That means I get tons of slow cooker questions. There are so many different brands, styles, and sizes that it can be difficult to navigate. I’m here to help you and you can use the contact form if you have any questions that aren’t answered here.
The number one question that I’m asked is what slow cooker should I buy. While other sites may show you the ‘best rated’ slow cooker, I have my favorites which I’m happy to recommend and a few of the new latest crockpots to share with you.
To start here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine what’s slow cooker is best for you and/or your family. You could read all of the best slow cooker reviews out there, but if you don’t have the answers to these questions, you could find yourself disappointed with your choice.
My Favorite Slow Cookers
If you don’t have time for reading through this whole post and really just want to buy one that’s sitting on my counter right now, here are my 5 current favorites:
The Cuisinart 3 1/2 quart programmable slow cooker and is the one I reach for first. It is a little more expensive than buying one without the fancy programming, but this one has something special that none of the other slow cookers have – a simmer setting.
The simmer mimics the old low of your Mother’s slow cooker, in addition to warm, low, and high. There is also a 6 1/2 quart model if you are feeding a large family.
I also recommend a cheaper 4-quart Crockpot slow cooker if you aren’t looking for anything fancy.
There are just 3 settings, warm, low and high. You will have to manually change the settings when you want since there’s no built-in timer.
But it’s inexpensive and you can get it at almost any big box store. It’s a great one to start with.
I have a whole book, Vegan Slow Cooking for Two, that’s written just for a 1 1/2 or 2-quart slow cooker.
I tested many of them and my favorite new one is the 2-quart model Crockpot makes. You can buy it anywhere and some of the other brands at this size runs hot. If you can find an old Crockette (not little dipper), it’s a 1 1/2 quart model at a thrift store snap it up. It’s the best small slow cooker for oatmeal and they stopped making it in the 90’s.
The Instant Pot isn’t exactly a slow cooker, though it does have a slow cooker function. It’s actually a multi-cooker. What that means is it’s an electric pressure cooker with slow cooker, rice cooker, congee and yogurt settings.
I was so excited when I found out that Hamilton Beach made a new version! The old one had 3 different crocks that nested inside each other for storage. The new version called Right Size, has one crock with a visible line inside to show you if you are filling it up to the 2, 4, or 6 quart line.
Slow Cooker 101
The first time you use a new (or used) slow cooker you should think of it as a test and stay at home while it’s cooking.
Just like any appliance you need to make sure it’s working properly. If you’re impatient like me, start with one of my slow cooker soup recipes to test it out. It’s the least likely type of recipe to overcook, so it’s a good test to see if your new slow cooker runs hot.
If your slow cooker boils on low, or stew recipes tend to overcook your slow cooker runs hot. I recommend that you add an additional 1/4 to 1/2 cup liquid in recipes if yours runs hot. You can always cook out any extra liquid, but once something is burned you can’t go back! Cook out extra liquid by removing the lid and turning it to high. Or you can pour into a soup pot and reduce on your stove if you are in a hurry.
If you inherited your Mother’s slow cooker or bought one at a thrift store it may run cooler. In the past 10 or 15 years slow cooker manufacturer’s have raised the cooking temperatures for food safety – most because of meat issues. If all of you dishes seem watery this may be you. I’d recommend reducing the liquid by 1/4 to 1/2 cup in a recipe to determine the fix your slow cooker needs.
Always fill it up 1/2 to 3/4 of the way full. Read your slow cooker manual to see what it specifies. If your instructions say 3/4 don’t fill it only 1/4 of the way or you may come home to a burnt stew. That will also happen if you use a slow cooker that’s larger than the recipe calls for. My recipes default to a 4-quart slow cooker in The Vegan Slow Cooker and here on Healthy Slow Cooking.
You should know that the new low heat setting can be almost as high as the old high. This was changed for safety issues with meat mostly, but we all have to work with it.
Read If You Are Replacing an Old Slow Cooker
If you are getting your first slow cooker you won’t have many expectations. However, if yours just died there are a few things to think of when getting a new one. Also, you have my condolences!
If you have some extra money, I’d recommend getting the Cuisinart 3 1/2 quart programmable slow cooker since it has a simmer setting that mimics the low on the older model crockpots. Cuisinart also a 6 1/2 quart version if you need a larger one.
A new slow cooker will run hotter than the one you are replacing that’s 10 or more years old. If you are finding your old recipes are cooking too fast go ahead and add more liquid or cook for a shorter amount of time. Eventually, you’ll find the groove of your new slow cooker and you will automatically adjust.
