is a nice perk.
Buyers had rave reviews for the Calphalon slow cooker. They loved the searing capability and the automatic warming setting. Several said it was one of their favorite cooking appliances.
It’s important to keep in mind that the inner cooking pot is not dishwasher-safe. It’s hand wash only.
Some buyers had issues with odors, but these were few and far between. A lot of it also depends on what you’re cooking. I recommend liners if you’re worried about the smell.
With its versatility, easy-to-use interface, attractive design, and fantastic reviews, the Calphalon 5.3-Quart Slow Cooker is my pick for the best overall slow cooker.
- Sear, brown, & sauté functions
- Works on stovetops
- Digital programs
- Easy-to-clean ceramic pot
- Attractive design
- Reports of odors
- Hand wash only
All-Clad Slow Cooker with Ceramic Insert: Best Splurge Non-Toxic Slow Cooker
Cooking Capacity: 6.5 quarts (6.2 liters), 4 quarts (3.79 liters)
When most people think of All-Clad, they think of stainless steel cookware. But this popular brand also makes slow cookers. This All-Clad Slow Cooker is oval-shaped and sports a stainless steel exterior and a ceramic cooking pot.
Read more about ceramic vs. aluminum in this All-Clad Slow Cooker review.
There are multiple sizes available, but I’m reviewing the 6.5-quart slow cooker (6.2 liters). This slow cooker can hold up to 6 pounds of meat or enough soup to feed 5-7 people.
The All-Clad cooker has two modes: high or low. The high mode has 2-8 hours of cooking time, whereas the low setting can cook 4-20 hours. The warm mode goes up to 6 hours, so you can cook food on your schedule.
The ceramic insert is non-stick and dishwasher-safe for easy cleaning. It has integrated handles for an easy grip. The glass lid traps heat and moisture for tender roast and perfectly cooked vegetables.
The LED digital display is easy to read and features large push-button controls for intuitive use.
Customers had mixed reviews of the All-Clad Ceramic Slow Cooker. Many people loved the ease of use. The programmable cook settings were popular, as well as the handles for easy lifting.
However, several buyers had quality issues. Some complained of poor heating, while others had a lid that didn’t fit snugly. Some received cracked or damaged ceramic pots.
What’s worse, those customers who did have issues experienced poor customer service. That was the most common complaint.
Those who were pleased with the slow cooker found it worth the higher price tag, but many did not. It really comes down to how important the All-Clad name is to you.
- LED digital display
- 2-20 hours of cooking time
- Keep warm setting
- Non-stick ceramic pot
- Easy to transport
- Complaints of quality issues
- Reports of poor customer service
All-Clad Slow Cooker with Aluminum Insert: Best Slow Cooker Splurge with Aluminum Insert
Cooking Capacity: 7 quarts (6.6 liters)
If you’d rather forgo the ceramic insert, this All-Clad Slow Cooker has an aluminum insert instead. It has a cooking capacity of 7 quarts (6.62 liters), large enough to feed 7 people. It was my top pick for All-Clad Slow Cookers.
This 7-quart slow cooker has four cooking modes that allow you to prepare food prep on any schedule. With up to 26 hours of cooking/warming time, you can eat delicious meals at your convenience.
It has an intuitive, easy-to-read LCD digital screen and large push-button controls.
One thing I like about this slow cooker is the double set of handles. Not only does the base of the cooker have handles, but the cooking pot has its own set of handles, as well. This makes for easy lifting and transporting.
The stainless steel lid traps heat and moisture, ensuring food doesn’t dry out or get cold. While that means you can’t see through to monitor food, it does mean you never have to worry about glass shattering.
The smooth aluminum insert is easy to clean and dishwasher-safe. It’s lighter weight than ceramic cooking pots. If you have trouble lifting heavy dishes, this All-Clad slow cooker is a great option.
You can’t use the insert on a stovetop or in the oven. It’s solely for slow cooking.
