Best Cheap Slow Cookers
The idea of slow cooking food has been around almost as long as humanity's ability to make fire. Although taste for this technique diminished as technology and the domestic arts evolved, interest in slow cooking has revived in recent years. The modern demand for convenience is fueling demand for slow cookers: Just throw a few ingredients into the pot, turn it on, and dinner is ready several unattended hours later. To help the harried, Cheapism.com devoted hours to reading expert and user reviews to come up with the best cheap programmable and manual slow cookers costing $50 or less.
Our Top Pick
Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 33969 Review
Pros: Hundreds of reviewers sing the praises of this 6-quart programmable slow cooker (starting at $49, Amazon). Food is cooked thoroughly and evenly, according to Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 33969 reviews on Amazon and Walmart.com, and users are rarely disappointed. They tell of setting the temperature to low, walking out the door, and returning home eight or nine hours later to a warm and perfectly cooked roast, stew, soup, pot of beans, or chicken in pasta sauce. Giddy reviewers without much practice in the kitchen report great success preparing healthy and flavorful meals without much effort.
CNET testers who evaluated five competing slow cookers, including three that sell at higher prices, determined that the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 33969 retains heat extremely well, doesn't reach its maximum temperature too quickly, and finishes the job in the expected amount of time.
Cons: As with any product that has been available for quite a few years (with minor tweaks and updates) and garnered several thousand reviews, gripes surface here and there. Some reviewers complain that the outer shell of the unit gets way too hot. Others report that it just stops working after a few months of light use, and sometimes smack in the middle of cooking dinner. (What do you say to the family then?) One review on Target.com reports that a pot that was filled with frozen ribs, barbecue sauce, and liquid and set on high for six hours exploded all over, and another laments random failures that waste lots of ingredients. The CNET expert grumbles about the display design and multiple button pushes required to get the cooker going. Still, users crow that the budget price is hard to beat, especially given the pile-up of features and the cooker's versatility.
Features: As on other programmable slow cookers, users can choose the high or low heat setting and the desired cooking time; on this model the remaining time shows up on the digital display. Unlike other programmable cookers, the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 33969 can also function in manual mode, meaning users choose the desired heat setting and manually switch the unit to warm or off. The cooker automatically powers down after a total of 14 hours.
One unusual feature is the temperature probe, which monitors the internal temperature of a roast, chicken, and the like. A current temperature reading shows up on the display alternately with the chosen temperature. Once that point is reached, the unit automatically switches to warm mode. One reviewer lauds the benefits of the temperature probe for making soap in the slow cooker and others say it ensures moist and tasty pork shoulder, turkey breasts, and other large cuts of meat. A minor snafu, according to users, is the length of the probe: Apparently it's too short for small roasts.
The Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 33969 is fully loaded. The lid is made of tempered glass, comes with a gasket, and locks in place with wire clips. The handles are set wide and remain cool during cooking. Users can choose any of three cooking modes: high, low, and warm. The manufacturer says the 6-quart capacity of the oval stoneware crock can accommodate a 6-pound chicken or 4-pound roast. The lid and crock are dishwasher-safe.
Takeaway: Minor complaints aside, this is one slow cooker that demands full attention. A slightly older model, the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 33967, is also still available and may be cheaper than the 33969 model. The handles and lid top are different and the 33967 comes with a clip-on spoon, but otherwise the two are identical. Go with whichever design you prefer, or whichever price is lowest.
Crock-Pot SCV400 Review
Pros: The Crock-Pot SCV400 (starting at $20, Amazon) is a basic, manual, 4-quart slow cooker that hits a sweet spot with reviewers. They like the very affordable price, absence of bells and whistles, mid-range size, and, of course, tasty results. In Crock-Pot SCV400 reviews on sites including Amazon, where the model earns an average of 4.4 stars from nearly 1,000 users, consumers report using it to poach pears, prepare a Thai recipe for soup with shrimp and curry, roast a small chicken surrounded by fresh vegetables, rustle up some shredded pork, and bake potatoes in the heat of summer.
