How to Buy a Crock Pot (Slow Cooker)

Vegan Chickpea Soup in a Crock Pot

My crock pot is one of my least expensive and most used time-saving tools in my kitchen. I find that I use my slow cooker at least four times a week.

Should I Buy Slow Cooker?

If walking into the kitchen and finding your home-cooked meal ready and waiting sounds likes a good idea to you, you’ll love the convenience of using a slow cooker. Place your ingredients in your crock pot, and it will do the work for you while you are away or while you sleep. You don’t need to watch it, stir it, worry about it burning, and your meal is ready when you are.

How to Choose the Right Slow Cooker

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With all the different models on the market today, choosing the right crock pot may be a daunting task. Here are a few factors to consider when shopping for a crock pot.

Slow Cooker Features

Slow cookers can range in price from $10 to $300. While the higher priced ones have a lot of convenient features, with few exceptions, they all basically do the same thing – heat food at a low, steady heat in an environment that traps heat and moisture.

Size

Probably, the most important choice you need to make when you buy your slow cooker is what size to get. Slow cookers come in a variety of sizes, from very small (2-quart) to very large (10-quart).

A one- to three-quart crock pot is usually sufficient for one to two people. If you are planning to feed a family of three to five, you will probably want a four- to six-quart model.  An eight-quart model usually works best for feeding five to seven people (or if you like leftovers).

If you want to be able to cook large pieces of meat, you will probably want to buy a crock pot that is at least six-quarts.

Because a slow cooker works best when filled at least half full, it is important to carefully consider which size is best for you before purchasing. That said, it is nice to own a large crock pot so you can make a big pot of soup or beans and have delicious leftovers for another day.

I personally like to have two two crock pots in my kitchen – a large one for cooking beans, soups, stews, etc. and a small one for cooking hot cereal and keeping sauces and dips warm. Not only do I have the right size for the right food, but I can also be using two slow cookers at the same time if I need to.

Temperature Control Settings

Most crock pots come with at least two temperature settings – high and low. You may want to consider buying one with a “keep warm” setting as well, as this can be convenient for keeping food warm after it is fully cooked.

Digital (Programmable) vs. Manual Controls

In the past, slow cookers offered only manual controls with a low or high option (and sometimes keep warm). When you turned the cooker on, it started cooking and continued cooking until you manually turned it off.

But now, slow cookers come with programmable digital controls that allow you to schedule when the slow cooker is to turn on and off and the number of hours the food is to be cooked.  And you can even have the cooker switch to “warm” after a set amount of time.

The digital controls offer flexibility and control. The manual dial control is simple to use, less expensive, and offers less opportunity for something to malfunction.

If you are using a programmable cooker and the power goes out – even for just a second – the settings will reset and the slow cooker will be off even when the power comes back on. If you are using a cooker with a manual control and the power goes out, it will come back on and continue cooking when power is restored.

I didn’t want to spend the extra money for a programmable crock pot, but I liked the idea of an automatic on-off function, so I plug my cooker into an appliance timer, and set it to go on or off when I want.  It works great!

Removable Crock

Most slow cookers come with a removable crock (liner or insert) making clean-up easier. You can also serve the food in the removable crock, so you have one less dish to wash.

The insert should have a wide rim that slopes inward slightly allowing the liquid that accumulates there (from steam) to drip back into the crock.

Some slow cookers come with an aluminum or nonstick insert, which, unlike stoneware crocks, can be used on the stove top. I personally avoid these options as I am concerned about the health risks of cooking in aluminum. And stoneware is considered superior material because of its ability to keep an even and constant temperature.

Shape

Many larger size slow cookers come in round, oblong or rectangular, or oval. Round cookers work well for just about any food except long pieces of meat. Oval shaped slow cookers will accommodate chicken, ribs, or a roast much better than a round cooker.

Lid

Most cooker lids are glass; however, they are also available in plastic and metal. If possible, opt for a glass lid. Because glass is heavier than plastic it keeps more heat in, and because it’s transparent it allows you to check on the food without lifting the lid. Much heat can be lost by lifting the lid, and required cooking time can be increased by 30 to 60 minutes.

Some lids have a gasket that helps keep in heat and seal the lid to prevent spills. However, some prefer a lid without the gasket for easier cleaning. Also, some gaskets tend to absorb odors from the food cooked in the crock pot.

Miscellaneous

Solid handles are more durable and usually last longer than “loop handles”.

Most newer slow cookers cook hotter than those made over seven to ten years ago.  The low setting on some new crock pot is almost as hot as the high setting on some of the older crock pots.

What is the Difference Between a Crock-Pot and a Slow Cooker?

“Crock-Pot” was the brand name of Rival’s first slow cooker waaaay back when they first came out. The name stuck so well that most people started calling any slow cooker made by any company a “crock pot”.

This is similar to what happened with Kleenex, Band-Aids, Q-Tips, and Jello.  These are brand names for tissues, adhesive bandages, cotton swabs, and flavored gelatin. Regardless of who manufactures them, we tend to call those things we put on a scrape or cut Band-Aids – not adhesive bandages.

So although the name “Crock-Pot” is technically a brand name, the terms slow cooker and crock pot are generally used interchangeably.  They both refer to this great appliance that cooks your meal while you’re busy with other things – even sleeping!

Crock-Pot Recipes

Check out my delicious crock pot recipes.

And here’s how to cook your breakfast in your sleep – overnight crock pot cereal.


