Babble Best Picks:
What better kitchen appliance for busy parents with a family to feed than a slow cooker? Put the food into it after the kids go to sleep, set it to cook while you sleep, and by morning you've got dinner for that night almost done. Alternately, do your prep before you go to work and have the thing finish off dinner while you're at your job. It's pretty comforting after a long day to come home, open your door to the smell of home-cooked food, and know that dinner is already all but finished.
What's more, slow cookers are incredibly inexpensive - our pick for Most Versatile can be found for $49.99 and the Most Economical for as little as $25. For a family of four, that might be less than a single evening of take-out, and your trusted slow cooker will eliminate many desperate, what-to-cook nights when you end up calling for delivery.
I am a veteran and avid slow cooker user. I've had my Rival Crock Watcher for over 20 years, and it's still going strong, despite being put into play at least once a week (see Most Economical below for more information) to cook all manner of things from pork shoulders to dried garbanzo beans to turkey breasts to lamb tagine.
For the purposes of this article, I tested a wide range of slow cookers, both with beans or other legumes and with meat or stews. In general, I didn't find a whole lot of variation in how each cooked the food - instead I found that it's the different features that each slow cooker offers that distinguish them from each other.
BEST OVERALL - MOST VERSATILE | Hamilton Beach 3-in-1 with 2-, 4-, and 6-Quart Crocks
Ok, I have to confess, because there is such a range of good slow cooker options (see below) it wasn't easy naming a best overall slow cooker. I settled on the Hamilton Beach 3-in-1 because it's clearly the most versatile - ideally suited if you want to cook different amounts of foods at different times (i.e. sometimes you only cook for you and your honey; other times for the whole gang plus the in-laws). That feature ultimately was enough to convince me that this is the best slow cooker on the market for me.
That said, if you need one that's programmable because you think you might forget about it and leave it on for 24+ hours and/or you plan to transport a lot of what you make or you want an auto-cook feature, then the Hamilton Beach Set 'n Forget - winner of Best Extra Features - would probably be better for you
But for an incredibly inexpensive (right now under $60 on Amazon), extremely versatile, manually set slow cooker that gets the job done right, you will be thrilled with the Hamilton Beach 3-in-1.
It's great advantage is the fact that it comes with three different-sized inserts, allowing you to cook small or giant amounts as need be. And because the three inserts nest in each other, it doesn't take up any more space in storage than a normal 6-quart round slow cooker.
It's no-frills and completely straightforward, but I really loved it, and my brother, who's a chef with three kids, wanted to run off with mine!
Want to cook both large and small amounts, best is: Hamilton Beach 3-in-1
Are a complete novice and want an auto-cook option, best is: Hamilton Beach Set 'n Forget
Cook large amounts and deliver it to parties and the like, best is: Hamilton Beach Set 'n Forget
Want the cheapest good option available, best is: Crock Pot 6-Quart-Round
BEST EXTRA FEATURES | Hamilton Beach Set ‘n Forget 6-Quart Programmable
Another great product from Hamilton Beach, the Set ‘n Forget has various (patented) improvements on the basic slow cooker design that had me considering it for Best Overall.
If you’re a novice cook, you’ll love the automatic cooking feature, where you insert a probe that reads when your food is done and turns itself off appropriately. Seasoned chefs will still want to program the unit or cook manually, but the probe is great for those just starting out.
My favorite feature of this one is its portability. Because I cook for large groups of people, I loved the clip technology that allowed me to transport the whole thing filled with liquid without spilling. Ratcheting clips on either side lock the lid firmly in place, and the lid itself has a rubbery gasket around the edge that compresses down on the insert to keep from leaking – very handy if you’re delivering chili to a birthday party or, as I did, bringing pasta fagioli to your office of 22!
This slow cooker is also easy to program and use, and its large size made for some serious meals – perfect if you’re cooking for parties, church functions, or other large events.