Best Cheap Slow Cookers

This buying guide features Crock-Pot and slow cooker reviews, along with recommendations for the best cheap slow cookers on the market.

What We Considered

It's not the bells and whistles but the end results, in terms of taste, texture, and "finish" (Is the food cooked through? Is it burnt?), that distinguish the best slow cookers from the also-rans. Frugal consumers can breathe easy: Consumer Reports has concluded that higher price does not equate to improved performance in this product category. Rather, hefty price tags are more a reflection of added features. Experts at Good Housekeeping, Cook's Illustrated, The Sweethome, and CNET have tested some of the models on our list against pricier units and generally concur that imperfections are endemic to the category regardless of make or model.

To further gauge the performance of slow cookers under $50, we turned to slow cooker reviews on retail sites including Amazon, Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and Best Buy, as well as on manufacturers' websites. Despite occasional gripes about overcooked food, hairline cracks in the crocks, or units that failed even with minimal use, the vast majority of consumers seem thrilled with the user-friendliness, low prices, and overall value of our top picks -- all of which garner hundreds of 4- and 5-star reviews. Many consumers report giving these one-pot wonders a workout several times a week.

Our Top Pick

Our Picks

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Other Products We Reviewed

Hamilton Beach 33155 Review

Enthusiasm abounds in Hamilton Beach 33155 reviews for the value this slow cooker provides frugal consumers. There aren't many slow cookers in the $20 price range and fewer of these are family-size, as is the 5-quart Hamilton Beach 33155 (starting at $20, Amazon). Reviews posted at Walmart indicate that more than nine out of 10 users would recommend this model to a friend and several note it makes a welcome present for the newly married. According to reviews, consumers like the large oval cooking surface, the depth of the pot, the gasket around the glass lid, the red color of the outer shell, the accurate heat settings, and of course, the price. Users write about preparing perfect pot roast, chicken cacciatore, meatballs, even frozen chicken with vegetables. One consumer who commented in a review on Amazon roasted a chicken on a steamer rack placed inside the pot so the fat could drain off, removed the meat (and fat), and filled the pot with the bones, vegetables, water, and seasoning and enjoyed delicious stock the next day.

The handful of critiques we found in Hamilton Beach 33155 reviews mention plastic parts that broke, the difficulty of adjusting the strap that's meant to hold the lid in place, off-putting odors associated with the rubber gasket around the lid, and a thin outer shell that's prone to denting.

The Hamilton Beach 33155 features a 5-quart, oval-shaped stoneware cooking vessel that the specs say can hold a 4.5-pound chicken or two small roasts. There's a glass lid with a rubber gasket that helps seal in moisture and keep the lid from rattling when steam escapes, and a strap to tightly secure the lid and prevent spillovers. This manual slow cooker comes with high, low, and keep warm heat settings, as well as a setting for off; what's lacking is an indicator light to signal whether the power is on or off. All the removable components are dishwasher-safe.

This low-cost slow cooker is one tough competitor. It may lack the finesse of some models, but given its price point and performance, the Hamilton Beach 33155 easily earns the top spot on our list.

The Proctor Silex 33015Y (starting at $18, Amazon) is a diminutive manual slow cooker that scores enthusiastic reviews on Amazon. Users laud the compact size and versatility, saying it holds just the right amount for two and leaves a one-person household with leftovers. According to reviews, it comes in handy for consumers who lack access to a kitchen (do you work in an office or live in a dorm?) and serves as the perfect vessel for steel-cut oats that cook overnight to be enjoyed at breakfast. One review says it handily replaces a pressure cooker for making soup; another reports its suitability for rice dishes or a chicken and veggie dinner; yet another relies on it when preparing gravy for large family dinners; and a hobbyist uses it for making soap. This is a manual slow cooker without a timer, a factor that one user deems only a slight inconvenience. The solution provided by this DIY type: Connect the unit to a timer and the timer to an outlet.

We came across a bit of low-level grumbling about one thing or another. Among the nearly 800 reviews on Amazon, which average 4.5 stars out of 5, are comments about inadequate heat (forget trying to cook lentils, grouses one reviewer), excessive heat (rice cooked way too fast, reports another), leakage out the top due to ill-fitting lids, and total product breakdown after limited use.

