Cooking delicious meals at home can be a challenge for those with busy lifestyles. That’s where a programmable slow cooker can be a game changer! These handy kitchen appliances make it simple to prep ingredients in the morning and come home to a hot, home-cooked meal after a long day.
A programmable slow cooker provides flexibility and convenience that basic manual models just don’t offer. With customizable cook times, automatic warming, and delayed start features, you can easily customize recipes to fit your schedule, without worrying about over or undercooking.
When searching for your perfect slow cooker match, there are a few key factors to consider depending on your needs. In this guide, we’ll cover the top 5 programmable slow cookers on the market, what to look for when making your choice, and frequently asked questions to get you on your way to simplified home cooking. Let’s get started!
Top 5 Programmable Slow Cookers
After extensive research and testing, these are my top recommended programmable slow cooker models to consider for quality, features, and overall value:
Crock-Pot 6 Quart Express Crock Programmable Slow Cooker
- Specs: 6 quart capacity, 200W power
- Rectangular shape fits roasts, whole chickens
- Digital timer counts up or down, auto warming
- Pressure cooks quickly, or low and high slow cook temps
- Dishwasher safe stoneware and lid
- Pros: Very versatile with pressure and slow cooking. Generous capacity. Timer and auto warming are handy features.
- Cons: Pressure cooking can seem complicated for beginners.
- Best For: Families or cooks wanting a multipurpose cooker.
- Price: $$
Breville The Fast Slow Pro
- Specs: 6 quart capacity, 500W power
- Oval ceramic pot and glass lid
- LCD control panel, loads of presets and customization
- Auto pressure release for safety
- Saute function to brown first
- Pros: Excellent quality and tons of features. Saute function adds convenience. safety auto pressure release.
- Cons: Expensive. Many features mean a learning curve.
- Best For: Enthusiasts wanting high-end features and quality.
- Price: $$$
All-Clad SD700951 Slow Cooker
- Specs: 6.5 quart ceramic insert, 400W power
- Oval shape, digital display with timer
- Bonded steel exterior, brushed stainless steel finish
- Automatically switches to warm when cook time done
- Dishwasher safe ceramic pot
- Pros: Sleek design, trusted brand. Bonded steel for even heating. Handy keep warm function.
- Cons: Heavy and bulky for some. Higher price tag.
- Best For: Style and brand conscious buyers wanting quality materials.
- Price: $$$
Crock-Pot 7 Quart Manual Slow Cooker
- Specs: 7 quart capacity, power varies by setting
- Oval ceramic vessel with locking lid
- Basic High, Low, Warm manual settings
- Dishwasher safe stoneware, black accents
- Pros: Simple operation at a great value. Large capacity for bigger batches. Trusted brand.
- Cons: Lacks extras like timers and delayed start.
- Best For: Budget buyers and those wanting minimal settings.
- Price: $
Elite Gourmet MST-250X Electric Slow Cooker
- Specs: 5 quart capacity, 200W power
- Round ceramic pot, tempered glass lid
- Basic High, Low, Warm manual settings
- Glass lid allows monitoring
- Pros: Very affordable option with standard features. Compact round shape.
- Cons: Smaller capacity than some. Fewest features.
- Best For: Those wanting basic slow cooking on a budget.
- Price: $
When it comes to top brands available, Crock-Pot, Breville, All-Clad, and Elite Gourmet are some of the best, but there are many other reputable options out there as well. Consider your priorities like budget, capacity, and features to decide which is the best fit for you.
How to Choose the Perfect Programmable Slow Cooker
The options for slow cookers today can seem endless, so it’s important to consider what your needs and priorities are before deciding on a model. Here are the key factors to keep in mind:
Size and Capacity
One of the first decisions is what capacity you need. Slow cookers often range from 4 quarts to over 7 quarts.
If you routinely cook for just one or two people, a smaller 3-5 quart model is best. Don’t succumb to the idea that bigger is always better – smaller portions can easily cook unevenly or dry out in an oversized cooker.