Although All-Clad makes most of its cookware in the U.S., its slow cookers are manufactured in China. If American-made products are a priority for you, you’ll want to choose a different slow cooker.
Many buyers were pleased with the All-Clad slow cooker. They found the inner pot easy to carry and clean. They also liked the sleek design and look of the appliance.
It did heat too slowly for some, and others had issues with the non-stick coating chipping and flaking. The long-lasting durability is questionable, but the lightweight design is solid.
- Large capacity
- Four cooking modes
- Even cooking
- Handles for easy lifting
- Lighter weight
- Durable stainless steel lid
- Insert is prone to flaking, chipping
Instant Pot Duo: Best Multi-Purpose Slow Cooker
Cooking Capacity: 6 quarts (5.7 liters)
If you want a cooking appliance that can do it all, this Instant Pot Duo multi-cooker is calling your name. The Instant Pot Duo is so much more than a slow cooker; it’s also an electric pressure cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, sous vide, and more.
It has a cooking capacity of 6 quarts (5.7 liters), large enough to feed a family of 4-5. There are other sizes available, as well. It topped my list as the best multi-purpose slow cooker.
The inner cooking vessel is stainless steel. It’s uncoated for non-toxic cooking, and it’s dishwasher-safe for easy cleaning.
Sear food or use the pot as a sauté pan, choosing the sauté mode and cooking food without the lid. To cook rice, simply add the rice and cooking liquid, press the rice button, and let it take care of the rest.
Several customers had a learning curve with the Instant Pot, which can act as a highly programmable slow cooker. It takes some time to learn all the functions and the timing, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a multi-cooker that can do as much as this one.
The good news? There are thousands of Instant Pot recipes out there to help you get started. Seriously, there are entire websites dedicated to recipes using multi-cookers.
If you want more control over timing and temperature, there is a manual mode. Just set your desired temperature and cook time.
If pressure cooking scares you, you can rest easy. Instant Pot Duo has plenty of built-in safety features.
The locking pressure cooker lid doesn’t allow you to open the multi-cooker until the pressure has reduced to a safe level. The overheat protection maintains temperatures for worry-free cooking. Plus, the automatic shutoff will stop cooking after the cooking cycle is complete.
Some customers would have liked a glass lid for the slow cooker function. The pressure cooker lid is great for safety while pressure cooking, but you can’t monitor food while slow cooking.
Instant Pot does sell glass lids separately, like this one. But that means you have another thing to purchase and another thing to store. It’s worth it for some people, but that boils down to personal preference.
The Instant Pot Duo is a fantastic multi-cooker that has unmatched functionality. It’s easy to class this as one of the best slow cookers available. But it’s not my top pick because most people don’t use it as a slow cooker. Most people end up using it primarily as a pressure cooker, which is what it is meant for. If you’re interested in learning more about pressure cookers, read my in-depth review.
- 7-in-1 multi cooker; versatile
- Delay start
- Auto shutoff
- Dishwasher-safe inner pot
- Loads of recipes, resources
- Learning curve
- Can’t monitor food during cooking cycle
Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker: Best Slow Cooker with Large capacity
Cooking Capacity: 10 quarts (9.5 liters)
If you’re feeding a large crowd, you’ll want to snag the Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker. There is a smaller 6-quart (5.7 liters) option for those who’d prefer it.
The stoneware inner pot with a ceramic coating is heavy-duty and built to last. Both the vessel and the lid are dishwasher-safe.
This Hamilton Beach slow cooker comes with a locking lid to keep in heat and moisture while making it easier to transport. The full-grip handles also help you carry the slow cooker. It’s good, too, because this thing is hefty!
The high, low, and warm settings allow you to choose the perfect internal temperature, while the simple turn knob is as simple to use as it gets.
Customers were pleased with the Hamilton Beach in terms of cooking performance. They found it to be a great slow cooker with plenty of room to make the most tender roast.
I reviewed it in my best non-toxic slow cookers roundup and found it to be the best large capacity slow cooker.
