Best slow cooker kicking?
March 29, 2009 4:57 PM   Subscribe

What's the best slow cooker out there?

I'm moving into a new condo soon and would like to celebrate the move with the purchase of a slow cooker. Imagine that price is no object: what is the best slow cooker out there?

Here are my criteria in order of importance:

- easy to clean, easy to use

- safe (I want no worries about going to work with it cooking)

- decent size (but no so huge that I won't use it because it'll take too long to clean)

- ability to brown meat in the same slow cooker before adding other items (if this is even an option)

- variable and long timer (so that if I come home late from work it will have automatically turned off or to a lower temperature instead of reducing it to a pulp)

Thanks so much for everyone's help!
posted by fantasticninety to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
It's pricey but this All-Clad slow cooker has gotten good reviews from the folks at Cooks Illustrated. I don't have it (yet) but their stuff in general is top quality. In particular this one has an aluminum insert (most others are ceramic) specifically to allow for stovetop browning. I believe it meets your other criteria pretty well, too.
posted by TedW at 5:12 PM on March 29, 2009

This should help.
posted by roomwithaview at 5:15 PM on March 29, 2009

They make liner bags now for slow cookers so you don't have the cleanup issues. They work great.
posted by raisingsand at 5:32 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've always just used an old crockpot, its probably 25+ years old(older then me) but it runs like a champ and I can take the pot off the heating element and throw it into the sink/dishwasher. Rummage sales are full of these things and they are cheap.
posted by peregrine81 at 5:44 PM on March 29, 2009

My mother has complained the modern slow cookers don't get as hot as the older ones which makes it hard to cook things a quickly as she could when I was growing up. I usually had orders to turn on one full of chicken when I got home from school at 2 and it'd be done by 5.

I purchased the West Bend 84866 (new & modern) hoping that since it duals as a griddle we wouldn't have that problem. We had no problem heating up 5-6 quarts of stock and veggies for a soup so heat didn't seem to be a problem, and I suspect the griddle deal means you could brown meat in it easily right in the slow cooker pan, but I haven't done that of course.
posted by jwells at 6:04 PM on March 29, 2009

I have this CrockPot that I got just this past Christmas. To be fair, I haven't used it myself, but my roommates have played with it and made some amazing dinners (I didn't know you could make good pulled pork at home!). It also comes with a dip-warming dish that I haven't used yet, but it seems perfect for what I'd hope to use it for.
posted by fantastico at 6:16 PM on March 29, 2009

For what it's worth, I was new to slow cookers last year and did some research and ended up buying a super cheap Rival, given that people who have them seem to love them. You can't brown meat in it, but it fits your other criteria. I figured once I got the hang of it I might get a better one but have not felt the need to upgrade.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:28 PM on March 29, 2009

I have two slow cookers, at least one of which is used weekly.

I used to have the slow cooker that fantastico has, but found it cooked at much too high a temperature and so burned everything I tried to make in it (and I've been using slow cookers for years). Online reviews showed that other people had the same problem. Rival may have improved this model since, though. I find the little dip-warming slow cooker that comes with it too small and too hot for most dips. It also has a very short cord (for safety) so I can't use it at my dinner table, or where I generally put out my buffet.

My favourite is the Crock-Pot VersaWare Pro. It has the automatic keep warm feature, and while it's supposed to be able to withstand medium heat on a burner, you must use a smal wire rack between the stoneware and the burner. I prefer to brown my meat at a higher temperature and so have never used this feature. It's easy to clean (I generally use a cooking spray such as Pam, though) and I put it in the dishwasher, too.

I also have a smaller slow cooker, much like this one that I use for smaller quantities. Slow cookers need to be 2/3 - 3/4 filled for optimum results. I wish it had an auto keep warm feature on it and have thought about replacing it, but I can't justify the expense!

Good luck!
posted by angiep at 8:33 PM on March 29, 2009

I always go with the Cook's Illustrated recommendation. If the All-Clad TedW mentioned is too rich for your blood, they also liked models by KitchenAid, Cuisinart, and Hamilton Beach (the last is only about $60). They had "reservations" about the Rival VersaWare (no timer, no on light), a cheaper Hamilton Beach (which was not programmable), and one by West Bend (no timer). Hope that's helpful.
posted by bcwinters at 8:27 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not sure what model of Rival VersaWare Cook's Illustrated tested, but the one I have has a 20-hour timer and the display lights up when it's on.

Something I generally do when I'm considering buying any appliance is to go to the manufacturer's website and look at the owner's guide for the appliance. Then I can see if the advertised feature really does what I'm hoping it will do. For example, some slow cookers claim to be programmable, but in fact have only 4 settings. You can find this out from the owner's manual.
posted by angiep at 10:43 AM on March 30, 2009

I've always had problems with consistent temperatures in the slow cookers I've used, so if the All-Clad actually fixes that, it's worth what they're charging for it.
posted by Caviar at 10:56 AM on March 30, 2009

A post of great interest to me.

I am actually considering the purchase of the $279 All Clad with aluminum, nonstick insert. A huge purchase for my meager budget. But, I WILL buy lifetime, if warranted.

I see 90%+ positive reviews. But there are some that are disturbing, citing the nonstick coating bubbling and peeling. And poor experience with the All Clad customer service. The only reason for considering this model is that the insert can be used on the range for browning, and in the oven for "finishing." $100 more for the aluminum insert over the ceramic. And $150 more than competing appliances.

Williams-Sonoma is the exclusive seller of this model. My 3 kids are through college. I am a single man who works long hours and is tired of eating crap. I am not motivated to make "gourmet," time intensive meals for myself. Am I crazy to consider this appliance that is 1/2 a mortgage payment?

Don't mean to hijack the OP's thread, but it seems to be relevant to his question. I would love feedback (and I suspect OP) from those "smarter" than I.
posted by private_idaho at 11:27 AM on March 30, 2009

Am I crazy to consider this appliance that is 1/2 a mortgage payment?

Have you used a slow cooker before? I'm going to repeat what I said earlier: you can get these things for $40-$50. Try one of those first before going swanky. (Said as a mad All Clad fetishist who has splurged on way too much high end cookware. I just don't think it's worth it in this case.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:32 AM on March 30, 2009

This post reminded me to walk away from the computer and turn on my slowcooker to heat tonight's chili that I pre-prepared...

2009 is my year-of-the-slowcooker. Now I like my kitchen gadgets and I like 'em fancy but when it came to a slowcooker I resisted to urge to buy high end and went with a simple Crockpot with 4 settings (Off, Warm, Medium and Hot) that I picked up on sale at the W mart for $20! I have been using the slowcooker 3 times a month since December and have more than been paid back my investment. It cooks evenly, nothing burns. When I check the meat temp it is consistant and perfectly cooked. I prep the meal the night before, put it all together and store it in the fridge overnight. In the morning (or whenever I get around to it) I drop the insert into the heater set it to Medium and let it do it's thing all day. When dinner is done, the insert goes right into the dishwasher for easy cleanup. As a sloppy cook who often gets distracted the low setting means that if I am delayed by an hour dinner is never overdone. I am a believer in splurging but I couldn't see spending more on a slowcooker because my cheapo does everything I need/want.
posted by saradarlin at 12:30 PM on March 30, 2009

This company "EZ Pans" sells crock pot liners that make cleanup very easy.
posted by boby at 11:06 AM on April 23, 2009

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