The 7 Best Slow Cookers for Easy, Hands-off Meals

We like the Hamilton Beach Set and Forget 6-Quart Slow Cooker because it’s easy to use and has multiple cooking modes.

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We all have busy lives, which is exactly what makes the "set it and forget it" aspect of slow cookers so appealing. If you want a hot meal ready at the end of the day, all you have to do is toss in the ingredients for your favorite recipe, turn on the appliance, and you'll come back to a warm, home-cooked dish.

To come up with this list of the best slow cookers, we thoroughly researched dozens of models on the market and evaluated them based on factors like capacity, cooking modes, care instructions, and more. We also worked with two experts—Christine Pittman, cookbook author and founder of Cook the Story, and Lana Stuart, recipe developer at Lana's Cooking—for tips on using a slow cooker and finding the best model for your needs.

"Slow cookers are wonderful if you like to start something early in the day and have it ready later," says Pittman. "They are also great for keeping things warm at parties."

Our top pick, the Hamilton Beach Set and Forget Programmable Slow Cooker, is a versatile appliance that's great for most home cooks. We love that it has a 6-quart capacity, multiple cooking modes, and a temperature probe for extra accuracy.

Keep reading to learn more about the best slow cookers, and don't forget to check out our favorite two-ingredient recipes for easy, hands-off meals.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall Slow Cooker: Hamilton Beach Set and Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker

slow cooker
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Also available at Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, and Walmart.

Who it's for: Home cooks who want an easy-to-use appliance with multiple settings.

Who it isn't for: People who don't need such a high-capacity slow cooker.

For a slow cooker that makes tender, flavorful meats and stews, this one from Hamilton Beach is a great choice. The 6-quart slow cooker has three different settings—program, manual, and probe—so you can decide how to cook each meal. If you want to cook dinner while you're not home, you can use the program mode to choose how long it'll cook. Once it's done, the appliance will automatically switch to "warm," which maintains the temperature of your food until you're ready to eat it (for up to 14 hours). Alternatively, you can use the manual mode to cook on high or low heat without choosing a specific number of hours.

But one of our favorite features is the included temperature probe. When you choose the corresponding setting, you can closely monitor the exact temperature of large cuts of meat—it even displays it on the screen. The cooking vessel is big enough to fit a 6-pound chicken or a 4-pound roast, according to the brand.

The slow cooker's lid has a gasket and clips that ensure your food is safe and secure, which makes it easy to transport dinner from the kitchen to your neighbor's potluck. Cleaning is also a breeze because the pot and glass lid are dishwasher safe. Overall, we think the Hamilton Beach Set and Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker is best for anyone (especially the average home cook) looking for a reliable slow cooker with multiple settings.

Product Details:

  • Capacity: 6 quarts
  • Settings: Three cooking modes (probe, program, and manual) and three heat settings (high, low, and warm)
  • Care: Dishwasher-safe insert and lid

Best Small Slow Cooker: Crockpot 3-Quart Round Manual Slow Cooker

slow cooker
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Who it's for: Anyone who wants to cook a small amount of food without a lot of fuss.

Who it isn't for: People who are cooking for a crowd.

This three-quart slow cooker from Crockpot—perhaps the most well-known slow cooker brand—is our top pick for anyone looking for a smaller option. It's the perfect size for making a meal for two (with leftovers, honestly) or a side dish like queso or chili for a small crowd. We love that the side handles make it easy to bring a pot of slow-cooked food with you to a party. Plus, transferring your meal to a platter and removing the inner lining for cleaning are seamless processes. Just note that the external part of this pot can get warm (as with some of the other slow cookers on the market), so make sure you keep it away from little hands.

If you're looking for something with all the bells and whistles, this probably isn't the best slow cooker for you. But sometimes it's best to go for a simple model, especially considering this slow cooker's small size and affordable price. It's a great purchase for recent grads, someone moving into their first solo apartment, or empty nesters who need to make fewer meals after years of cooking for a big family.

Product Details:

  • Capacity: 3 quarts
  • Settings: Three (high, low, and warm)
  • Care: Dishwasher-safe insert and lid

Best Programmable Slow Cooker: Breville Fast Slow Pro Slow Cooker

slow cooker
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Also available at Food52 and Crate & Barrel.

Who it's for: People who want to be able to choose specific settings and programs.

Who it isn't for: People who hate washing dishes and want something dishwasher safe.

Once you set up the Breville Fast Slow Pro Slow Cooker and choose your desired program, it'll make your food exactly the way it should be done while you go about your day. The sleek, 6-quart appliance allows you to choose from eight slow-cooking modes or a custom mode that can cook on high or low heat for up to 12 hours. Some of the other pre-set options include bone-in meat, chili/stew, and dessert (like cheesecake and bread pudding).

