When looking for the best slow cooker, easy-to-use, we’d invest in the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker. We first picked the Set & Forget in 2013, and after making a half dozen fork-tender roasts, gallons of chicken and pork stock, and big batches of no-hassle beans (that are far more tasty and economical than the canned variety) over the course of nearly four years, we’re still thoroughly satisfied with this machine.
We spent a few hours researching new slow cookers, but none compared with the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker. We’ve also added a section to this guide covering how the slow-cook modes of our favorite electric pressure cookers compare with the Hamilton Beach slow cooker.
It’s not fancy, but the intuitive interface, locking lid, and modest price have made it the best deal for your money three years running—and it’s the only slow cooker with a heat probe to monitor the doneness of roasts and other meats.
In our most recent tests, the Set & Forget again proved better than the competition. It’s not fancy and performs about as well as many other cookers, but after 86 hours of research and testing, we’ve found that its intuitive interface, locking lid, and modest price make it the best deal for your money. It’s also the only slow cooker that comes with a heat probe to monitor the doneness of roasts, which we think makes it especially practical.
We should mention that we don’t think there’s a perfect slow cooker on the market. We found that every model has particular flaws, and most of these machines—ranging from $30 to $180—seem to cook too hot. Furthermore, the biggest difference between them seems to be their features, not their cooking ability. However, the Set & Forget outperformed much more expensive models, and once we started asking experts, it kept cropping up as a favorite.
For a little more money than our top pick, you lose the heat probe and an alarm but gain a longer timer and a more modern-looking display.
If the Set & Forget sells out, or if its price goes higher than around $50, we recommend the Crock-Pot 6-Quart Programmable Cook & Carry Slow Cooker. It costs more and lacks a heat probe and on-off alarm. But it does cook for 20 hours, compared with the Set & Forget’s 14, and looks more up-to-date (because it is); we like its handles and locking mechanism a little better, too.
This 4-quart cooker doesn’t have fancy features or a built-in timer, but it’s a good option if you cook for only one or two people.
If you’re fine with a small, old-school slow cooker without bells and whistles (like a timer), the Crock-Pot 4-Quart Manual Slow Cooker should serve you well. It has excellent user reviews and a low, low price to boot.
Why you should trust us
For this guide, we sought advice from the best slow-cooker experts we could find: Phyllis Pellman Good, author of the New York Times best-selling Fix-It and Forget-It cookbook series, and Stephanie O’Dea, author of the New York Times best-selling Make It Fast: Cook It Slow cookbook series and the blog A Year of Slow Cooking. Combined, these authors have logged countless hours making food in a wide range of cookers. We also scoured previous slow-cooker reviews to develop a list of qualities that comprise a top-notch slow cooker. Over the past three years, we’ve examined more than 45 top-rated models, and tested a short list of finalists to find the best.
Christine Cyr Clisset, who wrote the original guide, has reviewed a huge variety of kitchen equipment for The Sweethome, including food processors, casserole dishes, and blenders, and has long-term tested the Set & Forget at home to make pulled pork, braised lamb shoulder, chicken, and pork stock overnight. Camille Chatterjee, the other half of our slow-cooker team, has edited recipes and food stories for Self, Redbook, and other publications (and is an avid home cook). For this guide, she researched this past year’s newest models before choosing two to test against the reigning pick.
Slow cooker vs. electric pressure cooker
If you want something more versatile than a slow cooker—and you can spend between $120 and $250—consider an electric pressure cooker, which comes with multiple cooking settings. On the pressure-cooker setting, these machines raise the boiling point of water, decreasing cook times by up to two-thirds. On the slow-cook setting these machines operate exactly as designated slow cookers. After filling them with ingredients for a stew or other slow-cooking dish, you choose from several heat and cooking-time options, and leave the machine to make dinner while you’re at work or out of the house. When the cook time is up, the cooker kicks over to a warming setting. We cover the differences between slow cookers, pressure cookers, and rice cookers in more detail here.
For our 2017 update, we made batches of presoaked cannellini beans in the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker and in our two favorite electric pressure cookers—the Instant Pot IP-DUO60 and the Breville Fast Slow Pro—on their slow cook settings. Each of these machines turned out toothsome beans with little breakage and the batches were hardly distinguishable from one another.
If you just want a dedicated slow cooker—or something that can double as a serving piece on a buffet—you’ll likely be happy with the Set & Forget. Springing for an electric pressure cooker (the Instant Pot, in particular) is worth doing if you think you’ll use its various cooking modes (such as rice, porridge, or steam settings).