The Proctor Silex 33015Y is a miniaturized version of a large, fully functional slow cooker. This round, white, 1.5-quart model features the standard three heat settings (high, low, and warm) found on entry-level slow cookers, as well as an off option. The removable stoneware insert and clear, tempered-glass lid are dishwasher-safe; the crock also can be used to store leftovers in the refrigerator. The side handles and grip on the lid are meant to stay cool to the touch.

Given the model's performance and what passes for a decent array of features in this bottom segment of the market, the Proctor Silex 33015Y is the right choice for anyone seeking an inexpensive, very small, and dependable slow cooker.

Crock-Pot SCCPVP700-S Review

The Crock-Pot SCCPVP700-S (starting at $38, Amazon) sits near the top of our price range but holds a spot on our list because its programmable settings feature is a big hit with consumers. In Crock-Pot SCCPVP700-S reviews at Walmart, users often note the convenience of the auto-warm function, which switches the slow cooker to warm mode after the pre-set cooking time has elapsed. Consumers appreciate the added flexibility of not needing to be in the kitchen at the moment when a stew or roast, say, has finished cooking and needs to be held for a while before meal time. Some consumers find the four possible heat level and cook time combinations limiting, but most reviews indicate they're sufficient for everyday needs and produce results that evoke rounds of applause. One review at Amazon says roast chicken is so tender that it falls off the bone while removing it from the pot. Like other budget slow cookers, this model works for dips, soup, chili, poultry, pork, vegetables and dumplings, and so on (frozen ingredients, as well).

Few products are perfect, however, and that includes the Crock-Pot SCCPVP700-S. Grousing about inadequate heat (16 hours to cook a corned beef seems excessive, asserts one consumer critic), too much heat (stew cooked for 9 hours contained dry meat, mushy carrots, and burnt bits, claims another), outer walls that get hot, and plastic handles that break show up in some Crock-Pot SCCPVP700-S reviews.

The 7-quart size appeals to cooks responsible for feeding large families. The specs say it's large enough to feed nine people and hold a 7-pound roast; one consumer reports getting eight portions from 4 pounds of cut-up chicken and vegetable accompaniments. The programmable settings let you choose 4 or 6 hours on low or 8 or 10 hours on high, and there's a countdown timer for the warm mode. The removable oval stoneware crock is dishwasher-safe, as is the glass lid; the crock can also be set in the oven at temperatures up to 400 degrees. A recipe book is included.

Frugal consumers in the market for a programmable slow cooker should find the Crock-Pot SCCPVP700-S to their liking. The programming options on higher-end models may be more open-ended, but the pre-set combinations on this Crock-Pot give cooks a measure of freedom beyond what they'd experience with a manual slow cooker.

Hamilton Beach Stay or Go 33163 Review

Several bonus features enhance the appeal of the Hamilton Beach Stay or Go 33163 (starting at $25, Amazon). On sites such as Target and Amazon, Hamilton Beach 33163 reviews cite the user-friendly serving spoon that attaches to the top of the lid, the latches that lock the lid in place, and the gasket around the lid that seals in the contents. These little extras are intended to enhance portability, and reviews indicate that they make it easy to take the finished product, pot and all, to wherever it needs to go, be it backyard, picnic, or neighborhood potluck, without spills or leaks. Users also like the simplicity of the manual dial with its high, low, warm, and off settings, and say the steady and even heat turns out tasty soups, stews, chili, whole chickens, and more, including meals fit for holiday celebrations. One grandmother tells of giving one Hamilton Beach 33163 to each of her four single grandsons, another consumer reports excellent results for a first-time slow cooker user, and other reviews crow about years of ongoing reliability.

And yet, users have a few bones to pick. We read a few Hamilton Beach 33163 reviews that carp about tell-tale odors from the rubber gasket released back into the pot's contents (scrubbing with baking soda and vinegar has no effect, asserts one reviewer), locking latches that are hard to snap in place, a hot and full pot that's hard to remove from the base, and the occasional pot that cracks.