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35 Comments

  1. Crockpots and slow cookers are not the same. Slow cookers heat only from the bottom, so are less safe for cooking big chunks of meat, according to the FDA. Crockpots heat from the bottom and sides.
    cookinfanatic.wordpress.com/2009/10/19/crock-pots-vs-slow-cookers-yep-theres-a-difference

      1. Hi Tori,
        Thanks for sharing. I contacted some of the major slow cooker manufacturers and, interestingly, they all told me their slow cookers heat on both the sides and the bottom. One manufacturer said, “Nearly all slow cookers manufactured now have heating elements on both the sides and the bottom of the unit.”
        Good to know! They definitely cook better.

  2. The biggest mistake I made was buying a crockpot that was hot to the touch on the outside. If you have limited counter space, it is very important to get one that is insulated. You don’t want to get burned if your hand brushes against it. Also, the oval shape can usually be pushed further back on the counter top making it less likely for a toddler to pull it down onto themselves.

    Another thing to look for is convenience for travel. Some of the lids can clamp on, others come with insulated covers so that you can take your crock pot to a potluck dinner.

    1. Thanks for your helpful thoughts, Jeannie. I like my oval slow cooker too, because I like to be able to put it toward the back of the counter and still have useful space in front of it.

  3. I’m about to be a sophomore in college and I’m looking for a slow-cooker (or Crock-pot, whichever!) for my apartment next semester. Thank you so much for the breakdown!

  4. My experience slow cookers – top of meat is dry in most instances and liquid is VERY reduced when I put in a little water/broth, or get too much when I put enough to cover ingredients. What am I doing wrong? Co-worker thinks that the lid is not tight enough. What do you think?

  5. Jennifer,

    Two Christmas’s ago, I bought my wife a wonderful slow cooker and she uses it a lot! That is until I cleverly broke the crock insert while washing it…. My trouble is finding a replacement! Calphalon no longer sells this particular cooker anymore. Are these inserts a standard size? It’s not very old. How can I find a replacement crock? There HAS to be a way! Don’t cha think?

    1. Hi Dave,
      I’ve broken a few inserts in my lifetime. As far as I know, they don’t make replacement ones, but I could be wrong. Thankfully, I have been able to find replacement inserts 2 times at a thrift store that fit my slow cooker perfectly.
      Let me know if you ever come across a good source.
      Jennifer

  6. I have a 6qt crockpot I’ve had since my wedding shower about 34 years ago. I also have a newer 8 1/2qt one & use both year round. I’ve been making a lot of mushrooms in different ways. I usually make 1-2 pounds and I’m afraid that both of my crockpots are to big. I’m thinking about getting a small round 4qt one for mushrooms and I’m sure I’ll find other uses for it. My question is am I correct that a crockpot can be to big? I did have someone suggest I was up tin foil in the bigger one but I don’t think I want my food cooked like that…not to mention the expense and waste.
    Thanks for your help!!

      1. Hi Patty,

        Yes, you are correct. If a crock pot is too big, it won’t cook the food correctly. And it can ruin the crock too.

        I’m not sure about the tin foil method. I’ve never tried that.

        When I first got my 4-quart slow cooker, I wasn’t sure if I would use it that much, but I now use it all the time! I think you’d find lots of uses for it.

        I hope that helps.

        Jennifer

        1. Thanks for getting back to me so quick. I’m glad I didn’t waste my mushrooms cooking them in a crockpot that was to big. And I’m sure your right about me finding other uses for the 4qt too. Between my mushrooms in the cream sauce, cheese dip & I’m sure a 100 other things I haven’t even thought of yet.
          Thanks again!!

  7. Hi! I’m a crock-pot Virgin wanting yo buy muy first one (I have to perder one from the US as they isn’t anyone in my country) and I want yo get it right. I’m single and live alone, should I get a 1.5 qt or a 2.5 qt for the daily meals?

  8. I, too, am thinking of buying my first Slow Cooker. Is there any way of knowing if U have too much or too little liquid? Do they ever run dry and burn? I`m curious as to the unanswered question above re: `Top of her meat is dry`! In short, how do U know how much liquid, w/o making mush (say) of potatoes?

    1. Hi Mary Ann,
      Sorry I somehow missed both this comment and the one you referred to.

      To answer your question about meat, the leaner the cut of meat, the drier it will get. Unfortunately, while a fattier cut of meat will not be as dry, it will be more contributive to a heart attack. : )

      A few things you can do to prevent the meat from drying out:
      1. If the meat comes with skin or a fat cap, leave that intact
      2. Or browning the meat before placing in a slow cooker will help it retain its moistness
      3. Don’t open the lid during cooking.

      The best way to know how much liquid is needed is to follow the recipe of someone who has already tested the food you want to make in a slow cooker. Short of a recipe, I usually use approximately 20% less liquid in a crock pot (slow cooker) than I do on the stove top (as a general rule). Keep in mind that all slow cooker cook differently, so a little experimenting may be in order.

      Also, some foods like potatoes and sweet potatoes can be cooked with almost no liquid.

      I hope this is helpful.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

  9. Thank you for all the tips. After researching for several days, I found two very helpful article about slow cookers. They are “Americas Test Kitchen” and “Food & Wine”, Their explanations about “heating elements” is informative. Happy reading.

  10. Can you tell me why my 7 quart crock pot only holds 4 quarts and and my 4 quart crock pot only holds 3 quarts ( I filled them with water to the top )

  11. I am interested in purchasing something to cook whole fryer chickens in and for heating long fully cooked oblong hams. I am uncertain whether I can use a slower cooker or if I need a roaster. Also can cooker liners be used with either. I use liners with my 2 quart slow cooker. Please advise. Thank you!

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