There are plenty of recipes that benefit from pressure cooking. There are also plenty of people that prefer a fast cooking process. But what if there’s a way to get the best slow cooker without having to choose between two different cooking styles. If you’re looking for something that can do both, then perhaps the Instant Pot DUO Plus might just be the best kitchen appliance for you. It is a 9-in-1 kitchen appliance that helps you make everything from yogurt to roasts.
While the Instant Pot DUO Plus is best-suited for serious home cooks, I’ve also reviewed some interesting alternatives of various sizes, shapes, and programming features. After you have a better understanding of what these features represent, it should be easier to make an informed purchase.
Not a lot of people need the absolute best slow cooker. However, because of how versatile the Instant Pot DUO Plus is, I find it to be a bargain for most families or couples that entertain guests often. It’s highly customizable and can handle slow or pressure cooking at the press of a button. Its 6-quart capacity and multiple functions easily offset the drawbacks of its classic round shape.
Top 5 Slow Cookers
|Instant Pot Duo Plus||Round||Digital||Check Price|
|Crock-Pot SCCPCCM350-BL||Rectangular||Manual||Check Price|
|Hamilton Beach Programmable||Oval||Digital||Check Price|
|Maxi-Matic Elite Platinum MST-900V||Oval||Manual||Check Price|
|Maxi-Matic Elite Gourmet MST-250XS||Round||Manual||Check Price|
1. Best Overall Slow Cooker
Instant Pot DUO Plus 9-1 Cooker
Out of all the slow cookers that I have recently reviewed, I find this one to have the best balance between features, convenience, ease of use, and value for money. It’s a high-end slow cooker with a lot more functions than slow cooking, so it has a slightly higher price tag.
The DUO Plus is labeled as a 9-in-1 kitchen appliance. Besides being a slow cooker, it can also be used as a pressure cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, steamer, sauté pan, and more. This multi-purpose cooker is great for a number of reasons.
It saves tons of kitchen space. Since you can use it for a wide range of recipes and cooking techniques, you don’t have to stock up on pots like crazy. It also saves you money since you don’t have to buy additional appliances.
The 6-quart capacity is ideal for 4 to 6 people so there’s a lot to gain from it. This model is also available in 3-quart and 8-quart sizes. You can prepare meals for an entire week if you live alone. You can cook for your family or for a small dinner party and make sure everyone gets a hefty portion.
All the components are dishwasher safe. The interface is digital as it should be, given how many cooking styles are packed into one smart pot. The menu may look a bit overwhelming at first for the amount of choices you have.
However, I find it easy to get a grasp on since all the buttons come with clear text indicators. It’s doubtful you’ll have to read the owner’s manual before you start cooking, except for how to set the vent for pressure cooking or steaming.
Pros and Cons
- 9-in-1 slow cooker
- High capacity
- Intuitive interface
- LCD display
- The seal is the first to give after a while (only affect pressure cooking)
- Power hungry
- The round shape may limit recipes
2. Best Rectangular Slow Cooker
Crock-Pot SCCPCCM350-BL Casserole Crock
This slow cooker doesn’t look much like a traditional crock pot. However, the Crock-Pot casserole crock’s rectangular design allows you to properly cook recipes that use long slabs of meat, ribs, whole fish, or poultry. Of course, this also means that it limits your ability to cook soups since those prefer taller dishes.
This crock pot has a 3.5-quart capacity which should be enough for a small family. Of course, depending on the recipe the 3.5-quart rectangular pot may be as efficient as a 2-quart round slow cooker.
The settings are adjusted by hand. The dial goes from low to high to warm. The latter of course stops the cooking process and keeps the meal at an optimum serving temperature.
Another cool feature is that the removable inner pot is stoneware. It’s oven-safe and can be used to brown meat before slow cooking. However, due to its shape it’s probably best for casseroles and pasta, but it can easily handle smaller roasts.
The lid is made of tempered glass and it features clamps which help give it a tighter seal. It also makes the slow cooker easier to carry from the kitchen to the dinner table, or to the car for transport to a potluck. What also helps with the transportation are the oversized handles which are cool-to-touch and offer a firm and comfortable grip.
Pros and Cons
- Rectangular casserole pot
- Lid clamps for tight seal
- Oversized handles
- Limited ability to cook soups
3. Best Slow Cooker for Families
Hamilton Beach Programmable Slow Cooker
When it comes to small kitchen appliances, it’s hard to make a list without a Hamilton Beach product. So, here’s my pick for the best slow cooker a family can have. It has all the essential features and nothing too fancy, so it offers great value for the money.
The 7-quart capacity is in the upper range for slow cookers. The glass lid is dishwasher safe and it features a latch strap to ensure a better seal and easy transportation.