If you were hoping for a lot of added features, you’ll be disappointed in this case. The Hamilton Beach manual slow cooker has a simple design. But many buyers were pleased with the simplicity.
The Hamilton Beach manual slow cooker is the best slow cooker for those who want something easy to use that gives you large portions!
- Large capacity
- Dishwasher-safe inner pot, lid
- Clip-tight sealed lid, full grip handles
- Easy to clean, dishwasher-safe
- Easy to use
- Bare bones design
Crock Pot Slow Cooker: Best Slow Cooker on a budget
Cooking Capacity: 8 quarts (7.6 liters)
For slow cooking on a budget, you can’t beat the Crock Pot Slow Cooker. The Crock Pot brand is so synonymous with slow cooking, that people use the terms “slow cooker” and “crock pot” interchangeably.
This Crock Pot has a capacity of 8 quarts (7.6 liters), large enough to easily cook for eight or more people.
This non-toxic slow cooker can cook for up to 20 hours and has a digital countdown timer. The automatic warm mode keeps food warm after the meal timer is complete.
The removable lid and stoneware pot are dishwasher-safe. And the ceramic cookware coating releases food easily.
Users were very pleased with their slow cookers. They liked the auto-warm, the countdown timer, and the flavorful results.
Several users did notice that their Crock Pots cooked at higher temperatures than other slow cookers. They had to adjust their cooking times accordingly.
There were a few isolated incidents of the slow cookers smoking during the first use. Several follow-up comments said the company quickly replaced their defective cookers with no problems.
I’ve also reviewed the Crock Pot in my non-toxic slow cookers article. The recommendation? Best Non-Toxic Budget Slow Cooker.
If you are on a tight budget, this Crock Pot slow cooker is a great option. It has a simple design, but it’s straightforward to use.
- Easy to use
- Dishwasher-safe lid and pot
- Cook time countdown timer
- Automatic warm setting
- Short electrical cord
- Cooks at higher temps
- Reports of smoking
Cuisinart Slow Cooker: Best Easy-to-Use Slow Cooker
Cooking Capacity: 6.5 quarts (6.2 liters)
The Cuisinart Slow Cooker has a cooking capacity of 6.5 quarts (6.2 liters) and comes with a removable oval-shaped ceramic vessel. There are other sizes available, as well, ranging from 3.5-7 quarts (3.3 to 6.6 liters).
It’s housed in a stainless steel exterior with a glass lid, and it comes with a cooking rack. Read my complete review of the Cuisinart Slow Cooker.
You can slow cook on one of four settings: high, low, simmer, or choose the warm setting. Make your selection using the touchpad control panel.
This programmable slow cooker has a maximum 24-hour cook time, offering flexibility for the cooking process.
Both the lid and the ceramic inner pot are dishwasher-safe for painless cleaning. And this is the only slow cooker on the list with a retractable cord.
Even though the housing is sleek stainless steel, the exterior handles are made of plastic. The handles do stay cool, but some customers found them to be flimsy and lacking in quality.
The glass lid does make some noise at high heat levels after a while, but it doesn’t affect the cooking process.
Overall, however, buyers were impressed with the performance of their Cuisinart slow cookers. They liked the ease of use and the size/shape of the cooking pot.
Some did say that the unit struggled to maintain temperatures high enough to boil or get soups hot enough. You might invest in a temperature probe to ensure the correct temperature, especially if you plan to cook on high heat most of the time.
- Four one-touch preset cooking modes
- Cord retracts for easy storage
- Generous cooking capacity
- Dishwasher-safe lid and pot
- Easy to use
- Flimsy side handles and knob
- Doesn’t get hot enough on high heat
- Glass lid makes noise on high heat
COMFEE Slow Cooker: Best Programmable Slow Cooker with Delay Start
Cooking Capacity: 6 quarts (5.7 liters)
If you like the idea of a multi-cooker, you’ll like the COMFEE 12-in-1 Slow Cooker. This crock pot has a cooking capacity of 6 quarts (5.7 liters), large enough to feed a family of 6. I detailed the COMFEE slow cooker’s features in this in-depth review.
