Want weeknight dinners to be faster and easier? The secret might not actually be speed. Instead, look to something a bit more slow — as in slow cookers or crock-pots. Slow cookers use low, constant heat to gently cook food for hours. And, because slow cookers can operate safely when you’re not home (unlike your stove), you can toss in the ingredients for chili or tacos before work and come home to an (almost) ready dinner.
Because the technology is rather simple (a low heat source and a heavy-duty ceramic vessel) slow cookers are reliably inexpensive, as well. And, thanks to the ingenuity of recipe developers and food bloggers, you don’t have to limit yourself to pot roast and soup. Just about everything, from pasta to butter chicken, has a slow cooker recipe you can try. But before you try, you’ll need to actually buy a slow cooker. Here are your best bets.
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1. Crock-Pot Cook & Carry 6-Quart Oval Slow Cooker
There’s a reason “crock-pot” is practically a generic word for slow cookers these days. This basic model does everything a slow cooker should with three settings: low, high, and warm. For all-day cooking, simply set it to “low.” For something you want done in an afternoon, “high.” If you just want your food to stay warm while everyone gets ready for dinner, that’s when you switch it to warm. Once you’re done, the ceramic bowl removes for easy clean-up and is dishwasher friendly. The slow cooker also comes with a locking lid for easy transportation.
2. Hamilton Beach 6-QuartProgrammable Slow Cooker
This slow cooker gives you even more control with programmable settings and a temperature probe to test meat for doneness. Like most slow cookers, you can simply set it to low, high, or warm. If you prefer, however, you can have it set on high for a few hours then automatically switch over to “warm” until you get home. You can even leave the included temperature probe in a cut of meat and have it cook until it reaches a safe internal temperature. While slow cookers are incredibly effective at cooking meat and you don’t normally need to worry about your roast being raw at the end of the day in a regular slow cooker, some might find this extra feature comforting. It’s especially handy if you see yourself regularly wanting to cook things in a couple hours instead of all day, as well.
3. Elite Gourmet 1.5 Quart Electric Slow Cooke
For sides, dips and meals for one, you don’t need to lug out a full-sized slow cooker. This mini slow cooker gets the job with the same three pre-sets while taking up far less counter space. Use it to make a small batch of soup, or to have a side of rice ready for your family when you get home. Because it’s so small, it’s also good to take along for potlucks — simply toss in the ingredients for a spinach artichoke dip, set it to low when the party starts and switch it to “warm” and you’ll be one of the most popular people there. Everyone loves a good dip!
4. Crock-Pot 3.5-Quart Casserole Slow Cooker
Slow cookers have one big drawback: because they cook on low heat with a lot of liquid, you don’t get the same delicious crust or char you get with foods cooked in the oven or stovetop. This low and wide slow cooker allows you to work around that by giving you the option to take slow-cooked casseroles, bakes, and the like and finish them off in the oven. Regular slow cooker recipes can also be cooked in it, though you may have trouble with taller cuts of meat.
5. Instant Pot DUO60 6 Qt Pressure Cooker
Instant Pots are beloved for their pressure cooker setting, which rapidly speeds up cooking time. But they also have a slow cooker setting. If you don’t want to experiment with pressure cooking (especially good for beans, soups and rice), there isn’t any reason to spend the extra money. However, if you’re interested in both slow and pressure cooking, no need to double up on equipment. Instant Pot has a ton of models on the market, but the DUO is a mid-range option that has almost anything you could want, including yogurt, cake and warming settings. Plus, if you ever forget to set the slow cooker before work, you can usually find a tweak to get the same recipe done in a pressure cooker.