The interface is very simple. It has three temperature settings of low, high, and warm. It also has five hour settings that go from 2 to 10. In terms of versatility, this crock pot can handle just about anything you throw at it.
Perhaps the most interesting feature is the actual design. I find oval-shaped slow cookers to be the most optimal choice in any situation. It’s tall enough that you can prepare soups but also wide enough to accommodate long pieces of roasts.
This 7-quart slow cooker should also be big enough if you want to cook a whole chicken with plenty of room around it for your favorite veggies.
The inner stoneware pot is thick enough to allow even heat distribution and it’s also dishwasher safe.
Pros and Cons
- Oval shape
- Five cooking time settings
- Automatic warming feature
- Lid latch
- Ceramic pot
- Doesn’t include thermometer probe like the 6-quart model
- Short cable
4. Best Large Slow Cooker
Maxi-Matic Elite Platinum MST-900V
If you’re looking to go beyond the norm in size and capacity, I have a suggestion to make. The Maxi-Matic Elite Platinum MST-900V is a monster slow cooker. It has a whopping 8.5-quart capacity which should be enough to cook a meal that lasts for days for a small family or that can feed an entire party.
The price tag is also very attractive. The oval shape guarantees you can create a very diverse recipe menu since you’ll be able to cook everything from roasts to soups to whole fish. It still isn’t big enough for a Thanksgiving turkey but most slow cookers aren’t anyway.
The controls are manual which is what helps drive the price down. The dial is cool-to-touch as are the handles and the knob on the lid (but only if you’re cooking at the 380W low setting). Both the glass lid and the removable stoneware pot are also dishwasher safe which makes cleaning this huge crock pot a lot easier.
So why is this my personal favorite gigantic slow cooker? The price is basement bargain and it cooks just as well much more expensive slow cookers. Just remember that it’s manual.
Since it can’t be programmed to automatically switch to warm, you will have to monitor the progress. The good news is that the tempered glass lid allows you to do just that.
Pros and Cons
- Oval shape
- Stoneware pot
- High capacity
- Average durability
- Takes up a lot of space
- Totally manual
5. Best Budget Slow Cooker
Maxi-Matic Elite Gourmet MST-250XS
The Elite Gourmet MST-250XS by Maxi-Matic is arguably the most popular slow cooker for people on a budget and with storage restrictions. This model comes with a 1.5-quart capacity. It features a removable inner pot that’s made of stoneware.
The use of superior lining on such an affordable slow cooker is most impressive. Although the capacity is not too impressive it is enough for one or two people. The Elite Gourmet is available in 5 colors and 3 sizes: 1.5, 2, and 3 quart.
This slow cooker has manual controls. The dial can be changed from low to high when adjusting the cooking temperature and it also features a warm setting.
The lid is made of glass which is standard for slow cookers. Both the lid and the inner pot are dishwasher safe so cleaning this should be a breeze every time.
Because of its small size, weight, and cool-to-touch handles and knob, the MST-250XS is very easy to work with. Its durability is also quite impressive for a budget-friendly appliance. You should note that the handles and knob are only rated cool-to-touch at 120W, which is the low setting.
The one minor downside is that the MST-250XS has a round shape. Although it’s already small and can’t handle complicated recipes, the shape further limits the variety of meals that you can cook with it.
Pros and Cons
- Stoneware pot
- Small and light
- Highly affordable
- Low capacity
- Round shape limits possible recipes
Slow Cooker Buyer’s Guide
Despite the two being so different, not all people know one from the other. What you have to understand is that pressure cooking is the exact opposite of slow cooking. It cooks under pressure by expelling air to finish meals in record time.
Because of this, a pressure cooker is convenient to use in certain situations.
Why You Might Need a Slow Cooker
If you’re leading a very busy life, you may need to prepare your meals way ahead of time. A slow cooker gives you the luxury to start cooking a meal up to 8 hours before you set the table.
Slow cookers are typically very precise with their temperature control. Sure, some brands are better than others but I generally find any slow cooker a must-have in the kitchen.
If you’re not a kitchen ace, there are two cook pots that do most of the heavy lifting. The slow cooker and the pressure cooker. The latter might be a bit more difficult to use. It cooks at very high pressures and temperatures so it’s easy to overcook a meal. You have to be there and pay attention to use a pressure cooker.
In contrast, slow cookers give you more room for error. Not only that, but they don’t require you to sit by the stove and monitor the situation constantly.
Depending on how complicated some of your recipes are, and your specific needs regarding storage, cooking times, adjustability, etc., I recommend you always take into consideration the following features.
What to Look For In a Slow Cooker
Slow cookers come in a variety of sizes. You can get one as small as 1.5-quart or as large as 10-quart. The number of mouths you have to feed usually determines how big your slow cooker needs to be.
