Ahh, slow cookers. The arguable saving grace of the too-busy-to-make-dinner-tonight scenario we are all too familiar with. The expansive slew of meals one can whip up in a slow cooker is nothing if not awe-inspiring. Consider it a culinary staple no kitchen should be without—regardless if you're a party of one or a family of five.
So when it comes down to choosing the best one, which parameters do you go by? The scope of factors one would take into account when opting to make a purchase—price, size, style—undoubtedly vary, boiling down to your specific needs. With this in mind, we set out to test five of the most popular and highest-rated slow cookers currently on the market (drawing from best-of lists, Amazon rankings, and best-sellers) to see which model would take the oh-so-highly-coveted prize of being the best slow cooker available right now.
When it came to choosing a recipe, simplicity was the primary focus. Opting for a dish that would entail a larger scope of ingredients would prove to be more difficult to control, in terms of consistency in flavor and measuring the level of preparedness. The result? A two-ingredient take—the herb-spice rub aside—on a classic: barbeque ribs.
Here's what happened...
Crock-Pot 6-Quart Programmable Cook & Carry Slow Cooker, $59.99
The original brand of the slow cooker, this one is a #1 best-seller on Amazon, as well as a top-pick among buyers. A locking gasket functionality proves to be instrumental in keeping the lid securely fastened to the base—also making it helpful for easy transport. Featuring a digital timer and a stainless steel design, this “cook and carry” model can take on up to a 6-pound roast, and easily switches to a warming mode when finished cooking.
Hamilton Beach 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker Set & Forget, $49.99
Featuring three smart settings, this slow cooker allows you to cook dishes at specific temperature settings, in lieu of the standard high/low option. A slot earmarked for a probe allows for the monitoring of specific temperatures—a useful tool for preparing meat. A clip-tight gasket lid is ideal for transporting the slow cooker and also helps minimize spills.
Black + Decker 4-Quart Chalkboard Slow Cooker, $29.99
As this option skews towards the budget-friendly, it does compromise on a handful of the more technical elements. In lieu of a digitized timer, the model bears a more simplistic dial with four modes: Off, High, Low, and Warm. Its one trade-off factor? A chalkboard exterior, which allows users to personalize the cooker—even if that only entails jotting down the cook time.
Cuisinart 3-In-1 Cook Central 4-Quart Multi-Cooker, $94.16
This Cuisinart model’s claim to fame is its 3-in-1 cooker capability, which allows users to slow cook, steam, or brown/saute recipes. A backlit LCD display coupled with the customizable temperature setting earmark this as one of the easier-to-use models.
All-Clad Deluxe 4-Quart Slow Cooker with Cast-Aluminum Insert, $199.95
This significantly higher-end option comes with its fair share of bells and whistles and with this one, it’s all about the details. The fully programmable cooker features a removable, non-stick insert that can seamlessly go from stovetop to slow cooker. Silicone wraps cover the handles, resulting in a heatproof element, which can be greatly appreciated.
Pros: The Crock-Pot's clear digital clock was a serious drawing point, along with the fact that the time could be easily customized, outside of a 4- or 8-hour cook time, for the final stage of the recipe. Our team of taste-testers was also quite pleased with the ribs that resulted from this one.
Cons: The condensation that formed on the glass lid made it difficult to track the ribs and their levels of readiness. The lack of handles on the actual insert also made it tricky when attempting to separate the two pieces.
Pros: With this model, the ribs were thoroughly cooked, resulting in a fall-off-the-bone finish—while not ideal for ribs, per se, it can be a huge plus for various other roasts. The easy-to-grip handles on the insert was helpful when removing the inner portion of the slow cooker, an ideal and convenient detail. The customizable digital clock made it quite easy to schedule a 20-minute low-cook setting during the barbecue sauce application portion.
Cons: The digital clock was not as readable and the condensation that formed beneath the glass lid during the cooking process was an inconvenient drawback.
Black + Decker
Pros: Its compact size makes this an ideal alternative for small-space dwellers who may find themselves tight on counter space. Similarly, it's great for whipping up smaller portioned recipes.
Cons: This option proved to be not the best vessel for cooking a rack of ribs. In this vein—due to its size and shape—there are a handful of dishes that may be more difficult to whip up in this specific model. In our testing experience, the ribs came out with a brownish residue—likely stemming from the spice and coke mixture, as well as the rendered fat—that was not particularly appetizing. We did, however, remove said sediments prior to adding the barbecue sauce.
Pros: The slow cooker’s digitized screen made it easier to schedule the additional cook time, which pertained to a smaller time increment (outside of the standard high-low setting). The lack of condensation on the lid during the cook time was also a plus.
Cons: Surprisingly enough, the cook time for this model did not match the others and the meat required an extra 30 minutes to finish, on top of the original four hours. As a result, the meat was significantly less tender in comparison and did not possess the same fall-off-the-bone quality.
Pros: This model produced the best-cooked rack of ribs, pre-barbecue sauce application. Following the 4-hour, high-energy cook time, the ribs came out beautifully browned and relatively tender, especially in comparison to the rest.
Cons: The digital clock does not allow for the timer to be set in shorter time increments so, post-sauce application, we had to keep a close eye on the clock, to make sure the ribs didn’t overcook in the final 20-minute stage.
Best Budget Buy: Crock-Pot, $59.99
Most Splurge-Worthy: All-Clad, $199.95
Best All-Around: Crock-Pot, $59.99
Since not all of the slow cookers were the same size, we converted the recipe to correlate to each respective unit.