Menu
Search
Menu
Close

Mini Slow Cookers

Published May 2017

How we tested

You’re probably wondering, “Do I really need a baby slow cooker?” We were skeptical, too, but proponents of these wee crocks laud their versatility: They can do everything from keep dips warm at parties to slow-cook scaled-down meals for two from start to finish, not to mention hide out in tiny dorm rooms or campers. They’re also inexpensive. We gathered four models priced from $13.79 to $24.02, all with 1 1/2-quart capacities, and used them to make our recipes for Slow-Cooker Cheese Fondue and Slow-Cooker Chicken and Vegetable Soup for Two and to keep our Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip (cooked first in the oven) warm.

All the models were pretty rudimentary, with no digital temperature settings or timers like our winning full-size slow cooker from KitchenAid has. Each consists of a removable ceramic crock outfitted with a glass lid and set in a metal-lined shell that houses the heating elements. We quickly noted that the crocks and lids of all the models were very similar in size, shape, material, and thickness. In fact, we had to label them to keep from getting them mixed up. It’s no surprise, then, that they were all equally durable, roomy (all comfortably held an entire bone-in chicken breast), and easy to clean.

Aside from color, the shells looked pretty similar, too—except for one key difference: their temperature controls. While two models had dials for three temperature settings (warm, low, and high), one product had options for only low and high. Another didn’t have a temperature dial at all; it was either on or off, with no variable settings.

Given this, we expected to see big differences in performance when we loaded the crocks with food. But surprisingly, all the slow cookers kept the spinach dip and fondue nicely melted and scorch-free, and all finished cooking the chicken soup within the recipe time range (cooked on low if the cooker had settings) and without overcooking the meat or vegetables.

When we tracked the temperature of cheese fondue and spinach dip over the course of 3 hours on the lowest temperature setting possible, we saw that the temperature of the fondue in particular fluctuated anywhere from 15 degrees to 50 degrees, depending on the model. (The thicker spinach dip was better able to retain heat and thus maintained a more stable temperature.) Because the cookers cycle on and off to stay in their desired temperature ranges, some temperature fluctuation in the food is inevitable. Luckily, we know from recipe testing that most slow-cooker recipes can tolerate a 50-degree temperature range without the results being compromised, and the fondue was no different.

So far so good, but we wondered what would happen if we tried the cookers with a less forgiving recipe. To find out, we made batches of our Queso Fundido, a cheesy dip that starts to separate if it gets too hot. We loaded the dip into the slow cookers at 145 degrees and set each one on the lowest possible heat setting. Sure enough, the two models without a “warm” setting overheated the dip. We recorded their temperature at about 175 degrees after a half-hour and noted that the dip looked unappetizingly greasy and broken. However, the two models with a “warm” setting were chugging along at 145 degrees after an hour, still looking and tasting great.

While all of the mini slow cookers we tested will work for most foods, we preferred the models with three temperature settings (warm, low, and high), which allowed them to handle more temperature-sensitive recipes such as queso dip. Our favorite was the Elite Cuisine 1.5 Quart Mini Slow Cooker ($24.02), which also had a bright indicator light that let us know when the crock was on and hot. Though it is not a replacement for a full-size slow cooker, this mini crock is a good option for keeping appetizers warm at the table and for cooking many scaled-down recipes.

Methodology

We tested four 1.5-quart slow cookers priced from $13.79 to $24.02. We cooked our recipes for Cheese Fondue and for Chicken and Vegetable Soup for Two in each slow cooker on the low setting. We also prepared our Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip and our Queso Fundido according to recipe directions and then transferred them to the slow cookers to keep warm. We tracked the temperature of the fondue and dip over 3 hours on each model’s lowest setting. We rated each slow cooker on the quality of the food it produced, ease of use, and cleaning. Prices shown were paid online, and products appear in order of preference.

Food: A team of editors sampled food from each of the slow cookers. Products lost points if their food was scorched, broken, or underheated. Full points went to slow cookers that warmed and cooked food evenly, fully, and within recipe times.

Ease of Use: Testers rated each product on how easy it was to load, adjust the temperature, move, and empty. Our favorite products had bright indicator lights and multiple temperature settings. We docked points from models that lacked temperature controls or gave testers no warning when they were too hot to touch.

Cleaning: We evaluated how easy each crock was to clean (all models had dishwasher-safe crocks but lids that had to be washed by hand). Full points went to products that still looked new after multiple cleanings.

Try CooksIllustrated.com Free for 14 Days

Included in your trial membership

  • 20+ years of Cook's Illustrated foolproof recipes
  • In-depth videos of recipes and cooking techniques
  • SAVE all your Favorites for easy access
  • Up-to-Date reviews and product buying guides

Get everything Cook's Illustrated — become the Smartest Cook you know, guaranteed.

Email is required
How we use your email address

The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*