It’s 2018 and Bob Dylan’s words are truer than they’ve ever been: “The times, they are a-changin’.” From politics to the economy to gender dynamics, the new year demands that we keep up or die trying. It goes without saying that we’re long past the days where guys can hide behind a grill a few times each summer and still call themselves “a decent cook.”
Don’t panic, kitchen incompetents. Welcome to the world of slow cooking.
You’re probably familiar with the general concept of slow cooking, whether it be from your mom’s best Crock-Pot dishes or from barbecue competitions on TV. Isn’t it time you brought the best-kept secret to cooking to play in your own kitchen? Yes, yes it is.
It’s almost unfair how impressive slow-cooked food can be, given the minimal time and effort it requires. Showing up with a delicious hot cheese dip equals instant hero status at any Super Bowl party, poker night, or office potluck. Preparing not only dinner for your spouse, but a week’s worth of meals to boot will do more to reignite the spark in your marriage than a month’s worth of couples’ counseling. And if you’re single and looking, there’s no better way to take a date to the next level than inviting that special someone up to your place for a glass of hot buttered rum, mulled wine, or some other warm, boozy concoction.
The slow cooker is also a great way to motivate yourself to get outside on a cold winter day. After all, the only thing that tastes better than twenty-four-hour pot roast is said pot roast devoured in your long johns after a day on the slopes. (Or after shoveling your driveway.)
Behold, The Manual’s semi-annual roundup of the best slow cookers for 2018. Your new best friend is somewhere on this list. Find it.
The 9 Best Slow Cookers to Shop Now
Why (your grandmother might ask) would anyone want a small slow cooker? Because (we respectfully answer) people who live alone still deserve to enjoy delicious dips, meatballs, sauces and soups. It also has the one feature you look for in a quality small cooker: simplicity. The settings on this little workhorse are limited to Off, Low, High, and Warm—if you need anything simpler, you probably shouldn’t be in the kitchen at all.
Like Goldilocks searching for the perfect-sized bed, you may find that what you need in a slow cooker is something that’s not too big and not too small and totally right for you. Enter this six-quart option from KitchenAid, which packs a lot of fantastic features in its relatively small frame. In addition to its four temperature settings and digital timer face, it also comes with an easy serve topper with two handle openings, allowing you to serve your guests without taking off the lid every single time.
Ideal for party animals, large families, and housemates who do that communal dinner thing, this classic Crock-Pot is big enough to bathe your dog in. To be clear, we don’t recommend that; you’re better off making a full week’s worth of meals in one shot, freezing them, and then doing it all over again with a new recipe. Voila! Expensive takeout habit broken. Aside from its formidable size, this cooker keeps dinner preparation super simple, with minimal setting options and a stoneware basin that you can just lift out of the pot and serve. Crock-Pot has been the slow cooker standard for decades, which means you can count on quality, durability, and 5-lb. roasts done to perfection with this bad boy.
Built with a whopping 18-quart capacity, the Nesco Roaster is designed for some serious cooking. While it may not be an ideal option for every crock pot aficionado, it could be a real dream for those chefs in need of an extra oven or anyone looking to roast a pheasant for a special holiday dinner. Plus, Nesco boasts that this cooker wraps its contents in a “Circle of Heat,” which helps to keep the ingredients moist and tender regardless of the cook time.
Are you the type who leaves wet clothes in the washer or forgets to turn the oven off? You’re the one Hamilton-Beach was thinking of when they designed the Set ’n Forget. The six-quart capacity of this cooker lets you roast a whole chicken or make enough pulled pork to feed your friends on game day, but even more importantly, its programmable features offer you the all-important virtue of flexibility. Which means you can leave the house, fall asleep on the couch, or queue up another episode of Battlestar Galactica, knowing that the Set ‘n Forget will automatically switch to warm once your food is done. So go on and keep slicing balls at the range—the Hamilton will have dinner waiting for you no matter when you get home.
Though most slow cookers are totally fine to percolate unsupervised, wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to check in on your roast beef stew while you were at work? Well, now there is. Sort of. Crock-pot recently introduced the world to this WiFi-enabled beauty, which allows folks to adjust the temperature and cook time of their food via a smartphone app. In addition to this convenient technology, the pot also features a 6-quart capacity and a stainless steel exterior.
Bang for Your Buck
At $140, this All-Clad cooker may not be the cheapest option on this list, but it might just be the best value. That’s because it comes packed with a ton of exciting tech, including a 4-20 hour cooking time range, an easy-to-read digital display, large push buttons, and integrated handles. This device is also notable for its even heat gradient, which allows for a greater deal of control than you’d get from other products on the market. An investment for sure, but one that may prove worthwhile for those serious about their slow cooking.
If you’re looking for a slow cooker that’s Bluetooth-enabled and can sync with your iTunes while slow cooking beef and potatoes fit for Chef Hubert Keller…well, you might have to wait a few years. Until then, the closest option you have is the Breville Fast Slow Pro. Equipped with a color-changing LCD display that alerts you to the various functions going on, this Cadillac of cookers lets you pressure cook, slow cook, steam, reduce, saute and sear with the press of a button. The only thing it doesn’t do, in fact, is select and pay for your protein of choice. Hey, you can’t have everything.
Let’s start with the obvious: this cute little number is a dead ringer for a certain bleep-bloop droid known for following Luke and C3PO around the galaxy. But there’s a reason besides its cuteness that this little R2 unit is the #1 selling multi-cooker this side of Alderaan. It does everything you want it to do, and then some. From slow cooking your favorite meats to pressure cooking and making rice, the Instant Pot will simplify your life in the kitchen. It will also make people think you’re a slightly better chef than you really are. Don’t be mad about that. Just say, “Thank you, Instant Pot.” Or bleep-bloop. It’ll understand.
Slow Cooker Recipes
Ready for some recipe inspo? We thought so. If this is your very first outing with the slow cooker, we can’t recommend this pot roast recipe highly enough. It will utterly convince you that this culinary investment was a good one. Make it for your mom, and watch as tears of pride and respect fill her eyes. If that’s not your thing, you can always try pulled pork.
Slow cooker ninjas should look for Hugh Acheson’s new-ish release The Chef and the Slow Cooker (and check out our interview with Acheson here). With recipes for kimchi-braised chicken, osso buco with lavender-citrus gremolata, and such bone broth as Paleo dreams are made of, this book will make you wish that winter would never end.
Article originally published by Chelsea Batten on January 11, 2018. Last updated by Cody Gohl on November 7, 2018, to include more options.