A slow cooker — a set-and-forget device that lets you cook an entire meal safely while you work or go to school or otherwise get things done — is one of the most forgiving kitchen devices. With a great slow cooker even absolute beginners can cook a tasty and hearty meal for their entire family.
To find the best slow cookers we prepared 48 chicken breasts, 11 pounds of black-eyed peas and dozens of onions over a course of 100 hours. It truly was a slow — and delicious — process, and in the end we found three great models that’ll let you prepare great meals with a minimum of effort.
The best overall slow cooker
The Cuisinart 3-in-1 Cook Central Multicooker gave us perfectly cooked meals, and while it’s very easy to use, it offers the best range of useful functions — browning, sautéing and steaming — of all the slow cookers we tested.
The best luxury slow cooker
If you’re looking for the absolute best fit and finish in a slow cooker, the All-Clad lives up to the company’s reputation for quality, and offers long cook times and more control over temperature than the competition.
The best budget slow cooker
For not much more money than a basic manual slow cooker, the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget gives you a flexible timer and a built-in temperature probe, plus a latching gasketed lid makes it great for transporting meals anyplace.
The Cuisinart 3-in-1 multicooker gave us great results and offers the best range of really usable features of the slow cookers we tested. We used the 4-quart pot, which easily feeds up to four people — the perfect amount for a breakfast, lunch or dinner for many families. It is also available in 6- and 7-quart versions if you have more mouths to feed.
Cuisinart 3-in-1 Cook Central Multicooker
The Cuisinart is technically a multicooker since it allows you to brown, sauté and steam as well as slow cook. It isn’t as full-featured as an Instant Pot, however, and is optimized for slow cooking, with the secondary functions serving mainly to let you prepare all stages of a dish in the same pot, reducing the amount of pots, pans and bowls you need to wash. The 3-in-1 even allows for combination cooking where you can switch between cooking modes in a single touch — without having to turn the slow cooker off and back on again. Once your meal is fully cooked, the slow cooker will automatically switch to the warm setting for up to eight hours.
Because of the multifunctionality, the pot is aluminum with a nonstick coating. This makes it extremely lightweight and dishwasher-friendly. While the coating used is PFOA-free — like all nonstick coatings produced for sale since 2015 — many other PFAS are still in use, and it’s unclear which compounds may be found in currently produced nonstick cookware (and in many other consumer products). If you’re concerned about that class of chemical it’s something you may want to keep in mind.
Aside from a perfectly delicious meal — during all of our cooking tests — we loved that the housing and all handles stayed cool to touch. This helps with maneuvering the slow cooker and ensuring no little hands are burnt. The cord on this slow cooker was also one of the longer ones measured, which helps if your outlet socket is slightly farther away from your cooking space.
Since this slow cooker was one of our favorites, we went one step further to test the browning and sautéing functionality as well. We browned both chicken wings and onions — before slow cooking them — and while it doesn’t switch modes automatically, we found the process extremely easy. Using this feature, we ended up with crispy chicken wings falling off the bone and mouthwatering onions with that little extra flavor. Most other slow cookers we tested didn’t have this mode, so if you want to brown ingredients you would have to do so on the stovetop first before throwing them in the slow cooker.
The All-Clad 6.5-Quart Slow Cooker lives up to the brand’s reputation for quality, high-end cookware. With its stainless steel exterior, handles and rivets and ceramic insert, this slow cooker not only looks top-notch and elegant but will also give you a perfectly cooked dinner. It also offered the most programmability and one of the longest cooking times of the models we tested.
All-Clad 6.5-Quart Slow Cooker
We tested each cooker initially by filling it with water and measuring how quickly it came up to a safe cooking temperature and how well it maintained that temperature. The All-Clad heated up fast, reaching a safe target temperature of 185 degrees Fahrenheit in just two hours and then stayed at that exact same temperature for the remaining four hours. Once switched over to the warm setting, the temperature dropped quickly, sitting around 155 degrees Fahrenheit to 160 degrees Fahrenheit for the duration of the test. This slow cooker also offers a continuous 26-hour runtime (up to 20 hours of cooking plus six hours of warming), which is longer than most others we tested.
This consistent — and predictable — temperature let us get great results. Our pulled BBQ chicken dish ended up perfectly cooked, and made for a delicious meal. The meat was tender and pulled apart quite easily. Our bean dish was also evenly heated and the perfect consistency.
Uniquely among the models we tested, the All-Clad lets you set two temperatures for a given cooking cycle. If your recipe requires you to set your slow cooker on high for a certain number of hours and then switch to the low for the remaining time, you can set those two temperatures at the beginning of your program and walk away. With the other slow cookers we used, if you are cooking a meal that requires both the hot and low temperature to be used, you’ll have to manually change the settings — requiring you to be home to make the switch.
Of course, no slow cooker is perfect, and while the All-Clad 6.5-Quart Slow Cooker is a top-notch product for slow cooking, at such a high price point, we wish it offered a few more multicooker functions, like browning, sautéing or steaming settings. The buttons and labels on the base were also small, and the handle on the lid got incredibly hot during cooking. But if you have the budget to spare, you won’t be disappointed with this kitchen appliance.