Which slow cooker is best?

January 2, 2009 5:23:14 PM PST
When it comes to small kitchen appliances, slow cookers, or crock pots, are the top sellers. No doubt convenience is a big reason why. You put your ingredients in a pot, and a few hours later your meal is done. "It's an easy kitchen appliance to use. It's one pot, you throw everything in, and that's all you have to clean, and it's dinner," said consumer Nancy Markhoff.

Consumer Reports tested 15 slow cookers that hold six to seven quarts. These cookers make cooking something of a one-step operation. You put all your ingredients in the cooker and it cooks by itself for hours on the kitchen counter.

Testers prepared various recipes, including beef stew, pulled pork, and apple brown betty for dessert. They evaluated how long it took to reach the correct cooking temperature and just how good the food tasted.

"They all produced food that was tasty and had a nice texture. The real differences were in how convenient they were to use," said Celia Kuperszmid-Lehrman of Consumer Reports.

Cookers with electronic controls automatically switch to "warm" when cooking is done. With four of the cookers tested, you have to switch the button to "warm" yourself.

"Also think about the finishes. Stainless steel looks nice and shiny when you first buy it, but it's going to be a little harder to clean," said Kuperszmid-Lehrman.

Oven-safe pots that can be put in the oven for quick reheating are a plus. A locking lid helps keep food from spilling, which is handy if you're going to a potluck dinner. The Hamilton Beach Set 'N Forget has both these features, as well as electronic controls. It costs just $70.

"If you want to save a little money and are willing to lose some features like the locking lid, the Rival Crock-Pot is a good choice at $50," said Kuperszmid-Lehrman.

Another handy feature to look for in a slow cooker is an attached, hinged lid. That way you don't have to set the lid down on the counter every time you mix or serve the food.

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