Tips on Picking Out a Slow Cooker That’s Right For You

One of the things I get asked is what slow cooker should I buy. I have my favorites which I’m happy to recommend, but there are a few questions you need to ask yourself to determine what’s best for you.

How many people are you cooking for?

  • 4 quart will feed 2 and have leftovers for lunch the next day or feed 4
  • 3 1/2 quart is pretty close to a 4 quart but works better for a 2 to 3 person household
  • 5 quart is good for a family of 4 to 6
  • Unless you have a huge family or cook meals ahead and freeze them you would not want anything over a 6 quart

Round or Oval?

Want to cook breads in a loaf pan? An Oval one is the way for you to go to fit pans inside the slow cooker and getting them back out easily. Round ones can be cheaper but tended to have more hot spots in my experience, so I don’t like them for baking but they are perfect for soups or stews.

Manual or Programmable?

Manual ones are less expensive, so that’s one reason to pick it. Programmable refers to the ability to automatically switch to warm after the time you specify. It does not allow you to program the time it starts. (Lots of people would get food poisoning if they did – especially meat eaters!)

If you come home late or have an unpredictable schedule spend the extra money on a programmable slow cooker. It will pay for itself by not ruining your dinner.

Multicooker or Slow Cooker Only?

This is a new one for me, but I finally got an Instapot and I’m rethinking this. I really love it’s stainless-steel insert and the fact that it can replace my yogurt maker and rice cooker. I will never own just one slow cooker because I need to test recipes in many different ones. However, if you live in a tiny house or apartment this is well worth the small footprint in your kitchen. See more about those at the bottom of this post.

Each brand seems to have their own now and not all of them do everything my Instapot does. You can see the latest line-up here on Amazon.

Why am I obsessed with 1 1/2 to 2 quart slow cookers?

Ok, this is an easy one. These run around 10 to 20 dollars and you can make breakfast, dips, fondues, and cook just a cup of beans at a time. I really use mine everyday for oatmeal and then again during the day to cook a can’s worth of beans to use in my dinner.

Some people have found one at Target on sale for 3.00, so check in your area. I have one that’s a Chefmate brand that I bought at Target. I also use the Crockpot brand 2 quart and it cooks really well.

2 quart Crockpot

There are also some new connectable slow cookers in different sizes and I can’t wait to try out the Crockpot 2 quart slowcooker that is in this line.

Here are a few others you should check out that are 1 1/2 quarts:

1 1/2 quart Procter Silex

Road Pro 1 1/2 quart slow cooker

There are also some new 2.5 and 3 quart slow cookers popping up.

This 3 quart from Hamilton Beach is on my counter all the time and there are other styles if you want something different. They are all very pretty.

3 quart Hamilton Beach

You can find more models and manufacturers of 2.5 and 3 quarts here.

New Slow Cooker FAQS

  • It will run hotter than the one you are replacing that’s 10 years old. Add more liquid or cook for a shorter amount of time.
  • Fill it up 1/2 to 3/4 of the way full. If your instructions say 3/4 believe them or you may come home to burnt stew. (Another reason to not buy one that’s too big.)
  • The new low is almost as high as the old high. This was changed for safety issues.
  • Make sure you are at home the first time you use a new (or used) slow cooker. Just like any appliance you need to make sure it’s working properly.
  • The outside may also get hotter so clear the area around the slow cooker.

My latest favorites:

These change for me. Realize I own over 10 slow cookers of various sizes and brands. These are the ones that are on my counter this week.

It become a tie between my 3 1/2 quart Cuisinart  and my 4 quart Calphalon. Both are a little pricier than the manual slow cookers, but they are programable and mine cook to temp really well and do not run hot.

The Cuisinart has a simmer setting which lower than low and is worth the money. They also have a 4 quart mulitcooker with a slow cooker setting and 6 quart slow cooker. I got the 3 1/2 because it was on sale and fits my needs of a 2 person household.

Cuisinart 3.5 quart slow cooker

Calphalon also makes a 7 quart slow cooker if you have a large family or prefer to cook in batches and freeze for later.

My next fav is any of the Hamilton-Beach 3 in 1 (I got mine on overstock on sale). It has a 2, 4, and 6 quart interchangeable bowls with one base. It’s perfect if you don’t have much storage space. I like it because it lets you easily pick the size you need at the moment and they nest together for storage.

3 in 1 Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker

You should be able to make the oatmeal in the 2 quart of the 3 in 1, but you may have to add extra liquid since it’s evaporating surface is larger than a smaller 1 1/2 quart. I haven’t tested it yet, but I will update this when I do.