If you really miss your old slow cooker, look in thrift stores and you may find the exact one! That’s where I get my Crockettes. Another thing to think about is if your electric base didn’t die, but you broke your crock chances are good you’ll find a replacement in a thrift store too.
How Many People Are You Cooking For?
This may be the most important question you need to think of before you get a new slow cooker. If you have a small family or it’s just you, a 5 or 6-quart slow cooker would keep you in chili or soup long after you’ve grown tired of it. On the other hand in large slow cookers you can cook a few pounds of dry beans at a time to store in the freezer. It’s really your preference.
If you have a large family a 2-quart slow cooker you won’t be able to feed more than 2.
Here’s my rule of thumb:
- 1 1/2 to 2 1/2-quart slow cooker are great for couple or singles that don’t want to eat the same thing every day
- 4-quart or 4-quart will feed 2 and have leftovers for lunch the next day – or feed 4
- 5 or 6-quart is good for a family of more than 4
- Unless you have a huge family or cook meals ahead and freeze them, you would not need anything over a 6 quart
- Note: a 1-quart slow cooker, sometimes know as a Little Dipper, is mainly for keeping dips warm and not good for cooking in
With that said I like having a small slow cooker for breakfast and a large 6 quart for cooking pumpkins and giant batches of dry beans that I freeze in 1 1/2 cup portions. You can triple or quadruple this dry bean recipe or use it as is with a 1 1/2-quart slow cooker. You’ll find that you can adjust recipes to use in other size slow cookers, but keep to your manual’s rule of how full it needs to be to cook properly.
Should You Get a Round or Oval Crockpot?
Many people ask if the shape matters. This question isn’t as important as the size one, but if you are looking to make a few specific things in your crockpot you may want to think about it.
Want to slow cook yeast or quick bread in a loaf pan? An oval slow cooker is the one for you if you want to fit pans inside the slow cooker and to get them back out easily.
Round slow cookers are often less expensive, but tend to have more hot spots in my experience, so I don’t like them for baking though they are perfect for typical slow cooker recipes.
If you want to cook whole pie pumpkins or butternut squash that may also influence your choice. I find that oval ones tend to fit butternut squash better and round ones accommodate pumpkin well.
Manual or Programmable?
Manual slow cookers are less expensive – sometimes half the price, so that’s a very good reason to choose one. You don’t have to have an extra fancy one to make some delicious slow cooker meals.
Programmable slow cooker refers to its 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!
However, if you come home late or have an unpredictable schedule, spend the extra money on a programmable slow cooker. It will pay for itself in no time by never overcooking your dinner. You set it for a certain number of hours and then it turns itself to warm after that.
If you can’t afford a programmable slow cooker yet and you tend to work late, you can always pick recipes that will hold longer like soups or stews. Or you can add an extra 1/2 cup liquid to assure it doesn’t cook dry before you get home.
Multicooker or Just Slow Cooker?
Multicookers were new to me until I got an Instant Pot. However not every multicooker has every setting you expect. One reason to get a multicooker is to saute right in the some pan you slow cook in. I know many people don’t like to dirty up pans.
The Instant Pot brand Slow Cooker has a saute function in addition to programmable functions. So do these: Cuisinart MSC-600FR 3-In-1 6-Quart Multi-Cooker, Hamilton Beach 6-Quart Programmable Searing Slow Cooker, and the 6-Quart Ninja CS960 Cooking System with Auto-iQ.
One thing to note is everything called a multicooker is not an Instant Pot and may not have the same functions. When a recipe calls for an Instant Pot it usually talks about using the manual/pressure cooker setting. So if you want to use those recipes you need to make sure that your multicooker has that.
My favorite thing is its stainless-steel insert and the fact that it can replace my yogurt maker and rice cooker in addition to being a pressure cooker and slow cooker too. If you live in a small house or apartment this is well worth it to have all these features in such a small footprint.
Below is is an Instant Pot brand Slow Cooker, or a multi-cooker without a pressure cooker fuction. And most recipes that call for an Instant Pot use the pressure cooker feature. You can steam, saute, make rice, and slow cook in it – so it may be all you really need.
One question I get asked a lot is do you know what brands of slow cookers don’t use lead in the glaze of their crocks. Most well-known brands have posted that they do not use lead on their websites, but you need to always check before you buy. I just got this 8 Cup / 4.2-Quart VitaClay Smart Organic Multi-Cooker and it has a rice cooker, a slow cooker, a steamer plus a yogurt maker. There is no glaze, so there’s no possibility of lead.
I’m doing some testing with it now and it makes perfect brown rice. The slow cooker function is actually different than regular slow cookers and cooks in about half the time. More on that to come!