A 3-quart cooker may be enough for two people, but if you plan on feeding an entire family I suggest going for a 5-quart of 6-quart crock pot. You could even get an 8-quart model just to be extra safe or if you want to make sure there are plenty of leftovers.
When choosing the size of your slow cooker, here’s another issue to consider. These work best when you fill them at least half way through with ingredients. If your recipes don’t make up enough volume, you may want to consider a smaller slow cooker.
There are also some slow cookers that can fit different crocks. Therefore you can use whichever size you need at any given time. However, these aren’t exactly known for their durability or performance. I recommend having two separate crock pots if you think you might need different sizes.
Digital vs. Manual
If you see manual controls on a slow cooker, you can expect to pay less for the appliance. Manual dials are easy to use and what you see is what you get.
Digital controls give you more control over the cooking time, temperature, and so much more. For instance, with more advanced digital interfaces you can program your cooker in great detail. From start to finish, set pauses, change temperature settings at certain intervals and of course instruct the cooker to keep the meal warm when it’s done.
It’s also nice to find a slow cooker with a shutdown safety feature. This should prevent the settings from resetting in case of a power outage. This means that even if something happens while you’re away, the slow cooker will resume from where it left off.
The majority of slow cookers are quite basic in terms of temperature settings. However, the more you spend the more control features you get access to. Consider that it’s not a bad idea to have more than just a low and high temp setting.
Having a keep warm setting is also quite convenient. Especially if you know you’ll be away for a while until you get back home.
Think long and hard about just how varied your recipes are before you decide on the shape. You won’t be able to fit everything into the same pot. Most slow cookers are either round or oval. Choosing a round shape will limit your ability to cook entire chickens, ribs, or long pieces of meat.
However, you should also consider how big your oven is if you plan on using the removable pot in the oven. If that’s the case, also make sure that the pot is oven safe.
A removable crock or liner makes cleaning the cooker easier. It can also double as a serving pot so you can use one less dish when serving. This comes in really handy if you live in a small apartment with limited kitchen space.
Do keep an eye out for the material of the lining. Some slow cookers have aluminum liners and they don’t have the best track record in regard to healthy cooking. I find stoneware to be the more desirable option in terms of safety and even temperature maintenance. But multi-function cookers always come with metal pots. Metal pots are fine as long as they’re thick and heavy duty enough.
Last but not least, always consider the lid of the slow cooker as an essential feature. Most lids are made of glass, and this is often the case with both high-end and affordable cookers.
The alternatives include plastic and metal. Plastic is perhaps the one material you almost never want unless you’re on a super tight budget. Glass is usually ideal because it’s heavy enough and it lets you check on your food from time to time.
Metal lids offer the best seal for the most part. However, removing it to check on the progress can cost you up to 60 minutes of extra cooking time once the heat is lost. For multi-function cookers, you’ll likely be dealing metal lids or combination metal and plastic lids. If it has a pressure cooking function, the lid will have gaskets.
Additional Notes on Slow Cookers
Some slow cookers come with a maximum cooking time of up to 26 hours. At first glance, it may seem that the longer the cooker works the more versatile it is. However, using a slow cooker for too long even if you’re just using the warm setting can dry your dish.
15 hours should be more than sufficient for any recipe. Paying extra for more than this should only be done under very special circumstances.
Separate Pan for Browning Meat
It can be tempting to use the crock to brown your meat before you start your slow cook recipe. However, this is hardly possible with stoneware.
If you have a recipe that requires seared meat, just use a pan to brown it on a stovetop. It’s a bit of extra work to get things rolling and to clean up afterwards. It’s also one of the big differences between slow cooking and pressure cooking.
The latter allows you to brown the meat inside due to the different heat distribution and the fact that pressure cookers come with metal pots.
Slow cookers are one kind of home appliances where you shouldn’t worry too much about the warranty. Most come with limited warranties which means the repairs are only free for the electronics for the most part.
Unless there’s some factory defect, lids and crocks are not covered under warranty. This is because a lot of the damage can come from how a home cook treats the cooker and what type of meals they cook.
Who would’ve thought that the best slow cooker can also be a pressure cooker and a cake maker? The Instant Pot DUO Plus is one of the most versatile kitchen appliances around. It has good capacity, ceramic inner pot, multiple safety features, and 15 microprocessors that help keep it operating at maximum efficiency regardless of the task.
Compared to the Hamilton Beach 7-quart slow cooker, it has better heat distribution and customization features. The lid design is also superior to all models on the list and it is to be expected since it is built for pressure cooking with tight seal under pressure.
It’s not a stretch to say that the DUO Plus may be overkill for a lot of people. However, it still outclasses the competition which is why it’s number one in popularity, use, performance.