This Crock-Pot appeals to busy families and is just the right appliance for a vacation home or camper. It yields leftovers for empty nesters without loading up the refrigerator with days' worth of the same meal, and it aligns with the capacity called for in many slow-cooker dessert recipes, according to one review.
Cons: While the vast majority of online reviews attest to its many feats, the Crock-Pot SCV400 also claims some critics. Several say the unit runs hot and overcooks ingredients to the point that they become inedible. Crock-Pot has responded to these reports by noting that the newer models reach a higher temperature (maximum 215 degrees) on both the high and low settings than older models, but "high" holds that temperature longer than "low." In general, food cooks faster in newer models. The company advises consumers who rely on older slow-cooker recipes to adjust cooking times accordingly.
Features: By all accounts, the Crock-Pot SCV400 is very user-friendly. It's a manual slow cooker with three heat modes -- low, high, and warm -- so users must take responsibility for turning the countertop appliance off when the cooking is done or switching to warm until serving time. (Tip: Do not cook on warm or let the food rest on warm for longer than four hours.) No one seems to have a problem following these instructions. Reviewers also say cleaning the crockery insert and glass lid is a breeze, either by hand with hot, soapy water or in the dishwasher. The oval stoneware insert is microwave-safe and its 4-quart capacity is sufficient to feed four people and then some, depending on the dish and the appetites at the table. A round version starts at $16 and earns similarly high ratings on Walmart.com.
Takeaway: There's nothing fancy or high-tech about the SCV400, but Crock-Pot has settled on a design that has fed hordes of hungry people for more than a decade. Why tamper with a good thing?
Crock-Pot Cook & Carry SCCPVL610-S Review
Pros: The portable and programmable Crock-Pot SCCPVL610-S (starting at $49, Amazon) stands out for its ease of use and flavorful results. On Amazon, nearly 2,800 reviewers award it an average of 4.2 stars out of 5. They say the gasket on the tight-fitting lid helps trap moisture, and the digital timer is a simple and welcome convenience.
Crock-Pot SCCPVL610-S reviews also report that the 6-quart capacity leaves plenty to freeze for future meals. One reviewer notes that the edges of whatever is in the pot simmer slightly when on low, while the warm setting is just right for reheating leftovers. Another tells of setting the timer to roast a frozen cut of meat on high for three hours and letting it switch to low to finish the job.
Cons: The avalanche of 4- and 5-star ratings aside, there are things about the Crock-Pot Cook & Carry SCCPVL610-S that grate on some users. A bunch of reviews on the company site tell of problems with excessive heat, even when set on low for traditional slow-cooking dishes such as chili and soup. They say meats cook way too fast and emerge tough rather than tender. Crock-Pot has responded to these complaints by noting that newer models run hotter than older units, reaching a maximum 215 degrees regardless whether the setting is on high or low, and that cooking times may need to be reduced from what some recipes say.
Cracks, large and small, in the stoneware inserts and complete breakage are another source of irritation for consumers, largely because no replacement crock is currently available. Crock-Pot has not supplied any information about when that will change.
Features: There are three heat modes on the Crock-Pot Cook & Carry SCCPVL610-S: high, low, and warm. Cooking times can be set in 30-minute increments up to 20 hours, with a countdown readout on the display. The unit automatically switches to warm (165-170 degrees) after the designated cooking time has elapsed and holds at that setting for up to six hours. The portability features include clips that lock the lid in place, to prevent spills, and storage for the cord. The tempered-glass lid and crock are dishwasher-safe; the stoneware can also be used in the oven or microwave. With a 6-quart capacity, the oval-shaped Crock-Pot SCCPVL610-S serves seven or so people and can hold a 6-pound roast. Crock-Pot also makes a manual version of this cooker, the SCCPVL600-S, which has the usual three heat settings and the same Cook & Carry features, and sells for about $30.
Takeaway: Hundreds of consumers are totally satisfied with this model, and it's hard to argue against the crowd. But the lack of replacements for a key component and a feature set that lags the offerings on the competing Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 33969 relegate the Crock-Pot SCCPVL-610S to a second-tier finish.
Hamilton Beach Stay or Go 33461 Review
Pros: The Hamilton Beach Stay or Go 33461 (, Amazon) is a portable and manual slow cooker. In reviews by more than 750 users on Amazon and BestBuy.com combined, it garners praise for a variety of virtues, ranging from price, functionality, and simplicity to design features and performance.
