The Best Slow Cooker for 2018: Reviews by Wirecutter

A view of a Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker
Photo: Sarah Kobos

Our pick

Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 6 Quart Programmable Slow Cooker

The Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 6 Quart Programmable Slow Cooker cooked the best meals in our tests. It made the most succulent pot roast, and unlike other cookers, which got too hot, it didn’t overcook beans. The Set & Forget also has some of the best features of any cooker we’ve tested, with an easy-to-use push-button display, a lid that locks and seals to prevent spills, and a timer that alerts you when the cooking cycle is either starting or complete. Hamilton Beach is the only manufacturer we’ve found that makes slow cookers with probe thermometers, a feature that allows you to cook meat to a target temperature on the Set & Forget. As a bonus, this model is one of the most affordable slow cookers we’ve tested.

In our tests, the Set & Forget made the best foods because it consistently held the right temperatures over time. The Set & Forget cooked at or just below a modest simmer—perfect for braising meats and vegetables. After eight hours on the low setting, our cannellini beans were cooked just right. Other cookers weren’t able to adjust their temperatures to cooking cycles: Either they didn’t heat up enough or they boiled too quickly, finishing foods before the cycle was complete. The All-Clad SD700450 Slow Cooker and the Cuisinart PSC-650 Programmable Slow Cooker didn’t get hot enough to cook beans thoroughly over an eight-hour cooking cycle. On the other end of the spectrum, the Crock-Pot 6-Quart Lift & Serve Slow Cooker boiled in just five hours, turning our beans into mush.

A view of tender pot roast cooked in the Hamilton Beach slow cooker
The succulent pot roast from our top pick, the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget, was noticeably more tender than meat from other cookers. Photo: Sarah Kobos

The Set & Forget also made the most tender roast, heating it slowly over time (the final internal temperature measured at 212 °F after five hours). In comparison, the Crock-Pot ThermoShield Cook and Carry Slow Cooker made a roast that didn’t fall apart as easily and looked and tasted dry.

With a 6-quart capacity, the Set & Forget is an ideal size for cooking for a family or making extra food for leftovers. It has a 12-hour timer on high and low settings, and it switches to a warm setting after these cycles finish (the cooker turns off after 14 hours total). A few words of caution: We don’t recommend leaving food on the warm setting for too long, for food safety and taste reasons, and cooking for prolonged times on higher settings may disintegrate food. As Phyllis Pellman Good told us: “Most recipes I work with I would say have a maximum cooking time of about eight hours. There are food safety issues to letting food sit at warm all day.” If you’re looking for longer cook times (for cooking for the Sabbath, for example), our also-great pick, the Hamilton Beach Temp Tracker, has a 24-hour timer.

The Set & Forget was one of the most versatile cookers we tested, with multiple cooking options. On the Set & Forget’s programmable setting, you simply enter a cooking time and temperature (low or high), and at the end of the cooking cycle the machine kicks over to the warm setting. The manual mode allows you to use the machine as you would an old-school cooker: Just turn it on, and it stays on until you shut it off.

Accompanying the Set & Forget is a built-in probe thermometer that allows you to cook foods to a target temperature. Hamilton Beach makes the only cookers we’ve found with this feature, which is one that Pellman Good touted. One end of the probe plugs into the cooker and the other sticks through a single hole in the lid so that you can insert it into a roast. In our tests, the probe slid easily into our 3-pound chuck roast, but it may be too short to reach smaller pieces of meat.

A view of the Set & Forget probe thermometer
The Set & Forget probe thermometer connects to a jack, and the internal temperature of your roast pops up on the digital interface, alternating with the target temperature. Photo: Sarah Kobos

On the probe mode, the Set & Forget cooks until foods reach a specified temperature—you can set it between 140 °F and 180 °F in 5-degree increments—then switches to the warm setting. The digital interface alternates between the internal temperature of the roast and the target temperature, so you don’t need to continually lift the lid to take the temperature with a regular meat thermometer. We also measured temperatures with a separate probe thermometer, and the Set & Forget’s thermometer was within 9 degrees of our separate probe. Since temperatures aren’t totally consistent throughout a large piece of meat, the difference is understandable.

A view of the Set & Forget probe thermometer lodged in its slow cooker top opening
We wish the Set & Forget’s probe were longer, but it should be long enough to reach most large pieces of meat. Photo: Sarah Kobos

We appreciate that the Set & Forget’s push-button digital interface is easy to program and read, with large illuminated letters and numbers telling you what temperature the machine is set to and how much cooking time is left. Some people may prefer the simple, no-frills program options on a slow cooker over those on a more complicated electric pressure cooker.

Video of tester using the Hamilton Beach adjustment buttons
With the Set & Forget’s probe mode, you can cook foods to a set internal temperature between 140 °F and 180 °F in 5-degree increments. Video: Sarah Kobos

Compared with other cookers we tested, the Set & Forget has some of the best extra features. With a sturdy locking lid and a sealing gasket, the Set & Forget won’t spill foods during transport, or even when you’re moving the full crock from one part of the kitchen to another (you shouldn’t lock the lid when cooking, however). Although the locks seem narrow next to the larger mechanisms on Crock-Pot’s machines, they still feel sturdy and are easy to open and close. We preferred the lid style on the Set & Forget over the hinged lid on the Crock-Pot 6-Quart Lift & Serve Slow Cooker; when we raised the latter model’s hinged lid, we were hit with hot steam and condensation since we couldn’t angle it away from us. Hamilton Beach and Crock-Pot are the only brands we tested that offer cookers with locking lids, and we don’t recommend getting a cooker without this feature.

We appreciate that an alarm sounds when the Set & Forget starts and ends cooking. The alarm made it easy for us to program the machine and know that the cooking cycle had actually started. With other cookers, we didn’t know whether the machines had begun cooking until the first minute had counted down on the timer, and we also didn’t know when they had switched to the warm setting. A small green light indicates which setting you’re using on the Set & Forget.

The Set & Forget has a ceramic crock, which we prefer for even heat distribution. That said, you will need to use a separate pan if you want to sear meat or sauté aromatics before placing them in any slow cooker. Hamilton Beach also makes a few variations on the Set & Forget, with an included spoon or small food warmer, if you want one of those extras.

For all of its additional features, the Set & Forget was still one of the most affordable models we tested, and it beat out more expensive cookers in performance. Hamilton Beach offers a standard warranty, at one year.

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