Like other programmable slow cookers, this one has multiple preset cooking functions. The 12 cooking programs include: pressure cook, sauté, bake, stew, steam, oatmeal, slow cook, soup/broth, egg, rice, bean/chili, and yogurt.
The delay start and warm setting mean you have maximum control over how much cooking time you need.
This programmable cooker allows you to do pot-in-pot cooking, where you can cook two dishes simultaneously. Place an oven-safe glass serving dish on top of the steam rack. Add cooking liquid to the bottom and follow the recipe.
The COMFEE slow/pressure cooker has a list of downloadable recipes from the product page to get you cooking in no time.
This COMFEE’ slow cooker has a pressure limiting valve so you can safely release the steam. In addition, it also has a lid-lock and overheat protection to maximize safety.
The dishwasher-safe cooking pot makes cleanup a snap. And as far as affordability, it’s one of the best multi-cookers for those on a budget.
For more details on this digital slow cooker, check out my programmable slow cooker guide.
- 12-in-1 multi-cooker
- Built-in safety features
- Programmable, delay start
- Locking lid
- Learning curve
- Not the best for top browning
Stanley Adventure Slow Cooker: Best Thermal Cooker
Cooking Capacity: 3 quarts (2.84 liters)
The Stanley Adventure Slow Cooker is perfect for the camper and those on the go. Keep your meals hot for 12 hours and cold for 16 for maximum utility while camping or traveling. It was my top pick for the best thermal cooker.
The Stanley won’t fully slow cook like electric models. Instead, it uses a vacuum-insulated double wall to keep food warm.
Unfortunately, the thermal inner pot is not removable; you’ll have to partially cook your food in a different container and then transfer it to the thermal cooker. If you do it right, the food can continue to cook in the inner pot.
The inner pot is made of 18/8 stainless steel and is safe for food. It is on the smaller side in terms of capacity, coming in at only three quarts (2.84 liters).
The Stanley slow cooker is great for a couple, but you might have to buy an additional unit for a family of four.
The locking lid is made of BPA-free plastic. The silicone gasket ensures a tight seal, making this an effective food warmer.
Customers said they liked the durable construction of this thermal pot. A few customers had trouble with the latch clips; they found them hard to open, and in some cases, the latch clips broke.
- Stainless steel pot
- Durable construction
- Vacuum-insulated double wall
- Silicone gasket
- Keep food hot for 12 hours and cold for 16 hours
- On the smaller side
- Latches are hard to open
- Inner cooking vessel is not removable
Thermos Slow Cooker: Best Thermal Cooker with Removable Pot
Cooking Capacity: 4.76 quarts (4.5 liters)
The Thermos Slow Cooker has a capacity of 4.76 quarts (4.5 liters), perfect for four people. It’s vacuum-insulated, although it doesn’t have a double wall.
You can keep your food warm for up to eight hours or keep it cold for up to six hours. This Thermos slow cooker is great for outdoor use.
The outer pot is similar to the Stanley but not quite as robust looking. Some users of this thermal pot liked that they could leave it and do other things while it was cooking.
The stainless steel inner pot is durable and has a convenient carry handle. A few customers reported having trouble with the handle of the inner pot, though. Others reported problems with heat leaking around the lid.
If you’re a fan of camping but want to keep your hot food at a safe temperature, you’ll enjoy using the Thermos Slow Cooker.
- Keeps food hot for 8 hours and cold for 6 hours
- Great for camping
- Stainless steel pot
- Removable cook pot
- Reports of heat leaking near lid
- No double-wall insulation
Best Slow Cookers for Slow Cooking: My Recommendation
Which one of the slow cookers comes out on top? If you want the best of slow cooking, I highly recommend the Calphalon Slow Cooker as best overall slow cooker. It’s one of the top-rated slow cookers and has the perfect blend of simplicity and sophistication.