There are also 11 pressure cook settings to choose from, which are ideal on days when you need to make dinner in a pinch. You can precisely adjust the cooking time and pressure levels (from 1.5 to 12 PSI) or select pre-programmed modes for rice, risotto, soup, meat, and more.

Since the Breville slow cooker has sensors at the top and bottom, it can accurately monitor the temperature of the ingredients. It will also automatically switch to the warming setting after your food is done. We appreciate that the display is clear and easy to read: It tells you what's happening in your pot with a pressure indicator, temperature gauge, countdown timer, and steam release indicator. The only drawback is that the cooking insert can technically go in the dishwasher, but the brand strongly recommends handwashing it to preserve the ceramic coating.

Product Details:

  • Capacity: 6 quarts
  • Settings: 19 cooking modes and three heat settings (high, low, and warm)
  • Care: Ceramic insert should be washed by hand

RELATED: This Microwavable Cookware Was Made for Busy People

Best Smart Slow Cooker: Crockpot Works With Alexa 6-Quart Slow Cooker

slow cooker
amazon.com

Also available at Wayfair and Home Depot.

Who it's for: Anyone who has an Amazon Echo and wants to control their slow cooker remotely.

Who it isn't for: People who have no interest in a voice-controlled slow cooker.

With the rise in Alexa-enabled devices, this voice-controlled slow cooker from Crockpot is another one to add to your smart home. It allows you to spend less time monitoring your food while it's cooking, and we love that you can adjust the settings and check how much time is left while on the go—whether you're coming home from work or just in another room. Simply program and adjust cook times from 30 minutes to 20 hours using your Alexa-enabled device (like an Amazon Echo). You don't need an Alexa device to use this slow cooker though; you can always download the free app and control it from your smartphone instead.

The 6-quart slow cooker holds enough to feed about seven people, and it's super easy to use. You can select the temperature and time settings using your voice (say something like, "Alexa, cook for four hours on high in my Crockpot"). The slow cooker, like many others, will switch to a warming mode when your meal is done cooking, and your app or device will notify you, too.

Product Details:

  • Capacity: 6 quarts
  • Settings: Three (high, low, and warm)
  • Care: Dishwasher-safe insert and lid

RELATED: 7 Amazon Devices That Will Make Your Home Smarter

Best Slow Cooker With Browning Feature: Cuisinart 4-Quart 3-in-1 Cook Central Multicooker

slow cooker
amazon.com

Also available at Wayfair, Walmart, and Sur La Table.

Who it's for: People who want a slow cooker that can also brown meat.

Who it isn't for: Home cooks on a budget might prefer a more basic model.

If you're well-acquainted with slow cookers, then you probably know that meats can occasionally end up a little mushy. It's great if that's what you're going for, but you might want the added flavor of browned meat—ideally with the same appliance. The Cuisinart 3-in-1 Cook Central's slow-cooking functionality is superior, but what sets this model apart from the others is its built-in browning/saute feature. Unlike other slow cookers, there's a variable temperature setting for the browning function, which you can set between 150 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit to get the perfect sear or brown.

While using this appliance to slow cook, you can set the cooking timer for up to 24 hours, and after that, it will switch to the warming mode. There's also the option to steam in this appliance. Another feature we like is the large backlit display, which makes it super easy to see the time and temperature settings. This slow cooker is also available in a 6-quart option, as well as a 7-quart model that has a roasting mode, too.

Product Details:

  • Capacity: 4, 6, and 7 quarts
  • Settings: Three cooking modes (slow cook, brown/saute, and steam) and three heat modes (high, low, and simmer)
  • Care: Dishwasher-safe insert, lid, and steaming rack

RELATED: 14 Kitchen Tools Chefs Swear By—and They're All Under $25

Best Splurge Slow Cooker: All-Clad Cast Iron Dutch Oven Slow Cooker

slow cooker
amazon.com

Also available at Wayfair, Sur La Table, and Williams Sonoma.

Who it's for: People who are willing to spend more on a high-end model.

Who it isn't for: People who need a slow cooker that fits large cuts of meat.

This All-Clad slow cooker comes with a removable cast iron insert that can be used on the stovetop and in the oven, too. It has five cooking programs to choose from, including high and low slow cook, as well as braise, saute, and simmer modes. There's also a manual mode that allows you to set the temperature and time, so it can cook your food for up to 24 hours (a full day in advance!). The slow cooker also has an automatic keep-warm function that runs for up to four hours after cooking is done to keep your meal warm until it's time to eat.

The price is much higher than some of our other recommendations, but we think it's a good investment considering you get a cast iron dutch oven and plenty of settings to choose from. We also like the digital display and user-friendly buttons, which help make it easy to get dinner on the table after a long day. Just keep in mind that this All-Clad slow cooker only comes in one size (5 quarts), which might be too small for people who plan to cook large cuts of meat or entire meals for their extended family.