The 6-quart Hamilton Beach 33163 is oval-shaped and comes in black or white. It has the standard three heat settings plus an off setting; there's also an indicator light to let you know whether the unit is on or off. As noted above, the lid has a rubber gasket for a tighter seal and two latches to fully secure it in place. There's a groove in the handle on the lid for storing the included serving spoon and a holder on the side for a name or recipe tag. The pot and lid are dishwasher safe.

Marketed as "stay or go," the Hamilton Beach 33163 lives up to its travel-ready billing. This is a basic, cheap slow cooker with a few frills and commendable performance that together add up to good value.

Crock-Pot 38501-W Review

At first glance, the very low price on this programmable slow cooker makes the Crock-Pot 38501-W (starting at $23, Amazon) seem like a true bargain. Indeed, a favorable Crock-Pot 38501-W review at About.com extols the virtues of the pre-set heat/timing combinations and others at Walmart similarly note the benefits of the automatic switchover to warm mode when cooking is done. Many of these reviews assert that the end product - be it stew prepared with less cuts of meat or a lava cake - is always a delight.

But others, including consumers who posted Crock-Pot 38501-W reviews at Amazon, aren't won over. These critics complain about hot spots, burnt food, leaking, sputtering, broken side handles, and a lid handle that's too hot to touch. At Newegg, reviews describe the temperature controls as useless, noting that liquids boil even when the controls are set to warm. One consumer grouses that a frozen, 4-pound roast cooks so quickly it can't be left to cook all day even when set on 4 hours/low heat, and other reviews warn that this slow cooker needs babysitting: leaving the contents unattended is a surefire way to a dry, burnt, and otherwise unpalatable meal, they assert.

The 5-quart capacity of the Crock-Pot 38501-W suits two hungry people or a small family. Its best feature is the programmable settings panel, which lets you choose 4 or 6 hours on low or 8 or 10 hours on high; once the time runs out, the cooker switches itself to warm mode. The stoneware crock has a stick-resistant coating and is dishwasher safe, as is the glass lid.

The Crock-Pot 38501-W seems to be an attempt to offer frugal consumers a cheap slow cooker with programmable settings. But based on the reviews we found, this product just doesn't rise to the occasion. Where's the convenience of a slow cooker -- and a programmable one, at that -- if you can't just walk away?

West Bend 84384 Review

Consumers generally like the West Bend 84384 (starting at $23, Amazon). The favorable West Bend 84384 reviews point to the size and shape and the end product. About its physical characteristics, reviews at Walmart note that the 4-quart capacity feeds two people nicely without worries about throwing out food if you're not into leftovers, and the oval configuration nicely conforms to the contours of a chicken or roast. About its performance, users report good results with goulash, dumplings, soups, and the like, although enough reviews assert the temperature settings run hot To give us pause. One consumer says frozen meatballs and a jar of store-bought sauce require lots of stirring to prevent burning and another says beef stew bubbled and boiled even when set to low. A review posted at Amazon refers to other review comments about high heat and advises readers to always set the heat at low, regardless what's in the pot; cleaning off the burnt remains of pork barbecue took two days.

The West Bend 84384 is a basic model with a couple of nice extras. Like most slow cookers in this price range, it features a dial with high, low, keep warm, and off settings; a removable dishwasher-safe crock; a glass lid; and stay-cool handles. But unlike many others, it boasts an on/off indicator light, a brushed stainless steel exterior, and rubber feet that prevent sliding.

At the $23 price point, this mid-size model provides decent value. But complaints about high heat levels prevented it from earning a spot on our list. With other good options out there, you might want to consider those first.

Hamilton Beach 33141 Review

Hamilton Beach 33141 reviews indicate this simple slow cooker is well liked by consumers. With its 4-quart crock, this model is the right size for a household of four people (the review at How Stuff Works says it can serve six, but we're skeptical) and the right shape for roasts and chickens as well as the usual stews and soups. Several reviews posted at Amazon note that standard slow cooker recipes should be downsized but stress that food cooks thoroughly and evenly. That said, users don't seem to agree whether the Hamilton Beach 33141 cooks too fast or too slow. A number of reviews, including one at Overstock, insist this slow cooker has a hot streak while some say it runs cooler than other slow cookers. Bottom line: see how it goes and adjust timing accordingly.