For a family of 3-5 people, a 6-7 quart size is ideal to have room to grow. If you love big batch cooking and leftovers, you can always go larger, but make sure to account for extra cook time needed.
Basic manual slow cookers have High, Low, and Warm settings. More advanced programmable models allow you to truly customize the process.
Handy features can include:
- Digital display with timer
- Programmable cook times
- Delayed start
- Automatic switch to warm when done
- Adjustable temperature settings
If your schedule is consistent, you may be fine without these, but if you need flexibility, choose a model with advanced programmable options.
Slow cookers have wattages ranging from 200-500 watts typically.
Higher wattage models heat up quicker and cook faster, while lower wattages mean slower cooking. This matters if you’ll do recipes with shorter cook times.
Watch out for very high wattages over 500 though – slow cooking doesn’t need intense power.
Slow cookers come in either oval or round shapes.
Oval better accommodates roasts, whole chickens, and larger cuts of meat. Rounds are ideal for stews, chilis, soups, and curry.
Consider what you’ll use your cooker for most when deciding on shape. Keep in mind oval models take up more storage space as well.
You can spend anywhere from $20 to $300 on a slow cooker! Like most appliances, your budget plays a role.
For those just needing a basic manual model, you can easily spend under $75. For advanced cookers with digital displays and up to 20 programming options, expect to spend over $125.
Decide how much you can spend, but don’t sacrifice too much quality to save a buck either.
Higher end models come with bonus convenience features that you may find valuable:
- Digital display – make adjustments easier with a control panel and LCD screen.
- Built-in timer – Set exact cook times and track progress.
- Delay start function – Program meals to start hours later for true hands-off cooking.
- Auto keep warm – Food stays ready to eat until serving time.
- Probe/meat thermometer – Monitor internal temp and program to desired doneness.
- Locking lid – For safety and transporting meals.
- Stovetop safe pot – Move straight from cooker to table.
- Handles – For easy lifting and transport around the kitchen.
Evaluate whether these extras are “nice-to-have” or necessities for you.
Brand Reputation and Reviews
With any appliance, it pays to stick to reputable brands with a track record of quality and durability. Be sure to check reviews from other buyers as well to spot any recurring issues.
For slow cookers, leading brands include CrockPot, Hamilton Beach, Breville, All-Clad, and Elite Gourmet. Look for models with a strong 4 star rating or higher.
Your Cooking Habits
Finally, consider your usual cooking needs and style:
- Will you do more basic simmering or need fancier slow cooking options?
- Do you meal prep on weekends or cook daily?
- Will it get used heavily all year or only seasonally?
- Do you make the same dishes often or like to experiment?
- Do you care about modern aesthetics and tech features?
Your habits should guide you – a bare bones model is fine for simple weekday soups and stews. But programmable timers and settings allow endless recipe customization. And foodies may enjoy extras like searing functions.
Think about how YOU cook to select just the right features.
While not the most critical factor, appearance may matter if your slow cooker will live on the counter.
Modern and sleek? Retro styling? Matte or shiny finish? Size and shape to fit your kitchen? Colors to match your decor?
There are so many stylish options today like the All-Clad Gourmet with it’s polished steel or the Crock-Pot Express Crock’s rounded shape in fun hues.
Be sure any model you choose also feels sturdy and well made.
The standard warranty for most slow cookers is one year, but some offer longer 2 or 3 year warranties for the key electrical components.
Aim for at least a 1 year warranty for defects and manufacturer issues. You shouldn’t need much customer support if you care for it properly, but protection is nice to have.
Care and Cleaning
Look for removable crocks or inserts that are dishwasher safe – this prevents baked on residue and makes cleaning convenient.
The lid can usually be hand washed, just avoid harsh scouring.
Check that the heating base can be easily wiped clean with a damp cloth to keep the exterior looking its best. Avoid submerging this part.
Following the manufacturer’s care guidelines will prolong your slow cooker’s life.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still unsure about making the right programmable slow cooker purchase? Here I’ll tackle some of the most common questions buyers have:
What are the benefits of a programmable model compared to a manual slow cooker?