Product Details:

  • Capacity: 5 quarts
  • Settings: Five cooking modes (high, low, braise, saute, and simmer)
  • Care: Dishwasher-safe insert and lid

Best Multi-Use Slow Cooker: Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1

slow cooker
amazon.com

Also available at Walmart and Macy's.

Who it's for: People with limited kitchen space who want a multifunctional appliance.

Who it isn't for: People who already have a pressure cooker at home.

If you don't have a lot of space in the kitchen, you might want a slow cooker that does more than just cook food low and slow. We love that the Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 is a multicooker with seven different functions. Not only can you set it and forget it for a slow-cooked meal, but you can also use it as a rice cooker, pressure cooker, and steamer. You can even saute food and make yogurt in this multifunctional appliance.

The Instant Pot Duo also comes recommended by Pittman. "You can do so much with this device and it doesn't take up extra storage space by having multiple cooking tools," she says.

The 3-quart model is very efficient in terms of space and size, but it's great for meals for one to three people. The 6- and 8-quart versions are ideal for families who typically cook in big batches. All sizes of this Instant Pot are easy to clean thanks to a removable insert and other accessories that you can toss in the dishwasher.

Product Details:

  • Capacity: 3, 6, and 8 quarts
  • Settings: 13 cooking modes and three heat modes for slow cooking (high, medium, and low)
  • Care: Dishwasher-safe lid, insert, and accessories

RELATED: I've Been Meal Prepping for 5+ Years, and These 10 Kitchen Gadgets Save Me So Much Time and Energy

Final Verdict

The Hamilton Beach Set and Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker earned the top spot on our list because we think it's the best option for the average home cook. It's a super versatile slow cooker because it has multiple cooking modes, and we appreciate that it has a temperature probe for meats and a dishwasher-safe pot for easy cleaning.

How to Shop for Slow Cookers Like a Pro

Capacity

Slow cookers typically come in sizes ranging from 3 to 8 quarts, and it can be hard to know what capacity you need. If you only want a slow cooker for occasional soups and meats to serve one or two people, then you'll be content with a smaller model. But if you're cooking full meals to feed a family, then you'll want a slow cooker that holds more, according to Pittman.

Settings

Slow cookers can either come with the bare minimum settings (high, low, and warm) or plenty of pre-programmed options that provide way more functionality. Which style you choose ultimately comes down to preference and lifestyle.

People who love "smart" products may want a slow cooker with all the bells and whistles (like a browning function or WiFi connectivity). Stuart notes that a searing function can make cooking more efficient, saying, "The hybrid cookers that include a sear function are great because they eliminate the need to dirty an additional pan for browning meats before adding to the cooker."

However, it's not a bad idea to start with something basic and upgrade to "one with more functionality and features" when you're ready, according to Pittman.

Maintenance

Most slow cookers consist of two parts: an outer section that plugs in and heats an interior insert, which is where the ingredients go. "A removable insert is a must for easy cleanup," says Stuart. These inserts can often go into the dishwasher for cleaning or be hand washed. The external shells can typically be wiped down with a soapy cloth and then rinsed—just be sure to unplug it first. But you should always check the cleaning instructions for your specific slow cooker.

Questions You Might Ask

What do low and high mean on a slow cooker?

The settings on a slow cooker are pretty straightforward. "Low and high on your slow cooker refer to the temperature of the cooker," says Pittman. "Low is around 190 degrees Fahrenheit and high is 300 degrees Fahrenheit."

Many slow cookers also have a "keep warm" setting (165 degrees Fahrenheit), which is above the food-safe temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit without overcooking the food.

Can you cook frozen meat in a slow cooker?

The experts we spoke to suggest steering clear of putting frozen meat in your slow cooker. "It doesn't get hot enough to thaw out the meat before the bacteria starts building," says Pittman. "This can be done using other devices such as the pressure cooking setting on an Instant Pot or in an air fryer but should never be done in a slow cooker."

What else isn't safe to cook in a slow cooker?

In addition to frozen meat, it might be a good idea to avoid frozen food altogether. "I actually prefer not to put anything frozen in the slow cooker," says Pittman. "I don't want to risk mixing thawed meat with frozen vegetables because it could keep the temperature inside the slow cooker lower than the manufacturer expected, which is a food safety concern."

Stuart also notes that it's important to monitor anything with milk or cream in the recipe, explaining, "Recipes with a high percentage of dairy run a greater risk of curdling."

Take Our Word for It

This article was written by Tanya Edwards, a contributing writer for Real Simple who has also written for The Boston Globe, CNN, Glamour, Yahoo, Allure, Refinery29, AOL, Huffington Post, and many more. To come up with this list of the best slow cookers, she thoroughly researched the various models on the market and evaluated them based on capacity, heat settings, cooking modes, care, and more. For expert tips on how to find the best slow cooker for your needs, Tanya interviewed Christine Pittman, cookbook author and founder of Cook the Story, and Lana Stuart, recipe developer at Lana's Cooking.

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