And finally, a few Hamilton Beach 33141 reviews note that boil-overs occasionally happen and some units have reportedly broken mid-cycle (cracked crocks and shattered lids, for example), which leaves quite a mess, not to mention hungry diners.

The Hamilton Beach 33141 (starting at $24, Amazon) is an oval-shaped, 4-quart model with a wraparound stay-cool plastic handle that encases the heating base. It features four settings (high, low, keep warm, and off) that are controlled by a dial, a stainless steel shell, removable ceramic crock, and glass lid; the latter two components are dishwasher-safe and consumers say clean up is no big deal. This model lacks an indicator light, which disappointed at least one buyer.

There's nothing fancy here and the value pricing of the Hamilton Beach 33141 makes up for what some might consider its shortcomings. Moreover, the majority of users seem pleased with the performance of this straightforward slow cooker.

Crock-Pot 3735-WN Review

This basic slow cooker comes with just enough features to get the job done, according to Crock-Pot 3735-WN reviews. Many consumers mention that the 3.5-quart capacity is exactly what they were looking for given the size of their households. A review posted at Epinions, for example, relates that this comparatively small slow cooker makes enough stew or chili to feed four without leftovers; other reviews say it's the perfect size for two-person households. Regardless, users report successfully preparing soups and stews (Tip: add ingredients like noodles and asparagus later in the cooking process), pulled pork and roast chicken, beans and steel-cut oatmeal. And yet, reviews at Amazon caution that this cooker runs hot. Users say that recipe recommendations for time and heat may need to be ratcheted downward; one review reports that soups are done in four hours and another suggests sticking around to make sure nothing burns.

The biggest gripe posted in Crock-Pot 3735-WN reviews concerns the plastic handles and knob. Consumers who commented on both sites say the round lid handle, which is attached with a screw, tends to come loose (regardless how often you tighten it) and is a repository for dishwater. The handles on the crock itself seem weak to some users, several of whom report they have cracked or come perilously close to falling off. Some reviews also describe the outer metal shell as thin and too easily dented and a few comments posted several years ago grumble about ill-fitting lids, which let steam escape and the contents to bubble out onto the counter.

The Crock-Pot 3735-WN (starting at $24, Amazon) is a stripped-down 3.5-quart slow cooker with hi, low, and off settings; the absence of a keep warm setting or indicator light, increasingly common on budget slow cookers, doesn't seem to deter users who otherwise like this model. The stoneware oval crock is removable and stick-resistant, and Crock-Pot 3735-WN reviews say it cleans up easily - soap and warm water do the trick for any bits that are stuck to the sides. The Crock-Pot 3735-WN also features the usual glass lid.

The Crock-Pot 3735-WN is as basic as it gets for a slow cooker, but its small size seems to be a large draw for slow cooker users.

The West Bend 84905 (starting at $40, Amazon) is a multicooker which, like others of its ilk, offers home cooks an extra helping of versatility and convenience above standard slow cookers. West Bend 84905 reviews posted on Walmart.com and Amazon show strong consumer acceptance of this countertop appliance that can go from stovetop to oven to freezer with stops in between to slow cook a meal. Reviewers say this entry-level model is user-friendly, light enough for an elderly woman to lift when full, and capable of producing toothsome ribs, tasty vegetable soup, moist chicken, and tender roasts.

What some reviewers aren't so wild about is how hot the unit gets -- including the handles, warn a few. The handles also seem small to several reviewers. Comments about odd staining inside the pot, coating that flakes, and a thin, tinny feel occasionally surface. Ditto for ill-fitting lids and defective plugs.

This is a 5-quart manual slow cooker with an oblong shape (straight sides, rounded corners). The heat comes from a separate base that can be used as a griddle. There are five temperature settings -- high, medium, low, and two levels of warm (the lowest meant for warming breads and baked goods) -- but users can set the dial anywhere in between the numbered options for finer control. The pot and glass lid are dishwasher-safe, but alternatively can be cleaned by hand with hot, soapy water.

Compared with other models that moonlight as multicookers from brands such as Cuisinart and Ninja, the West Bend 84905 is an outright bargain. The higher-price competitors are programmable and offer more functionality, but the West Bend 84905 is a solid buy for frugal consumers who want the flexibility to brown or sauté without dirtying another pan and reheat leftovers in the oven or on the stove and don't mind the need to be present when the expected cooking time has elapsed.