Hamilton Beach Stay or Go 33461 reviews say the two cook settings are accurate and the contents stay warm whether resting in the kitchen or in transit to an event. One user crows that the results offer proof of nascent cooking skills, and another keeps one in a camper to cook up beef stew and pulled pork while out and about. Others value the comfortable handles and latched lid, which let them carry a full, 6-quart cooker to potlucks without worry about spills. And many tell of affirmatively choosing a no-frills manual model partly for the price and partly because, well, who needs all that digital functionality? Equally important, reviewers appreciate being able to prepare low-cost and low-effort meals for their families.
Cons: Like the other cheap slow cookers we researched, the Hamilton Beach Stay or Go 33461 presents its share of flaws. The lid should remain unlatched while food is cooking, according to the user's manual, but reviewers say it doesn't sit tightly otherwise. Some also caution that a huge head of steam pours out when opening the hinged lid. A few insist that the cooker runs too hot and burns the edges of the contents even when the heat is set to low, and a handful grumble about the gasket retaining odors.
Features: This model, like most slow cookers in its 6-quart class, is oval-shaped and can accommodate a 4-pound roast or 6-pound chicken. Designed to travel, it has a single clip that latches over the lid to secure it to the base and then holds it open for serving. Stay-cool handles snap up for carrying and fold down for storage. The three manual settings, controlled by a dial in the front, are high, low, and warm; users can also select off. The stoneware insert and lid are dishwasher-safe.
Takeaway: Basic, dependable, and user-friendly is the consensus among reviewers on this manual slow cooker. Several have acquired multiple Hamilton Beach Stay or Go 33461 units over the years, sometimes to replace a worn-out one and sometimes just for the extra capacity. For the price, it's hard to go wrong.
Maxi-Matic Elite Platinum MST-900 Review
Consumers who regularly feed a family the size of a sports team or attend potlucks every week will find plenty to like in the Elite Platinum MST-900 by Maxi-Matic (starting at $29, Amazon). Everyone else may find it a bit too much.
Pros: This giant 8.5-quart manual slow cooker garners an average of 4 stars from more than 400 reviews on Amazon and Walmart.com, where users share enthusiasm for its capacity and performance. There are a lot of "love it" and "great" comments sprinkled throughout. One reviewer tells of loading the pot with a 4-pound roast, 5 pounds of potatoes, and plenty of carrots and onions. Others simply say the Elite Platinum MST-900 turns out a mean stew and everything else a slow cooker is designed to make. One reviewer claims to have tested the temperatures on the warm, low, and high settings and pronounced them to be on the mark, at 160, 210, and 225 degrees.
Cons: On the other hand, a vocal minority complain about both performance and build quality. A number of posts grouse about the absence of a gasket on the lid, which may be related to comments about lids not fitting properly. Liquid contents and condensation leak out over the top and from under the lid, reviews say, which not only makes a mess but also leads to parched results. Another group of gripes concerns excessive heat, both inside and outside the slow cooker. The first circumstance causes a dish to dry out, critics write, and the second makes the small handles way too hot to touch despite specs that call them cool-touch. A handful say the metal shell feels tinny, the cooking crock cracks, and durability is limited.
Features: Nothing fancy or unusual here. The Maxi-Matic Elite Platinum MST-900 is a basic, entry-level, manual slow cooker with the usual warm, low, high, and off settings. The 8.5-quart model is oval-shaped and comes in both a red, brushed stainless steel (MST-900R) and a sometimes slightly less expensive silver (MST-900D). The cooking insert is stoneware and the lid is made of tempered glass. Both the crock and lid are dishwasher-safe.
Takeaway: The Maxi-Matic Elite Platinum MST-900 is no doubt a good buy at its starting price. But consumers should think twice before placing it in their shopping cart, either in a store or online. Absent a very large family, the 8.5-quart capacity makes it impractical for frequent use. Slow cookers are at their best when at least half full with raw ingredients; trying to prepare smaller amounts of food is guaranteed to produce disappointing results.