Also both Hamilton Beach and Cuisinart state that they do not have lead in their crock glaze. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all the others have lead, but it makes me feel better to have it stated. Updated: Crockpot and Chapalon have also stated that they do not use lead either.

If you are looking for larger slow cookers that will fit in with your other stainless steel kitchen appliances, here are a few for you to think about:

Calphalon

Cusinart 6.5 quart slow cooker

All Clad 6.5 quart slow cooker

Kitchenaid 6 quart slow cooker

There is a new slow cooker combo that’s on my radar right now and I love it so far. It’s called an Instapot and you can use it as a slow cooker, pressure cooker, rice cooker or yogurt maker and you can saute right in it for a one pan clean up. Even better is that it has a stainless-steel insert which none of the rice cookers seem to have as an option. They come in 5 or 6 quart.

6 quart Instapot

5 quart Instapot

Extra Stainless-Steel Insert

Brand New blue-tooth enabled Instapot allows you to program and monitor cooking with a free app from iPhone/iPad!

I hope this helps you become more comfortable in choosing a new slow cooker. Let me know if you have more specific questions. Please note that these links are affiliate links which means I get a tiny percentage if you buy when you click through my link. It is at no additional cost to you. It helps me pay for the expenses of hosting this blog. Thank you so much for your support!

Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this post! As a slow-cooker novice, I was totally in the dark. I got my hands on a Rival 1 1/2-qt model for 10 bucks at Target yesterday, and I can’t wait to get cooking!

  2. trixie baum says:

    I have been using an oval 3 1/2 or 4 qt Rival for years and it runs really HOT and has hot spots. (it holds 4 qts of water total so I assume it’s a 4qt but it actually doesn’t say anywhere what size it is) Anyway, I was just givent my mom’s (relatively new) Rival 6 qt oval and like it much better because it runs less hot and cooks more evenly, even though i haven’t been adjusting the recipes to fill it more. I want to get a 1 qt for dips and things around the holidays too. Thanks for the great blog!

  3. I have the Hamilton Beach 3 in 1 model…love it. But I also have an oval one…4 qt…and a small 1 1/2 or 2 qt…it’s great for little things, and soup just for me.

    • Jennifer says:

      Wendy, curious if you still like the 3 in 1 crockpot? I was looking at it on amazon. Approx. 130 people gave it 5 stars and 18 gave it 1 star for poor. I was going to take the word of the 130+ people who rated it with 5 stars until I read the 18. Nearly all 18 people claim that it burns food and even a few commented that it burned their countertops. Wanted to check to see if you’ve experienced either issue. Any feedback is appreciated

  4. Hi Kathy, I just bought your book and am really eager to get started…In purchasing a slow cooker I am concerned about lead in the ceramic inserts and have read a lot to reports that many of them…especially less expensive models leach lead. I am also concerned about bacteria growth in having food cook at a low temperature for a long period of time.

    Please advise.

    Andrea

  5. You mentioned the Hamilton 3 in 1, saying It has a 2, 4, and 6 quart interchangeable bowls with one base. My boyfriend & I live in a loft & don’t have much storage space, but would like the option of having a 6 quart to be able to entertain. My question is, is there a difference with the cooking if the bowl is not concealed by the metal base? Is it less affective than those that are surrounded with it’s base? Also..would you recommend this for a cooking period of 11 hours?

  6. Thank you so much for writing this! Even the best slow cookers have such mixed reviews, and now I understand that the worst reviews were coming from people who were replacing ancient crock pots and didn’t know about the changes you mentioned. The size suggestions are a big help, too.

  7. B. Maurene White says:

    Hi again Kathy,

    Meant to ask what is the delicious looking recipe you use as a banner ?header or whatever that space is called? Looks a bit like white cornbread, blueberries and mint, of course, and a little white béchamel – which could be stevia sweetened for a dessert occasion?

    Maurene

  8. I am a novice with slow cooking, but love it!
    I have a Breville multi cooker…now I cook rice early, to be able to use it for slow cooking. It is great!! Maybe a little pricey, but it is worth the money.

  9. geri divita says:

    What are your thoughts on using a coated cast iron cooker?

    • Kathy Hester says:

      If I’m cooking a stew in Winter I often use a porcelain coated cast iron dutch oven. Is that would you mean?

      The main reason I prefer slow cookers is that I can cook while I am not at home.

  10. Hi Kathy,

    I just bought Vegan Slow Cooking for Two or Just for You [Kindle Edition] and I’m reading it now. I love the slow cooker in the book, the lime green and white one along with the white and blue bowls. Where did you get them? Thank you.