Buying Guide

Cheap Slow Cookers Buying Guide

Our cheap slow cooker picks are no-muss/no-fuss kitchen gadgets that produce moist, flavorful meals, from roasts to stews to soups and desserts. At the top of our list are the programmable Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 33969 (starting at $49), which stands out for its rich feature set and strong performance, and the manual Crock-Pot SCV400 (starting at $20), a very basic model that delivers on performance and carries a very low price tag. Falling in right behind are the programmable Crock-Pot Cook & Carry SCCPVL610-S (starting at $49), on the strength of its portable design and convincing reviews, and the manual Hamilton Beach Stay or Go 33461 (starting at $25) for its user-friendliness and portability. All are backed by one-year warranties.

We always look out for models that shoppers should think twice about purchasing, but the vast majority of low-cost slow cookers receive decent reviews -- and scores of them. Ultimately we focused on the manual Maxi-Matic Elite Platinum MST-900 (starting at $29), not due to poor reviews but primarily because of its humongous 8.5-quart size. For frugal consumers who watch every penny that goes out the door, it's hard to justify a space-hogging countertop appliance that holds enough for 10 or more people and would be called into service on rare occasions only.

Our search focused mostly on 6-quart models that feed six or seven people, on the assumption that busy home cooks don't mind leftovers and occasionally want a dish large enough for a potluck or tailgate. We also looked for the best entry-level 4-quart model, because some people just don't need to prepare that much food at once.

Slow cookers provide welcome relief from the "When's dinner ready?" refrain and can be a confidence builder for novice cooks. These small kitchen appliances also are a boon to frugal cooks, because they have a near magical way of tenderizing cheaper, tougher cuts of meat. And even in the depths of summer, it's possible to cook up a hot meal without heating up the kitchen.

The original slow cooker design became popular in the early 1970s and proved so effective that today's models differ only slightly. The aesthetics and functionality are remarkably similar, with but a few modern embellishments, most notably electronic controls that widen the range of things a slow cooker can do. Manual models with simple "high," "low," and "warm" settings are still widely available, remain popular, and are cheaper than programmable models. Cookers with digital controls can be configured to switch cooking modes automatically after a given period of time, and some can be set to cook at specific temperatures and adjust as the hours tick by. The newest feature on select higher-end Crock-Pots is an app that connects the cooker with personal electronic devices and achieves such feats as announcing to the family that dinner will be served at 7 p.m. sharp. Features designed for portability -- transiting from the kitchen to a PTA meeting or family reunion, say -- such as carry straps and/or clips to hold the lid in place are showing up on more and more models.

Slow Cooker Brands.

Crock-Pot and Hamilton Beach dominate the slow-cooker market, particularly at the entry level. They produce both manual and programmable cookers at prices ranging between $13 and $150. The vast array of models are variations on several themes -- that is, the features are the same but the capacity differs, or outward appearance is the same but one version is manual and another is digital, or one version is meant to stay put and a companion model sports take-along features. For example, the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 33967 is virtually identical to the more recent model 33969 but for the handle and lid design, which some consumers prefer. Crock-Pot even sells cookers distinguishable merely by the name and logo of professional and collegiate sports teams emblazoned on the exterior.

Farther up the price ladder are slow cookers bearing labels such as Cuisinart, KitchenAid, All-Clad, Breville, and Ninja. Their lineups are comparatively limited but include models with more features designed to deliver an extra dollop of convenience.

Features Comparison

Product Title
Capacity
Shape
Controls
Warranty

Hamilton Beach Set &...

$49
6 quarts
Oval
Programmable
One year

Crock-Pot SCV400

$20
4 quarts
Oval
Manual
One year

Crock-Pot Cook & Carry...

$49
6 quarts
Oval
Programmable
One year

Hamilton Beach Stay or...

$25
6 quarts
Oval
Manual
One year

Maxi-Matic Elite...

$29
8.5 quarts
Oval
Manual
One year

Proctor Silex 33015

$18
1.5 quarts
Round
Manual
One year

West Bend 84905

$40
5 quarts
Oblong
Manual adjustable temperature
One year

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