A slow cooker is a simple yet magnificent small appliance. About the size of a large pot (and around the same price), a slow cooker can be a great addition to your cooking routine - especially if you have a busy schedule. The beauty is in the slow cooking process that can safely occur overnight or when you're out of the house. Minimal preparation in advance can produce a delightful soup or roast, ready just in time for dinner. This is a particularly pleasant treat during the cold winter months. Some cooks prepare and freeze all the ingredients for a few slow cooker recipes in advance, so that several meals are ready to go for busy weeknights. Here are some things to keep in mind when shopping for a slow cooker:
- Size and price: There are tiny 16oz models and massive 8.5qt ones - that serve different purposes. The most common sizes are 4-6 quarts, averaging at about $55 online. There are also many good affordable models available, priced at $25-$40, and a small selection for under $25. If you're not sure what size you need, a general rule of thumb is "1 quart per adult"; 4-6 quart models are optimal for small to medium-sized families.
- What's cooking: Opinions show us that stews, roasts and soups are the most popular dishes to prepare in a slow cooker, and the internet is overflowing with recipes. Most recipes are suitable for midsized slow cookers, so you may need to adjust them for smaller or larger slow cookers.
- Manual vs. programmable: Most slow cookers are manual and have 3 settings: low, high and keep warm. Fancier models have a timer, allowing you some control over when the slow cooker shuts off or switches to the "keep warm" mode. Keep in mind that no slow cookers come with a delay timer for turning on, only for shutting off, since this would be a food-safety concern.
- Shape: there are round, oval and rectangular slow cookers. Oval-shaped pots are the most popular, as they offer flexibility with ingredients and larger ones even enable you to put in a loaf pan. Round-shaped pots are usually available on smaller cookers and are ideal for soups and stews, but can be difficult to fit a roast in. Rectangular pots tend to be shorter, but are great for casseroles. Choose a shape that best fits your needs and enables you the flexibility that you want for cooking.
Opinions show that larger (6+ quarts) oval cookers receive the best cumulative rankings and are favored by users. Programmable units are favored over manuals, though the #1 best model is a manual. The cumulative scores were calculated by considering the topics slow cooker users discuss most often: performance, value, ease of use, cleanup, external appearance and overall satisfaction.