A Complete Guide to Slow Cookers

We have everything you need for slow-cooker success.

As the air turns cooler, I’m getting ready to make some of my favorite soul-warming slow-cooker dishes: Chicken EnchiladasWhite Bean and Tomato Soup, and Pork Carnitas. Using a slow cooker is convenient because it allows me to set it, forget it, and return to a perfectly cooked meal. Not sure which model is right for you? You’re in luck: We’ve put all kinds of slow cookers— full-sizesmall, and even mini versions—through the wringer to determine which models are best. In this week’s guide, you’ll find those winners along with the accessories needed for slow-cooker success.

—Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor, ATK Reviews

Our former champion won again for its well-designed, straightforward control panel with a countdown timer that was simple and unambiguous to set and allowed us to monitor progress at a glance. The roomy, heavy stoneware crock cooked gently and evenly and never boiled, so food emerged tender and juicy. We loved that its broad, protruding handles with grippy textured undersides usually stayed cool enough that we could pick up the crock without potholders. Thick insulation kept heat directed toward the crock, and a built-in internal temperature sensor gave this slow cooker extra “brains” to keep the temperature below boiling, which helped guarantee better results.

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This new "multicooker"—a slow cooker that can also brown/saute and steam food—produced perfect chicken, steaks, and ribs, with no scorching or hot spots. Its programmable timer can be set to cook for up to 24 hours and then automatically switches over to “keep warm." We liked its lightweight, easy-to-clean, unbreakable metal insert with extra-large, comfy handles, and its oval shape, clear lid, and intuitive controls. The brown/saute and steam functions both work as promised. A nice bonus is that the browning function, with adjustable temperature control from 150 F to 400 F, lets you sear food before slow-cooking, or reduce sauces afterward, without dirtying a second pan.

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This mini slow cooker’s trio of temperature settings allowed us to select the perfect temperature whether we were keeping dip warm or cooking a soup scaled for two. Its gentle warm setting meant we could keep queso dip molten and melty for several hours without it getting hot enough to break or scorch. A plus: its bright indicator light, which let us know when it was too hot to touch.

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This light, smooth bamboo spoon was broad enough to churn bulky stews, yet small enough to rotate a single chunk of beef without disturbing surrounding pieces. Its rectangular handle was comfortable to grip; its head had the most surface area in contact with the pan, so it excelled at scraping fond. Stain-resistant, it emerged after testing looking closest to new.

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Everything we did with this ladle felt easy and controlled, from scooping chunky stew out of a small saucepan to reaching into a tall stockpot to collect broth. The 45-degree angle of the offset handle put our arms and wrists at a natural angle, giving us full control. The slightly shallow bowl worked well for scraping the bottom of a pot, though it was less convenient for collecting and retaining springy noodles than a deeper bowl would be.

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The lightest of the stainless-steel models, this nearly perfect spoon had a long, hollow handle that felt like it was molded to fit our palms; its wide, shallow, thin bowl made it a breeze to scoop up food. Quibbles were minor: The bowl got a few scratches in the dishwasher, and a few testers thought the steep, ladle-like angle between the handle and the bowl upset the balance of the spoon.

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Our winning spoons had a simple design that allowed for a continuous, bump-free sweep, with a ball-chain connector (similar to what military dog tags hang on) that was easy to open and close. This set's metal construction felt remarkably sturdy, and ingredients didn't cling to the stainless steel. And while the 1-tablespoon measure did not fit into all spice jars, it was a minor inconvenience for an otherwise easy-to-use set.

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The newest instant-read thermometer by ThermoWorks is the best we’ve tested yet. It has all the features we loved in our previous favorite: a large, grippy handle; a rotating screen with large, highly legible numbers; and a backlight that goes on when viewing conditions are dim. Like the Mk4, it’s waterproof to a water depth of 39 inches for 30 minutes, it goes to sleep when not in use, and the display wakes up automatically when you pick up the entire unit. The ONE improves on the Mk4, though: As its name indicates, it takes just 1 second to measure a temperature. The backlight is brighter, and you can now use the thermometer when cooking on induction burners—the engineers at ThermoWorks have taken measures to eliminate the electromagnetic interference that sometimes occurs when you use digital thermometers with induction cooktops.

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