The intuitive benefit is the ability to customize cook times, temperatures, and settings. Programmable models provide flexibility manual versions just don’t.
You can start dinner in the morning but cook for exactly 8 hours on low heat. The pot then automatically switches to warm so it’s perfect when you get home.
This convenience is perfect for working families and busy schedules. You gain control and confidence your meal will cook perfectly.
What are some of the most common programmable features?
As covered earlier, popular programmable features include:
- Full digital display and control panel
- Countdown timer you can set
- Delayed start function
- Ability to switch to warm automatically
- Adjustable temperature settings
- Probes for exact internal temperature
High end models can mimic oven cooking with precise temperature control. Look for the options that appeal to your needs.
How do I determine what size or capacity I need?
The capacity depends on a few factors:
- How many people you regularly cook for
- If you’ll do big batch meal prepping
- If you cook large roasts or whole poultry
- What quantities of sides or veggies you make
For 1-3 people, a 3-5 quart cooker is ample. Larger families may want a 6-8 quart, with cook times adjusted. Get a feel for portions you make to choose the ideal size.
What temperature or power settings do I need?
Most cookers have Low, High, and Warm settings. Low is about 200°F for slower simmering up to 8 hours. High gets up to 300°F for quicker cooking in 4-6 hours. Warm holds at 170°F.
Some models have precise temperature control from 150°F up to 400°F for true slow “roasting.” There are also options like Browning/Searing or Auto-Pressure.
Consider your typical recipes and if you’ll want low and slow or quicker cooking flexibility.
Can I use a programmable model just like a manual slow cooker if I want?
Absolutely! The best programmable models allow you to use manual settings like High and Low if that’s all you need for a basic recipe.
The digital enhancements just give you more precision and customization as needed. But you can keep it simple with one-touch cooking presets if you prefer.
What’s the best way to care for and clean my programmable slow cooker?
Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions, but general tips include:
- Hand wash the lid and wipe exterior with a soft damp cloth. Avoid abrasives.
- Remove the stoneware or ceramic crock insert. These are generally dishwasher safe for easy cleaning.
- Check if the heating base is immersible or “wipeable” only. Never immerse this portion.
- Avoid metal utensils that can scratch. Use wood or silicone.
- Clean after each use to prevent staining.
- Store with lid ajar to avoid trapped moisture smells.
Following these simple guidelines will keep your slow cooker looking and performing its best for years to come!
Can I purchase replacement parts or accessories?
Many slow cooker brands sell replacements like ceramic inserts, lids, and glass covers on their websites or via customer service. Third party retailers may also carry universal accessories.
If the heating base stops working, repair may not be cost effective, so check on replacing the entire unit if needed. Most electronics cannot be serviced.
Why don’t my recipes turn out right in the cooker?
The likely culprit is cook time. Standard recipes meant for manual cookers need adjusted times in programmable models.
- For conversion to LOW, multiply cook time by 1.5
- For HIGH, multiply by 0.5 to 0.75
Watch carefully and adjust accordingly. The cooking environment makes a difference too.
Can I convert any slow cooker recipe to use in my programmable model?
You can convert most recipes with a simple cook time adjustment as mentioned above. Just watch closely until you get the timing right.
The Low, High, Warm settings on manual recipes correspond to programmable models too. You may just need to extend times if cooking on Low, or reduce for High or Pressure options.
Get familiar with how your model cooks and make tweaks as needed – soon you’ll perfect every recipe!
Start Simplifying Mealtime
I hope this guide has helped shed light on the fantastic world of programmable slow cookers!
With so many options for features and settings, be sure to reflect on your cooking habits and must-haves to select just the right model.
A quality cooker with extras like delay timers and digital screens can make home cooked meals effortless, no matter your busy schedule.
Just plug it in, program the times, and come home to fabulous homemade chili, stew, roasts and more ready when you are.
Have any tips or favorite slow cooker recipes to share? Let me know in the comments below!