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. (Check out #crocktails. It’s a thing.)
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 in this list. Find it.
Small: Elite Gourmet 1.5 Quart Slow Cooker – $17
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.
Large: Crock-Pot Oval Stainless Steel 8-Quart Slow Cooker – $45
Ideal for party animals, Catholic 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.
Best Bargain: Hamilton-Beach Set ’n Forget 6-Quart Slow Cooker – $38
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.
High-End: Breville 6-Quart Fast Slow Pro – $248
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.
Trending: Instant Pot 3-Quart 7-in-1 – $70
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 beside 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.
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 Matt Domino on February 13, 2013. Last updated by Chelsea Batten on January 11, 2018. Feature image courtesy of Crock-Pot Slow Cookers/Facebook.