    Best wishes,
    Johnny

  11. Hi – I just found your blog through the post on theKitchn and I’m enjoying looking around. I have four slow cookers myself. I have one of those Crockettes, a round one that I think is about 4 qts (it came with my husband when we got married), and an oval one from Hamilton Beach…maybe it’s 6 qts? and it has two nonstick metal inserts. Do you have any recipes for that? I’ve never used the inserts and I’ve come close to tossing them several times but then I think they might be useful!

    My last slow cooker is the most unusual. It is square and low and the base is an electric skillet. So the cord has the temperature control and it has more control than most other cookers. I inherited it from my great grandmother. Have you ever seen one like this? I’ve only seen one other (on eBay). The lid is pretty roomy. I’d love it if you have some experience with this kind as it’s purpose is a little different from deeper ones. Like it would be good for lasagne or other casseroles, but I don’t have any recipes for it. I’ve mainly used it for chicken dishes so far.

    Thank you…off to check out more of your blog! :-)

    • Kathy Hester says:

      I have not used the unusual slow cooker that you got from your great grandmother, but I think there is a West Bend that might be close. I think you could do a lasagna in it but I would do it on a day when you are at home to make sure the bottom doesn’t burn. It’s funny that out of all my slow cooker you’ve asked about 2 I don’t have!

      I haven’t been sent one of the ones with a metal insert, but I think you could saute onion and spices right in your slow cooker. I’ve started making slow cooked onions in my small slow cooker and freezing them in ice cube trays to use in other dishes.

      Hopefully I’ll have better answers to your next questions!

    • Hi, Seasons Greetings!

      my mommy has one of those, very old, still in good shape. She sautes (but not slowcooks) mostly vegetables in it, and sometimes fill with oil and does some french fries. The thermostat allows a good control of the temperature. Here is a new one from westbend
      http://westbend.com/cooking/skillets-griddles-grills/platinum-edition-skillet.html

      Hope it helps,
      Fernanda

  12. I grew Mother Stallard beans for the first time this year so I was excited to find a recipe for them in “Vegan Slow Cooking for Two”. Its the first recipe I tried from this book & it turned out great. I will definitely make this again.

  13. Have you tried the WonderBag slow cooker? Really cool product – gives you a slow cooker but don’t have to leave it plugged in all day when you are not at home. Eco friendly too – I work in Africa and these are based on the South African designer’s grandmother’s method from her childhood. And it works!

  14. Kathy,
    Is there any secret to downsizing a recipe meant for a large crockpot to cook in a 1.5 quart one? I’ve noticed many slow cooker recipes online are for larger pots than the small one I own.

    • Kathy Hester says:

      I hate to say it but trial and error are really the only way when you are pulling recipes from many different places. If it’s for a 4 quart slow cooker I start by cutting it in half. I hope this helps a little!

  15. I rarely cook for more than 2 but for some reason, the 5 and 6 qt programmable models are more affordable than the 3 or 3.5 qt. Should I still go with the smaller or the larger one? Trying to be frugal! Thanks.

    • Kathy Hester says:

      If you don’t need the programable version a 2.5 – 3.5 can be found fairly cheap at a grocery, big box store or better yet at the thrift store. Another thing is you can do is cook in a small pyrex dish inside you 6 quart slow cooker if you already have one. I hope this helps!

      • Great tip! Thank you. I do think you sold me on the 3.5 with the simmer + program options, though. Really appreciate it.

  16. Jenna Dickenson says:

    Hi Kathy,

    I was wondering if you’ve ever used a 1.5 quart Proctor Silex round slow cooker? I bought your Vegan Slow Cooking for Two as well as the PS slow cooker. I decided to make the vegan sloppy joes, and cooked it approx. 8 hours on low heat. When I lifted the lid, the sloppy joe mixture was still a soupy consistency and the black eyed peas weren’t finished completely. I am thinking that the slow cooker is too low in temp. or the slow cooker isn’t the best quality. If you have a PS cooker, have you had any issues?

    Thanks!

    • geekypoetadmin says:

      I’m pretty sure I had one when I wrote the book. I tend to give them away and don’t have one now. If I remember correctly mine ran hot.

      Could your bean have been old? It takes longer to cook older beans and sometimes they have been in the store awhile. One thing to try is to soak the beans overnight and try cooking it then with less liquid. Let me know how it goes.

      • Jenna Dickenson says:

        Thanks, Kathy. I am actually going to try it again. I looove this recipe. I put the sloppy joes in a spinach tortilla and it tasted amazing.

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