The 6-Quart Smart Slow Cooker with WeMo, introduced in 2015, represents an innovation in the slow-cooker market: It’s the first “smart” slow cooker. That means you can turn it on and off and adjust the temperature and time remotely from an app on your smartphone (available for both Apple and Android) or tablet. Though it cooked a roast just as well as the other machines we tested, it’s missing several features that our experts deem crucial, like a rubber gasket seal and locking lid. There’s no timer whatsoever on the machine’s display, which means you can’t pass through the kitchen and check your progress at a glance. Although we were lucky not to experience any problems with connectivity, CNET notes that if your Wi-Fi goes out, the cooker shuts off, leaving you with food that might not be safe for consumption. This cooker is sleek, turned out a tasty roast, and has a long, retractable cord that we wish more models offered. We can’t recommend it, however, given the very basic features it’s lacking, and the questionable utility of the unique features it does offer. For most people, it simply isn’t worth the extra $100 or so more it costs over our top pick and runner-up.
Crock-Pot 6-Quart Cook & Carry Digital Slow Cooker with Heat Saver Stoneware: We tested this in 2014 against our top pick because it comes with a temperature gauge that’s supposed to show how hot food is inside the crock. After testing both, we learned that the temperature gauge gave a color coding indicating whether food was hot or cold, but no actual indication of its exact temperature, meaning it was no help in determining whether your meal was safe to eat.
Crock-Pot 6.5-Quart Countdown Touchscreen Digital Slow Cooker: We tested this for our original 2013 review, and it was our pick if a 14-hour timer wasn’t long enough, but our sleek new runner-up goes just as long—for a lot less money.
Other models we considered but dismissed:
The large handle on the Crock-Pot Single Hand Cook & Carry 6-Quart Oval Slow Cooker looks convenient, but ultimately adds a lot of bulk to the unit. We think a top handle isn’t important enough of a feature for a slow cooker, especially when most folks will just carry it from house to car.
The Hamilton Beach FlexCook 6-Quart Stay or Go Slow Cooker offers a “multi-temperature cooking function” that lets you program two cooking temperatures into one cooking period. After scouring slow-cooker recipes on Cook’s Country (subscription required), among other places, we couldn’t find a single one that required two temperatures during the cooking process. Given that, we opted not to test this model.
Crock-Pot SCCPVP650AS-S 6.5 Quart Digital Slow Cooker with Smart Cook Technology & iStir Stirring System: This machine automatically stirs your food as it’s cooking. But America’s Test Kitchen (subscription required) found that the stirrer didn’t properly reach the outside of the pot in its testing, leading to uneven cooking.
Crock-Pot 6-Quart Countdown Digital Slow Cooker with Little Dipper Warmer: The Little Dipper warming pot this comes with isn’t necessary for most people (as Amazon user reviews bear out) and the pot doesn’t have a locking lid.
Crock-Pot SCVC604HSS 6-Quart Programmable Hinged Smartpot Slow Cooker: Highly reviewed, but no longer available.
All-Clad Slow Cooker 6.5-Quart Slow Cooker: Receives poor user reviews. Very expensive compared with the competition. O’Dea told us that of all the models she’d tried, All-Clad’s was one of her least favorites: “I think All-Clad made a mistake. They need to stick to high end, and slow cookers don’t need to be high end.”
Hamilton Beach Simplicity 6-Quart Slow Cooker: Didn’t have higher Amazon user reviews. We also didn’t like that this has a latch instead of actual locks for the lid. A Wired review complained that the insert doesn’t fit into the heating element snugly.
Breville Slow Cooker with EasySear: Did not receive better reviews than what we tested.
KitchenAid 6-qt. Slow Cooker with Easy Serve Glass Lid: Very expensive and doesn’t receive better reviews than those we tested.
Hamilton Beach Stay or Go 6-Quart Slow Cooker: If you want a cooker with manual controls, this may be a good option. Yet we prefer the digital controls on the Set & Forget and other cookers we tested.
Hamilton Beach 6-Quart Programmable Stovetop Slow Cooker: The die-cast aluminum insert allows you to brown meat in the crock, but this hasn’t received enough positive reviews to compete with those we tested.
Cuisinart 4-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker : Expensive for its size. We read complaints about the insert breaking and a hard-to-read temperature indicator.
Calphalon 4-Qt. Digital Slow Cooker: Expensive and not more highly reviewed than the Crock-Pot 4-quart manual slow cooker we chose.
You’ll also find multiuse cookers that braise, roast, sear, and steam, such as the West Bend 6-Quart Slow Cooker or the much pricier Ninja Cooking System. We didn’t find that these competed purely as slow cookers, but a hybrid machine could be nice if you live in a small space—such as a boat, small apartment, or dorm room—where you could use an extra burner. (Full disclosure: O’Dea is actually a spokesperson for the Ninja Cooking System, a multiuse cooker. But we spoke with her about slow cookers in general, not the Ninja specifically.)