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The best slow cooker

The Hamilton Beach 6-Quart Programmable Set & Forget is the one you want.
The Sweethome
01.19.16 in Home

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By Christine Cyr Clisset, Camille Chatterjee | December 3, 2015

This post was done in partnership with The Sweethome, a buyer's guide to the best things for your home. Read the full article here.

When it comes to a reliable, easy-to-use slow cooker, we'd get the Hamilton Beach 6-Quart Programmable Set & Forget. We first picked the Set & Forget in 2013, and after making a half dozen fork-tender roasts, gallons of chicken and pork stock, and big batches of no-hassle beans over the course of nearly three years, we're still thoroughly satisfied with this machine. It isn't fancy, and it performs about as well as many other cookers, but after 78 hours of research and testing, we've found that its intuitive interface, locking lid, and modest price make it the best deal for your money. It's also the only slow cooker that comes with a heat probe to monitor the doneness of roasts, which we think makes it especially practical.

How we tested

The Set & Forget heat probe connects to a jack, and the internal temperature of a roast pops up on the digital interface. Photo: Christine Cyr Clisset

To determine how hot each of the machines cooked, we filled each crock with 4 quarts of water and measured the temperature of the water every half hour on both the low and high settings. We then tested for hot spots by cooking a batch of beans in each machine, noting whether the beans cooked evenly and how much liquid evaporated over a span of six to eight hours. We also cooked 4-pound rump roasts in our original test, and most recently we cooked 3-pound chuck roasts. Additionally, we judged whether each programmable timer was easy to use, whether the hardware felt sturdy, and if the design had any quirks that made a cooker difficult or impractical to use.

Our pick

The Set & Forget uses large, backlit letters that are easy to see from across a room. Photo: Christine Cyr Clisset

Although the Hamilton Beach 6-Quart Programmable Set & Forget isn't the most luxurious or sleekest-looking machine out there, it does everything it should at a very modest price. It has the largest digital display of the models we tested, making it the easiest to read from across the kitchen, and its interface was the simplest to use. It cooks at true slow-cooking temperatures, unlike other models we tried that ran too hot. Its locking lid also makes it more portable. We like that the Set & Forget has an alarm that rings at the start and the end of the cooking cycle—a helpful feature that many newer, fancier cookers, like the others we tested, omit. Finally, the Set & Forget was the only slow cooker we found that included a temperature probe.

For longer cook times

The Crock-Pot Programmable Cook and Carry Oval Slow Cooker.

We think the Set & Forget offers the best overall value of any slow cooker out there. But if you can't find it for $50 or less, or if you need a timer that goes longer than 14 hours (which is the upper limit on the Set & Forget), we recommend the Crock-Pot Programmable Cook and Carry Oval Slow Cooker, which has a 20-hour timer. Overall, we think the Cook and Carry is a nice machine, and we found it to be sleeker and more compact than the Set & Forget. Its push-button display is more modern and attractive than the one on the Set & Forget, its handles are larger and easier to grip, and its locking mechanism snaps into place more securely. However, we didn't find that it cooked any better than our top pick, and it ran 2 degrees hotter on average. It also lacks a heat probe and an on/off alarm, despite being about $10 pricier at some outlets.

A smaller, wallet-friendly pick

The Crock-Pot 4-Quart Slow Cooker.

If you don't need the capacity of a 6- or 7-quart cooker, we recommend the Crock-Pot 4-Quart Slow Cooker, a model that Real Simple also recommends. You'll have to turn it off manually since it doesn't have a timer (which is typical of cookers this size), but it has great Amazon reviews, and you can't argue with the price.

Wrapping it up

After 78 hours of research and testing, plus three years of long-term testing, we can say that the Hamilton Beach 6-Quart Programmable Set & Forget is our favorite slow cooker. It offers the best value for performance, and it's the only slow cooker that comes with a heat probe monitor. If you want a longer, 20-hour timer, we suggest the Crock-Pot Programmable Cook and Carry Oval Slow Cooker, and if you prefer a smaller cooker, we recommend the Crock-Pot 4-Quart Slow Cooker.

This guide may have been updated by The Sweethome. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

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