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How to Pick the Right Slow Cooker for You (and How to Maintain It)

Created July 5, 2021
slow cookers
Not all slow cookers are created equal, but the experts in the Betty Crocker Test Kitchens know these machines inside and out and can tell you which ones are best.
As kitchen appliances go, the slow cooker is a relatively simple one. Essentially, it’s a Dutch oven that doesn’t need babysitting, which makes it a godsend on busy weeknights. Still, there are a few things you should know before you purchase one. Find out what features the Betty Crocker Kitchens experts recommend seeking out, plus learn how to take good care of your slow cooker once you get it home.

What to Look For When Shopping for a Slow Cooker

Whether you’re purchasing your first slow cooker or upgrading from an old one, here’s what you need to know to before you buy.

  • A 5- or 6-quart slow cooker is the most versatile option. It can be used for everything from dinners to meal prep and more. If you use your slow cooker a lot, you might find it worthwhile to buy both a large and small slow cooker, because the size of the slow cooker called for in a recipe does matter. (Wondering why this is? Find out in Betty’s 5 Slow-Cooker Commandments.)
  • A digital slow cooker with a Keep Warm setting helps prevent overcooking. When the food is done cooking, the machine automatically switches settings to keeps it warm until you’re ready to eat.
  • Oval is often a better choice than round. Oval slow cookers maximize surface area on the bottom of the insert, which means you can fit larger amounts of food (or bigger cuts) and cook them appropriately. If you cook chicken pieces stacked together in a tall, round 4-quart slow cooker, rather than in a single layer in an oval 6-quart slow cooker, it will take longer.
  • It’s nice to have two slow cookers for holidays and other entertaining. And if you’re going to have two, you might as well get different sizes for maximum flexibility. Small slow cookers are great for keeping party foods, like dips and cocktail meatballs, warm.
  • Opt for a machine with a removable, dishwasher-safe, oven-safe, microwave-safe insert. Some slow cookers are all one piece, and don’t have an insert, which makes them hard to clean.

Cleaning Your Slow Cooker

If the thought of scrubbing your slow cooker makes you want to leave it in the cabinet, never fear. The key is to be proactive and avoid the mess in the first place. Here are three ways to do it:

  • Always coat the inside of your insert with cooking spray, unless your recipe advises against doing so. Life is short. Don’t spend it scrubbing unnecessary dishes.
  • Avoid messy sides by mixing ingredients in a bowl before adding them to the slow cooker. If you’ve made a mess on the sides of the slow cooker by stirring in ingredients or splashing, wipe the sides before turning on the slow cooker. Then you don’t have to scrub them later. It also looks nicer if you’re serving food straight from the slow cooker.
  • Soaking is your friend. And you don’t always have to soak with piping hot water. Egg-based and cheesy foods often release from the insert better after a soak in cold water. Just be sure to cool the insert before adding cold water. Bonus tip: The cold-water method is great for cleaning eggs off plates and skillets too.

Mix ingredients before adding to the slow cooker to keep sides clean

When to Say Goodbye

Nothing lasts forever, slow cookers included. Look out for these signs that it’s time to replace your slow cooker.

  • If food isn’t getting up to temperature or cooking through in an appropriate amount of time, it may be spending too long in the danger zone for bacteria growth (40° and 140°F), which means your slow cooker now poses a food safety risk—time for a new one!
  • If there are hot spots where food tends to stick and burn, it’s probably time to replace your slow cooker.
  • If the electrical cord is frayed, waste no time—you’ve got a fire hazard on your hands.

If you’re reading this, you don’t need us to tell you that slow cookers can be wonderful time-saving devices, but that’s not all. They can turn out absolutely delicious food, if you know what what they’re good at—find out the Best (and Worst) Foods to Cook in Your Slow Cooker.